Could there be a sillier idea for a horror movie than killer sheep? Well, killer birds spring to mind, and that's what writer-director Jonathan King's movie is: THE BIRDS (1963) in sheep's clothing. And King wrings some pretty good scares along with a couple of sly chuckles out of his wild and woolly premise.
New Zealand sheep farmer's son Henry Oldfield (Nathan Meister) has a little phobia. Actually a big one, the worst possible under the circumstances: ovinophobia. Ever since his dad's death in a flock-related accident, Henry has been scared to death of sheep, and as a high-strung, psychotropically medicated adult, he's all but abandoned the family ranch to older brother Angus (Peter Feeney). After years of therapy, he's decided to cut all ties to the past and sell out his inheritance to Angus. Unfortunately Henry has chosen exactly the wrong time to visit the green, green grass of home. Somewhere in a field, a deformed lamb has been born, the unexpected by-product of Angus' genetic-engineering program, headed up by scientist Dr. Rush (Tandi Wright), whose Dr. Moreau-like tinkering with the raw material of life has made her a pariah in respectable scientific circles. And animal rights activists Grant (Oliver Driver) and Experience (Danielle Mason) who've heard awful rumors about what goes on up at the Oldfield place happen to be poking around just in time to find the poor thing and try to spirit it away as evidence. Imagine Grant's surprise when the malformed newborn bites him and crawls off to foment bloody rebellion on the rolling hills. As Grant undergoes a painful mutation, Experience, Henry and down-to-Earth farmhand Tucker (Tammy Davis) must join forces to fight the vast flocks of suddenly belligerent, bloodthirsty herbivores that outnumber them.
Though widely compared to Peter Jackson's raw, raucous BAD TASTE (1987), music-video director King's first feature is a far more polished proposition: briskly paced, well acted and not the least bit camp or goofy. King's willingness to play his potentially ridiculous material almost straight, leavened with the whisper of a sly smile, pays off beautifully. BLACK SHEEP can't stand up to excessive praise: Its virtues are small and genre-specific. But horror buffs in search of a fresh take on the usual grue should embrace it wholeheartedly. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh