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Black Sheep (2006)

Dimension Extreme Home Entertainment
DVD Released: 10/9/2007

All Ratings out of
Video: 1/2
Audio: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 10/8/07

OK, stop me if you've heard this one: A movie which features a group of mis-matched characters who must journey across rolling hills -- which are clearly New Zealand -- in order to set things right, all the while avoiding a group of bizarre creatures built by Peter Jackson's WETA Workshop. It's Lord of the Rings, right? Well, in this case, it's actually the horror/comedy Black Sheep which takes the idea that sheep outnumber humans in New Zealand and runs with it.

Black Sheep opens on a sheep farm in the countryside of New Zealand. Henry returns from helping his father herd sheep, only to find that his brother Angus has murdered his pet sheep. The story then leaps ahead 15 years. Henry (Nathan Meister) returns to the farm for the first time in years and we learn that due to that awful experience as a child, Henry has a crippling fear of sheep. Henry has come home to complete a transaction with Angus (Peter Feeney), and sign away all rights to the farm to his brother.

Meanwhile, two animal activists, Experience (Danielle Mason) and Grant (Oliver Driver), are infiltrating the laboratory on the farm, looking for evidence of genetic testing. They steal a vial containing a small sheep cadaver. But, the sheep is actually alive and it attacks Grant. The small sheep then attacks a larger sheep, which in turns sets off the spreading of an infection which causes the sheep to become violent and bloodthirsty.

After meeting with Angus, Henry runs into Tucker (Tammy Davis), a childhood friend. Their reunion is cut short when they are attacked by a group of sheep. A frightened Experience encounters Henry and Tucker and the three realize that they must cross the sheep-infested hills in order to get back to the farm and warn everyone of the violent sheep. Unfortunately, Angus is about to host a presentation for potential investors.

In 1963, Alfred Hitchcock adapted a Daphne Du Maurier story to create The Birds, a film which is considered by many to be a horror classic. What made this movie unique, and what set it apart from other "animals amok" movies, is that it featured humans being attacked by creatures which are typically thought of as benign and skittish. Black Sheep follows this same line of thinking by making sheep, typically seen as docile and cute, cold-blooded killers. But whereas The Birds was brutal and played it straight, Black Sheep is a horror-comedy. It was clearly influenced by the films of fellow Kiwi Peter Jackson like Brain Dead and Bad Taste. The movie offers some humorous sight-gags -- most involving the characters cowering in the face of very peaceful looking sheep -- and there are also some true jokes in the movie.

Also mirroring Jackson's film, Black Sheep doesn't hold back on the gore. Some of you may be intrigued by the premise, but make sure that you have a strong stomach, as we watch the sheep devour their victims. Blood and body parts fly throughout the film, not to mention the violence involved when the humans retaliate. As if that weren't enough, a bite from one of the sheep will cause a human to mutate, so the movie also features some transformation scenes.

Writer/director Jonathan King keeps things moving at a nice pace in the movie, and his clever concept makes for an easily accessible movie. The New Zealand landscapes are gorgeous and the special effects in the film are top-notch. (It's so nice to see true creature effects as opposed to CGI.) Having said that, there seems to be something missing in Black Sheep. Perhaps it's because the balance between humor and gore goes back and forth too much, or maybe it's because the movie is reminiscent of many others films. Whatever the case, Black Sheep rarely rises above mediocrity. This is one of those movies which has "cult film" written all over it, yet it never does anything to that really makes one sit up and take notice. Fans of Peter Jackson's early films, or of Evil Dead II will certainly find something to like in the movie, as the movie is features wall-to-wall jokes and gore. However, don't expect this one to be new classic. Don't get me wrong, Black Sheep isn't great, but it also isn't baaaaaddd.

Black Sheep gets all wooly on DVD courtesy of Dimension Extreme Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image looks very good, as the image is crystal clear, showing no grain and no defects from the source material. The green New Zealand hills look fantastic and the image has a nice amount of depth. The image is never too dark and the framing appears to be accurate. The picture shows some mild video noise at times, but otherwise the picture is great. The audio is impressive as well. The movie has a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. (Although, with the New Zealand accents, I was thankful for the subtitles.) The track really does justice to the film's sound design, as the stereo, surround, and subwoofer effects abound. This track had some of the best surround sound and stereo effects that I've heard in a while. The off-screen sounds really add to the viewing experience.

The Black Sheep DVD has a few extras. We start with an AUDIO COMMENTARY with writer/director Jonathan King and star Nathan Meister. This is a fun talk as the two discuss the making of this bizarre film. King talks about the creation of the story and the challenges of making the low-budget movie, while Meister examines what it was like to work with the sheep. "The Making of Black Sheep" (31 minutes) continues this trend as it features a ton of behind-the-scenes footage. There are comments from King, the producers, and the actors, who discuss the story and the casting. The bulk of the piece focuses on the special effects, as we see the building of the sheep and concept art. The DVD contains 5 DELETED SCENES which run about 3 1/2 minutes and can be viewed with commentary from King and Meister. Four of these are incidental, but one features a character which was sort of forgotten in the finished film. '"Early Morning' A Surprise Scene Shot Exclusively for DVD" is basically a 30-second blooper. There are more gags in the BLOOPER REEL (2 1/2 minutes). Finally, we have the TRAILER for Black Sheep, letterboxed at 2.35:1, but not 16 x 9.

Review Copyright 2007 by Mike Long