By Scott Dorward
Black Sheep (New Zealand, 2006)
“Considering I’ve been attacked by genetically engineered monsters, jumped off a moving vehicle, been chased across a paddock, dragged into a torture chamber, pulled into a mountain of rotting flesh… Yes, my hormones do need fucking balancing!”
People have been recommending Black Sheep to me for as long as it’s been around. I made a mental note to check it out, although the premise sounded a bit too twee for me to prioritise it. Now that the October Horror Movie Challenge has finally given me an excuse to watch it, I can see how wrong I was to leave things this long.
Following a terrifying childhood incident engineered by his brother Angus, Henry has a paralysing fear of sheep. This led him to flee the family sheep farm 15 years ago. Now, he has returned briefly to sell his share of the business to Angus. Unfortunately for Henry, he has chosen the worst possible day to do this.
Ecowarriors Experience and Grant are gathering information about genetic experiments on the farm for an exposé. And, to be fair, they have a point: the farm is a hotbed of mad science. When Grant makes a botched attempt to steal a failed experiment, everything goes a bit 28 Days Later. Except with sheep.
As the ovine rage virus spreads through the flock, sheep become rampaging predators, tearing apart unwary humans and feasting on their entrails. Those lucky enough to survive such attacks with only a bite find themselves metamorphosing into weresheep — bipedal monstrosities with the same bloody appetites.
Unable to escape, Henry teams up with surviving farmers and ecowarriors alike to prevent the infection spreading. Because, let’s face it, if there’s one place you really don’t want the sheep to turn against humanity, it’s New Zealand.
One of the joys of Black Sheep is the utter disconnect between tone and content. This is a slickly made film with a light, comic touch and a bouncy soundtrack that evokes Danny Elfman. The story and production cleave to the tropes of family-friendly blockbusters. It has a charismatic male lead overcoming childhood trauma. He falls into a will-they-won’t-they flirtation with an attractive, quirky young woman. They are accompanied on their adventures by comic-relief sidekicks, facing off against an unambiguously evil villain. Hell, they’re even saved by a dog at one point.
And yet it is filled with extreme gore, body horror, and just a touch of bestiality. This all goes beyond the horror/comedy balance of even something like Shaun of the Dead. People have their faces ripped off and run around in agony. One victim tries to fend off his attackers with his own severed foot. And there is an admittedly funny scene in which a character has his penis torn off by a hungry ewe. Black Sheep is not a film for polite company. It is a wolf in blood-soaked sheep’s clothing.
I’ve wondered in recent years whether anything might rekindle my interest in the zombie genre. While Black Sheep isn’t precisely a zombie film, it uses all the same tropes. Our heroes must fight off carnivorous hordes of mindless predators. They are badly outnumbered, running from one bad situation to the next. Being bitten turns you into one of the monsters. It’s all there, just with a little more wool than usual. And, yet, I enjoyed it thoroughly.
Black Sheep gets full marks for pushing a fundamentally silly premise to weird extremes. It plays with horror tropes, turning the audience’s familiarity with them into part of the fun. This is a film that will constantly have you wondering whether what you just saw really just happened.
There is little negative that I can find to say about Black Sheep. It’s superficial, but it’s meant to be. The tropes are all familiar ones, but they are thoroughly lampooned. I suppose you may be disappointed if you’re looking for emotional depth or genuine scares. Still, I think that most horror fans will find at least something to enjoy here.
The October Horror Movie Challenge
Please do join in and share your own thoughts with us about this or any other films as the month goes on. You can usually find us on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Discord, or lurking in the dark corners of your home.
If you would like to play along at home, my provisional selections are:
- 1 – Baskin (2015)
- 2 – The Bar (2017)
- 3 – The Editor (2014)
- 4 – The Beach House (2019)
- 5 – The Mummy (1959)
- 6 – The Wind (2020)
- 7 – Tigers are Not Afraid (2018)
- 8 – Voices From Beyond (1991)
- 9 – Dearest Sister (2016)
- 10 – Patrick (1978)
- 11 – The Transfiguration (2016)
- 12 – The House at the End of Time (2013)
- 13 – The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1920)
- 14 – The Hallow (2015)
- 15 – Night of the Demons (1988)
- 16 – Deep Dark (2015)
- 17 – The Witch Who Came From the Sea (1976)
- 18 – Black Sheep (2006)
- 19 – The Battery (2012)
- 20 – Eaten Alive (1976)
- 21 – Satan’s Slaves (2017)
- 22 – Evolution (2015)
- 23 – Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood (1973)
- 24 – The Dead Center (2018)
- 25 – Your Vice is a Locked Room and I Have the Only Key (1972)
- 26 – The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears (2013)
- 27 – Here Comes the Devil (2012)
- 28 – Gretel & Hansel (2020)
- 29 – Two Thousand Maniacs (1964)
- 30 – The Stepfather (1987)
- 31 – In Fabric (2018)
Be warned that I may alter this list according to availability, what I feel like watching at the time, and sheer capriciousness.
A Final Note
If you have been enticed here by these posts, please do look around at some of our other film reviews. We also have a podcast, called The Good Friends of Jackson Elias, which occasionally covers horror films. If this appeals, you might want to check out some of the following episodes.
- The Fly
- A Dark Song
- The Thing
- The Ritual
- The Wicker Man
- The Stone Tape
- Event Horizon
- The Witch
- INLAND EMPIRE
- Nightbreed and Lord of Illusions
- Maléfique and The Ninth Gate
- Re-Animator and From Beyond
- Repulsion and The Babdook
- Man Bites Dog, Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon and S&man
- A selection of weird films
- David Cronenberg
- The films that scared us most
If you dig through the archives, you will also find episodes about a wide variety of horror stories and games. Happy nightmares!