Musicvid helmer Jonathan King turns New Zealand’s fleecy export into mutant carnivores in endearingly amusing horror pic, “Black Sheep.” With plenty of knowing winks directed at the Kiwi predilection for their ovine friends, the pic has plenty of laffs, helped along by master f/x from WETA Workshop. “Sheep,” which IFC is shepherding theatrically through its First Take label, will make perfect fodder for midnight screenings on campuses nationwide, while the DVD — released by the Weinstein Co. through Genius Products — will yield maximum enjoyment in group viewings.
The rolling hills of rural N.Z. are the pastoral starting point as Henry (Nathan Meister) returns to the family farm looking for both a buyout from estranged older brother Angus (Peter Feeney) and an aversion therapy cure to his sheep phobia. Little does he suspect that Angus is dabbling in genetic engineering courtesy of disgraced scientist Dr. Rush (Tandi Wright).
Bubbleheaded animal rights activists Grant (Oliver Driver) and Experience (Danielle Mason) — a mismonicker if ever there was one — sneak onto the farm to expose the dastardly experiments. But Grant flips out and carries off a deformed sheep fetus, which he drops while escaping. One bite from the slimy creature and all Grant’s vegetarian self-righteousness disappears as his woolly transformation begins.
Meanwhile, the rest of the massive flock is similarly undergoing a nefarious change. A terrified Henry, together with Experience and farmhand Tucker (Tammy Davis), try to get to the bottom of it all. But Angus is gearing up for a presentation of his new genetically engineered breed, and won’t let family ties or the namby-pamby PETA wannabes stop him.
Influenced by comic horror picsfrom “Evil Dead” to homegrown fare including Peter Jackson’s early work, “Black Sheep” wisely doesn’t try to dress up mutton as anything other than mutton. A scene of Henry and cohorts carefully walking away from the farmhouse is obviously inspired by “The Birds,” but King doesn’t push the parallels and is content to keep tongue firmly in cheek, as Dr. Rush’s Dr. Moreau-like experiments turn cuddly creatures into killer zombies.
Script is clever enough to keep an essentially one-note joke running throughout, and even stale moments offer groan-worthy humor (“The sheep are revolting”). Visuals are handsome, with King keen on situating the action in a typically Kiwi sylvan setting.
WETA Workshop, lauded for its work on “The Lord of the Rings,” does a bang-up job with the models, and King uses a fast, shaky handheld camera when needed to cover a multitude of possible imperfections.
Pic preemed in the Toronto fest’s “Midnight Madness” section last fall, and is skedded for a March release in New Zealand.