Sunday, October 17, 2010

Black Sheep

(2007) ****

I can say with certainty that there will never be a better horror movie about sheep.

Things go haywire when a specimen from a genetic modification experiment gets accidentally released among a flock of sheep at a factory farm. This isn't the first Fluffy Animal Gone Bloodthirsty movie I've ever seen. It's not even the first I've seen for a Horrorthon. That distinction goes to Night of the Lepus which is about a blitzkrieg of giant bunny rabbits. I linked Octopunk's review which is better than mine, but he said another great thing in the comments section of my review. JPX opined, "I think Monty Python forever ruined any potential for killer rabbits to be scary to me." Octo replied, "Gee, that's too bad. There's such a rich, untapped well of terror to be had there."

There are obvious constraints to picking a cute animal as your villain -- you pretty much eliminate any possibility of making something seriously scary, and that's a void that has to be filled. Night of the Lepus fills it almost in spite of itself: It contains no intentional humor to speak of. But it manages to be fun to watch because it takes itself seriously despite its kooky subject matter, and because none of the actors mail in a performance. Also, there are giant, mutant bunny rabbits.

The hilarity in Black Sheep is entirely intentional though. I assumed while I was watching it that whoever wrote it (turns out, it's director Jonathan King) would have an extensive list of comedic writing credits, but I was wrong -- Black Sheep is his first project. It's an impressive first turn. The script is strong and the dialogue is peppered with clever exchanges. One of my favorites occurs when three of the characters are chased into a bedroom while a furious sheep rams at the door from the outside.

Experience: What is wrong with you?
Henry: [Panicking] Ovinophobia, my therapist calls it.
Experience: Well, what's that?
Henry: Just the completely unfounded and irrational fear that one day
this is going to happen.

The gore is more than Horrorthon-worthy. As with the basic look of the sheep, there's only minimal CGI touching-up. The effects are mostly mechanical, so there's nothing blatantly digital and unrealistic to be distracted by. Plus, sheep have flat teeth, so when they gnaw into something, the bites are coarse and painful looking. It feels like a real threat.

Sheep make a great subject for a cute-attack movie -- they're big enough and have a high enough top speed that a mass of them stampeding your way is cause enough for alarm. And in addition to the teeth, there are hooves, so there's a definite physical threat even before the sheep go sour.

Additionally, King made the wise choice not to physically alter the infected sheep. They don't grow fangs, they don't change bone structure. There's a bit of CGI spicing to make them look a little extra pissed, but it's mostly pure, unadulterated sheep you're looking at.

And sheep just have awesome comedic potential. They're trotting balls of fluffy hair that grows thick enough to maintain its stiff shape no matter how fast the sheep is moving around -- which means they all look like galloping barrels. They're also blessed with glib, detached facial expressions, only enhanced by the casual twisting of the jaws when they're chewing something.

And let's not forget, the animal we're talking about sounds like this:

This video would have been a tad better if it stopped at :04.

Like Shaun of the Dead, Black Sheep plays almost as if it were a horror movie because the characters don't intentionally behave like they're in a comedy. They react with sincerity to their bizarre circumstances, so the movie manages to be both horrific and funny without looking like it's trying too hard to be either.

Highly recommended -- my favorite movie so far this Horrorthon season.


Mr. AC said...

Do you think the scientists who cloned Dolly ever imagined that the fruits of their research would include this film? I really enjoyed your review, and by the time I finished the first sentence, I knew I had to eventually see this movie. The ovinophobia bit sealed the deal, though, and bumped Black Sheep up to the top of my queue!

AC said...

don't watch it without me, mr. ac!

Octopunk said...

Excellent review! I watched this with 50 but I won't have a review out for a bit, so I'm glad it's going to show up for the ACs this thon.

One of the great things about this flick is that it takes place in a landscape where sheep just happen to be milling around all the time. The people walk around and don't notice them at all, because who cares? They're just sheep.

Then suddenly things get wiggy and walking outside and seeing one sheep just standing there is a huge deal.

Catfreeek said...

I have been trying to peddle this movie to Horrorthon for 3 years! Finally! Thank you Handsome Stan! What a great review, it's nice to have you finally join the party. There is so much to love about this movie. It's another film that has found it's way to permanent residence on our video shelf. So fun and clever.

DCD said...

Love this review and it also really makes me want to see this movie! maybe Black Sheep will turn out to be this years Trick-r-Treat!

Catfreeek said...

Holy Crap! Sorry 50P I don't know why I thought you were Stan. Must be the Benedryl coma and lack of sleep effecting my brain. Anyway, so glad you loved this film. It's just the type of film Stan would love, maybe that's why I read your name wrong. Maybe I'm just crazy.

JPX said...

Excellent review! This is one of those films that I keep meaning to watch yet for whatever reason it slips past me. I'm happy to hear that most of the effects are practical. CG saps the "horror" out of horror movies.

Cat there's a better way to fall asleep, count some evil sheep.

Where the hell is Stan?

Whirlygirl said...

My list of movies for this month keeps growing.

Landshark said...

Excellent review. Definitely going to check this one out.