Jonathan King’s BLACK SHEEP (which is screening at SXSW this weekend) is, for the most part, an entertaining throwback to the early days of Peter Jackson and Sam Raimi, when low budget genre filmmakers were determined to break out from the pack by making their works just as much a comedy as a horror film. While horror comedies are not that uncommon these days (although the good ones are still rare), this was something particularly refreshing in the late 80s/early 90s and I’m sure it’s the reason the likes of EVIL DEAD 2 and BRAIN DEAD remain so well regarded. Watching BLACK SHEEP helped remind me of this time not so long ago (more on that next week) when you could surprise the audience by giving them as much humor as horror, although BLACK SHEEP’s premise (mutant sheep terrorize the New Zealand countryside) does more or less tip the hat before you even step in the theater. Either way, it’s a fun little pic that should please its intended audience, although there’s a risk that some might see it for more than it is.
It’s a sad fact that horror fans are quick to regard certain films as classics even though they’re not deserving of the honor and I fear that may happen with BLACK SHEEP. While it has its charms, the film loses steam with about a half hour to go and then you’re left with, well, the need to resolve the plot and a lot more gore. But when it works it’s fun and I really do have to stress that the film has its charms. By charms I, of course, mean senseless violence and gore, but are those things not charming in the right context? I was also pleased to see the filmmakers attempt to populate their film with likeable characters as opposed to just victims waiting for the chopping block (or lambs to the slaughter, if you will). It shows that they’re at least trying to tell a story and have it be its own movie, unlike the recent Australian zombie film UNDEAD, which wanted to be nothing more than a living videogame. Ultimately the problem is that there simply isn’t enough story to justify even a 90 minute running time. You can try to outwit and outrun a hoard of killer sheep for so long before it becomes redundant and with this picture that takes about 60 minutes or so with another 30 left to go. But the goodwill the film generates helps the film in memory and there are plenty of other positive aspects to BLACK SHEEP. It’s a beautiful-looking film, effectively shot is scope and it uses some beautiful New Zealand locations to great effect. And speaking of effects (a ham-handed segue if I ever wrote one) the sheep FX in the film are excellent, as it’s often rather difficult to figure out the animatronic sheep from the real ones. The cast is fine (female lead Tammy Davis is quite the cutie) and aside from an atrocious music score by Victoria Kelly (and Casio, it seems) there really isn’t much to gripe about. BLACK SHEEP is fun for the most part and a respectable first film for King, but it’s not a classic of any kind and that’s OK as long as the fanboys don’t go overboard on it. I guess we’ll see how that goes after tomorrow night’s Drafthouse screening. Have fun, Austinites!