Splatstick (the combination of excessive gore and comedy) really peaked with Peter Jackson’s Braindead in 1992, years before he reached mainstream success with The Lord Of The Rings series. That film (as well as Bad Taste, his first film) integrated violence into traditional horror situations with such reckless abandon that the viewer can’t help but laugh at the madness. Even Jackson described the film as ‘A slapstick comedy with blood and guts instead of custard pies.’ Using WETA Workshop’s (who worked on King Kong and The Lord Of The Rings) expertise, Jonathan King’s Black Sheep is a tribute to Jackson’s New Zealand films and tries to exploit the same mixture of humour and extreme violence (with a touch of eco-horror for good measure).
Henry Oldfield (Nathan Meister) returns to the farm where he grew up in an attempt to overcome his fear of sheep, as well as to be bought out of the farm by his brother Angus (Peter Feeney) who has been using the farm for genetic experiments. After two environmentalists attempt to bring back samples as proof of the illegal doings, one is bitten by the mutation and soon the entire farmland is crawling with blood crazed killer sheep. It’s up to Henry, his friend Tucker, and Experience (Danielle Mason, one of the environmentalists) to stop Angus and the array of mutant bloodthirsty livestock.
The plot certainly can support its share of fun, with the echoes of unassuming creatures turning their wraith against man, such as in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds (or Night Of The Lepus!), as well as the always amusing visage of people running away from the generally docile title creatures.
Director Jonathan King has definite love for the genre, and the New Zealand scenery on display looks absolutely amazing. The film also builds nicely throughout until things really let loose in the final act. Unfortunately, unlike the best examples of splatstick, you never really end up developing much sympathy for the characters in danger which cuts significantly into any tension being built. To the cast’s credit, they don’t spend their time winking at the camera or taking things less than seriously (even in a scene where Henry smashes a bottle of Mint Sauce over the head of an attacking were-sheep, who recoils like it was hit with holy water), but a little more time on their relationships wouldn’t have gone to waste.
The effects are the star of the show, and they certainty don’t disappoint. Particularly in a massacre scene where bodies are torn to bits and blood flows in ridiculous amounts. This outrageous violence is where the film comes closest to the mad excess of Jackson’s films. Also impressive is the human/sheep hybrid make-up that’s on display in the later parts of the film, as well as some obvious tributes to An American Werewolf in London.
The film is shown in it’s original 2.35:1 aspect ratio and has a magnificent transfer which highlights the landscapes on display. Extras include a commentary provided by director King and star Meister which provides a little detail on the difficulties and joys of working on the film, though makes the mistake of holding back possibly interesting details in the fear of “spoiling” the film (a pet peeve of mine, as no sensible person would listen to the commentary before seeing the movie). There’s also a wonderful half-hour making of that focuses strongly on the effects work on the film.
Also included are some cut scenes (with commentary), a rather lame blooper reel, a quick gag shot for the DVD, and the film’s trailer.
A cut above most horror comedies, and featuring surprisingly high production values, Black Sheep is worth a rental for a number of inspired scenes. Don’t expect to cower in fear (though you might retch in disgust), but in the end it’s certainly not baaa-ad.