I’ll do my best to refrain from making baaaaaad puns (well, that tears it!) at the expense of the New Zealand horror-comedy Black Sheep, though it should come as no surprise that writer/director Jonathan King’s feature debut invites, and no doubt welcomes, such “wink-wink, nudge-nudge, say-no-more” ridicule.
Like a parodic Kiwi cousin to Irishman Billy O’Brien’s cows-run-amok thriller Isolation, Black Sheep takes one of nature’s most decidedly non-threatening creatures and arms ’em, deliriously and deliciously, with ravenous, razor-edged teeth. The film aims high and misses often; it clearly aspires to a prominent place in the midnight movie hall of fame, though its constantly inelegant shuffling between aesthetic innovation and plain ol’ ineptitude dooms it to little more than footnote status.
No doubt many wads were blown securing the F/X talents of Richard Taylor’s tireless Weta Workshop minions, who bloody well rise to the occasion: no more need we idle away our leisure time envisioning the many faces of a genetically-engineered sheep zombie. I’ll bet these dead-eyed beasties could go head-to-head with the Jurassic Park T-Rex (“What’s the matter kid? Ever have lamb chops?”) and come out triumphant. In the span of 87 minutes, they take out a tree-hugging animal rights activist, an entire multiculti business contingent, and a glasses-and-labcoat sporting sexpot whose lesbionic demeanor cries out for the appropriately Sapphic screen credit, “And featuring Barbara Steele.”
Mint jelly is wielded like holy water, a gun-totin’ granny gets in on the slaughtering act, and our sheep-phobic hero Henry Oldfield (Nathan Meister) gets his Shari Lewis on by spouting such profoundly philosophic confabulations as, “I understand you have a pretty fucked up idea of animal husbandry.” That meaty bon mot comes on the heels of an implied man-beast sex scene (post-coital cigarette the only evidence) that finds a climactic topper via what can only be described as the pre-eminent argument against penile foreskin. But fear not little lambkins, all is set right following one of the cheapest looking Zippo lighter-to-methane gas explosions ever to grace a cinema screen, after which the New Zealand landscape offers mesmeric counterpoint to any and all budgetary limitations, and a faithful sheepdog lets out a rib-tickling (and sequel-ready?) baaaaark.
Keith Uhlich is managing editor of The House Next Door, a staff critic for Slant Magazine, and a contributor to a variety of print and online publications.