Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Black Sheep

Title:  Black Sheep
Director: Jonathan King
Released: 2006
Starring: Nathan Meister, Danielle Mason, Peter Feeney, Tammy Davis, Glenis Levestam, Tandi Wright, Oliver Driver

Plot: Henry (Meister) has an overwhelming fear of sheep thanks to a childhood pranks played by his older brother Angus (Feeney). Now returning to his family farm with the intention of selling his share, he is soon forced to confront his fears when his brother’s secret experiments on the sheep causes them to turn into vicious killers.

Review: Greeted with some excitement on its initial release as it drew favourable comparisions to the early work of fellow New Zealand gorefather Peter Jackson much less the fact it was a film about killer sheep something which like Wales there’s certainly an abundance of making them essentially the perfect creature of terror for this debut feature.

Establishing its comedic tone early on this mixture of comedy and splatter is unquestionably the right way to go for a film with this daft a premise with director Jonathan King filling the film with numerous outlandish or cartoonish characters including a group of morally devoid scientists and Henry’s cad of an older brother who in the fifteen years since Henry was left traumatised by him hasn’t exactly gotten any better and possibly worse the intervening years which have passed.  Henry meanwhile is a neurotic mess, completely overwhelmed by his fears so that even the mere sight of sheep can throw him in a blind panic.

Once more though it’s the fault of the environmental activists that this chaos gets unleashed as like “28 Days Later” eco warriors Grant (Driver) and Experience (Mason) trigger the outbreak of killer sheep when they steal one of the mutated lambs which soon infecting the rest of the local sheep population. Worse still when said lamb bites Grant he runs off into the woods only to return as a mutant man-sheep reminisant of the monster from “Godmonster of the Indian Flats”

Surprisingly though for a film with such an outlandish plot this film is something of a slow burn with the sheep related antics while frequently inventive are keep as a lurking threat until really the final quarter when the film really becomes something special with King raining down gore and splatter with the same kind of grotesque inventiveness that Peter Jackson wowed us with early in his career with the likes of “Bad Taste” and “Braindead” (or “Dead Alive” for you folks in the states). This however is not to say the film is a bore until then as the film frequently finds inventive situations for King to put the group in such as a sheep randomly appearing in a land rover the group are trying to escape in while in motion and which also shows us how well a sheep can drive a car.

Our main group consisting of Henry, Experience and Henry’s best friend and farm hand Tucker (Davis) are all likeable to be around as they try to make their way through the mutant sheep hordes while King avoids any kind of romantic connection between the group instead keeping them as a group thrown together and now trying to just make it through the chaos that is escalating around them. The only downside being Mrs. Mac (Levestam) who is such a fun character it’s frustrating that she only really comes into play towards the end of the film when we get to see her elderly badass side leaving you want so much more than we ultimately get.   

The creature effects though are unquestionably the star of the show here with special effects all being done by Weta Workshops who memorably worked on the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy and its certainly an advantage to see practical effects being used over CGI even for the larger mutant creatures such as the Were-Sheep version of Grant which took four people to operate. While certainly far from the easiest way to shoot the film it more than pays off in the presence that the film has compared to so many other creature features being churned by the likes of the Syfi channel and their seemingly never ending steam of shark movies that they seem to put out on a weekly basis.

Still as mentioned before the real standout moments of the film come in the final quarter as a presentation is turned into a blood drenched massacre, including one victim trying to fight a mutant sheep with his own recently chewed off leg. We also get to see one of the sheep monsters being run into by a runaway plane as King really shows his creativity in his splatter. At the same time the gore here is very much on the cartoonish and OTT side of things rather than anything coming to grotesque realism perfectly suiting the tone of the film. The end finale coming close to rivalling the carnage of “Braindead” even if no one is welding a petrol mower.

A fun little creature feature and one which certainly doesn’t take itself seriously, while at the same time not constantly winking to the audience like so many similar films such as those churned out by “The Asylum” only making this so much more of a welcome rarity.

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