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Black Sheep (2007)
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by Peter Sobczynski

"They're Coming To Get You, Mary."
2 stars

Unless you are either a dedicated fan of inept monster movies or a member of the Rory Calhoun Fan Club, it is unlikely that you have seen or even heard of the redoubtable 1972 film “Night of the Lepus.” This was a film in which a bunch of bunny rabbits are accidentally infected with an experimental hormone that causes them to grow into a horde of four-foot-tall man-eating killers (simulated by filming normal-sized rabbits in extreme close-up and in slow motion) and run amok in a small Arizona town before being brought down by the likes of Janet Leigh, Stuart Whitman and DeForest Kelley. Unsurprisingly, the resulting film was a complete failure as a horror film and was instantly derided as one of the most inept offerings in the history of the genre. However, it quickly gained a second life as one of those so-bad-its-good camp oddities and when you look at it from that direction, the film is so unintentionally funny that it actually turns into a pretty entertaining bit of cheese. Now, would the film have been just as amusing and entertaining if it had been an intentional comedy instead of an unintentional one. My guess is no because virtually all of the humor comes from the fact that the film approaches its inherently ridiculous premise in the most stalwart and serious-minded manner possible–everyone involved appears convinced that they are making a powerful statement about the dangers of mankind messing with Mother Nature–and if it is constantly winking to remind you of how ridiculous it is, you lose that particular vein of potential humor and are left with, at best, one of those high-concept ideas that runs the risk of running out of steam long before the appearance of the end credits.

To prove my point, let us now take a look at the new New Zealand gorefest “Black Sheep.” Like “Night of the Lepus,” it tells a story in which Mother Nature, in the form of ordinarily cute-n-cuddly animals, runs violently amok. This time around, our hero is Henry Oldfield (Nathan Meister), a young man who, as the result of a pair of childhood traumas, now has a pathological fear of sheep. One day, he returns to his family’s sprawling farm in order to sell his share over to his older brother Angus (Peter Feeny), a man more interested in money than in Merinos and who is in the middle of a top-secret business deal with a group of arriving international investors. What Henry doesn’t know is that Angus, in his never-ending lust for profits, has embarked on a genetic engineering plan with a couple of weirdo scientists in order to create a strain of super-sheep. A pair of environmental activists–New Age cutie Experience (Danielle Mason) and goofball Grant (Oliver Driver)–do have an idea of what is going on in Angus’s secret lab and they sneak in and grab a mysterious container containing a mutated lamb in order to expose him to the world. Alas, the container gets opened, the creature escapes and quickly infects the rest of the sheep on the farm so that they turn into bloodthirsty carnivores ready to feast on leg (among other body parts) of man. If that wasn’t bad enough, those who are merely bitten by the creatures find themselves beginning to transform into weresheep, for lack of a better term.

The difference between “Black Sheep” and “Night of the Lepus” is that “Black Sheep” is meant to be a comedy–all of the performances are comically outsized and the violence is so over-the-top that it is impossible to take any of it seriously for a minute. The problem is that while writer-director Jonathan King has admittedly come up with a reasonably giggle-worthy premise, he seems to be under the impression that it is a strong enough comic conceit to support an entire feature film and it isn’t. The sight of a cute lamb gorily ripping out someone’s throat in an explosion of blood and sinew is funny the first time, not quite as funny the second time and fairly tiresome the thirtieth time. (That said, the special effects from the acclaimed WETA workshop, the effects house behind “King Kong” and the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, are excellent throughout.) You keep waiting for the film to go to the next level of comedic inspiration but all it does is take two basic gags–the sheep killing people in icky ways or the rapidly diminishing people killing the sheep in equally icky ways–and repeats them ad nauseam. The film keeps trying to approximate the horror-comedy hybrids from the pre-blockbuster days of Sam Raimi (the “Evil Dead” films) and Peter Jackson (“Bad Taste” and “Braindead”) or more recent examples like “Shaun of the Dead.” The difference is that those films, goofy as they were, were built on relatively solid foundations and could have actually worked as straightforward horror films if one were to strip out all the jokes. Here, that sort of foundation is non-existent and you are left with nothing more than a collection of gross-out gags (including a head-first plunge into an offal pit), flatulence jokes and dopey dialogue. (“The sheep are revolting!” “Aren’t they.”)

I don’t want to come down too hard on “Black Sheep” because it has its heart in the right place, it does inspire a few laughs here and there (especially when we learn just how closely entwined Angus is with his super-sheep) and as gory comedies from the Southern Hemisphere go, it is certainly more effective than such recent duds as “Evil Aliens” and “Undead.” It just goes on too long to support what is essentially a one-joke premise and I suspect that it would have packed a much greater punch at a radically reduced length. As a two-minute trailer, “Black Sheep” would have been priceless. As an 87-minute feature, though, it soon wears out its welcome and becomes a visual effects reel in search of a plot or a point.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=14896&reviewer=389
originally posted: 07/05/07 21:32:48
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Toronto Film Festival For more in the 2006 Toronto Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 South By Southwest Film Festival For more in the 2007 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 San Francisco Film Festival For more in the 2007 San Francisco Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 Independent Film Festival of Boston For more in the 2007 Independent Film Festival of Boston series, click here.

User Comments

9/27/08 Shaun Wallner Boring!! 1 stars
4/17/08 Big j retarded waste of my time ill never get back 1 stars
2/25/08 Mick Ash 1 stars
10/29/07 mike really really bad. i had difficulties finishing this horrible movie 1 stars
10/17/07 Kevin O'Brien It sheerly was a work of art,had me on the edge of my seat biting ma'aa nails!!! 5 stars
10/17/07 James O'Brien "One of the greatest films Ive ever seen 5 stars
10/14/07 neil didnt get it at all, waste of 9 euro 1 stars
9/22/07 Sheila Koffel Surprisingly good remake, but NO ONE will ever replace Chris Farley! 4 stars
8/24/07 jami mercer best friggin film i've ever seen!!!!!!! 5 stars
7/08/07 DonnyM Laughing at a lot of Sheep Shinanagins! 5 stars
6/25/07 Theo amazing men-sheep 5 stars
3/31/07 Reece Utter hilarity. Brilliant. 5 stars
9/15/06 dave elsey Fucking cool 5 stars
8/29/06 Bob A revolution in film making. 5 stars
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  22-Jun-2007 (R)



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