Pop Culture Gadabout
Thursday, March 19, 2009
      ( 3/19/2009 10:33:00 AM ) Bill S.  

"COME ON, THEN, MUTTON CHOPS!" Ever since Night of the Lepus, the idea of building a horror comedy around traditionally fright-free creatures is one that resonates in the hearts and bloody minds of wiseass horror buffs – and in the case of Jonathan King's Black Sheep (Dimension Extreme Films), the ironic subtext is magnified immensely by its country of origin. Filmed and set in New Zealand, home to "40 million sheep, four million people," the film concerns a dangerous flock of "Frankensheep" that run amuck after a pair of ineffectual "lunatic greenies" accidentally release a genetics lab's failed experiment.

The guiding force behind the lab is an unpleasant agribusinessman named Angus Oldfield; his nebbishy brother Henry (Nathan Meister) is returning to the family farm after a traumatic childhood incident spurred a profound case of ovinophobia. Angus, we're given more than a broad hint, has a none-too-healthy interest in the sheep on his farm, which is capped by a wondrously sick scene near the end of the film. (Almost as memorable as the flying penis from Street Trash.) Brother Henry has returned to the family farm to sell his half to his brother; the first time we see him as an adult, he's not so quietly freaking out over a flock that has innocently wandered onto the road. "My therapist said I should come," he explains.

Later, of course, after we’ve seen the failed medical experiment rip onto the ear of a hippie animal activist (and said activist's transformation into an upright were-sheep), a farmhand's grisly demise and beaucoup attacks by snarling animatronic sheep, we can empathize with Henry's anxiety. In one of the movie's most visually memorable bits, we see a second flock running down the hilly countryside to attack a crowd of would-be business investors; the pastoral image is instantly contrasted by an ultra-bloody sequence where, among other things, we're shown two sheep engaging in a tug of war with a still-screaming victim's intestines. 'But I'm a vegetarian!" one of the bloodied investors proclaims.

Hero Henry bands with a rowdily rough-hewn farmhand (Tammy Davis) and an animal activist named Experience (Danielle Mason), who provides more than her share of comic hippie bromides. "I should have known you were an Oldfield," she tells Henry during their initial meeting. "I can see it in your aura." Later, after the two of them have fallen into a pit of biogenetic offal, she elevates her opinion of our hero.

As a horror splatter comedy, Black Sheep is one of those indy jobs that blurs the line between intentional and unintentional camp, while I suspect some of its jokes ring louder in New Zealand than they do outside its native land. Still, the movie's practical (as opposed to digital) effects are strong, and there's even a transformation scene that's a straight-up tribute to Rob Bottin and Rick Baker's work on The Howling and An American Werewolf in London, respectively. Dimensions' DVD, which I originally got from the cheap disc shelves at Wal-Mart, also contains a "Making of" feature with plenty of shots of giddy FX geeks playfully slathering on the fake gore, a blooper reel and some deleted scenes that don't really add much to the flick.

If you're like me, though, and you prefer remaining in the dark about the mechanics of horror movie effects, you'll probably want to skip the extras. Except, perhaps, the quickie scene "Early Morning," which was shot for the DVD release and extends the joking sheep refs into a wall-shattering morning after gag. Glad they didn't include it in the movie.


# |

Pop cultural criticism - plus the occasional egocentric socio/political commentary by Bill Sherman (popculturegadabout AT yahoo.com).

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