Whilst Black Phillip may be the new ‘kid’ on the block with THE WITCH, he’’s certainly not the first member of the Caprinae family to terrorise the celluloid world. Step up BLACK SHEEP, a New Zealand produced film from 2006 which pays more than passing tribute to the early works of one Peter Jackson.
Some movies break new ground, others reinvent genres, and some are ‘good for what they are’. BLACK SHEEP definitely falls into the latter category. It has a few tricks up its sleeve, but it is at heart a small budget B-movie. Thankfully it seems to know this and revels in it; the gore is squelchy and comedy often verges on slapstick, with occasional trips to gross-town.
The story is one of family feuds and genetic engineering gone awry. Following a prolonged period of estrangement and trauma therapy to help combat his fear of sheep Henry returns to his family home, Glenholden Station. His brother and antagonist Angus is about to present a new breed of ‘super sheep’, and wishes to buy Henry out of the farm. However this new wooly jumper is no result of selective breeding, for Angus has been funding genetic engineering and scientific tampering gone awry. After a pair of environmental activists make off with a zombified lamb foetus it doesn’t take long for things to break down, which results in Henry having to literally face his fears all whilst preventing the spread of a disease that could turn New Zealand into a wasteland.
As mentioned before, one of BLACK SHEEP’s great strengths is it knows exactly what it is, and where it sits in the cinematic realm. It doesn’t have any great delusions of grandeur and therefore is free to just enjoy being.
The direction and cinematography are solid, even taking moments amongst the carnage to show off the sweeping landscapes that New Zealand have become so well known for. However even the grand vistas of NZ can’t disguise that at its heart BLACK SHEEP is a one joke film. Whilst there is a moral message about animal rights, vivisection and genetic engineering the activists are portrayed as being relatively clueless whilst the scientists are moderately competent. They seemed to know exactly what they were doing. Whilst performances are at times a little wooden (usually when trying to force exposition), the laid back Kiwi humour shines through and the majority of the characters are likeable, if a little misguided.
The special effects strike just the right note of cartoonishness, relying on practical effects. It gives it a wonderful 80s feel and again brings up memories of such films as BAD TASTE. This perhaps shouldn’t surprise anyone as they’re provided by Jackson founded WETA FX, who more recently have worked on the well received THUNDERBIRDS reboot as well as being a major player in the Hollywood production industry.
For me this film works best as part of a double bill with another creature feature. My gut reaction would be TREMORS, but as I revised this review I realised that tonally this has more in common with THE HOWLING, plus it nicely continues the were-theme. Either way I’d take time to check this out, especially if its available on Netflix in your region. Ewe’ll find it’s not as baaaad as you might shear.