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Black Sheep Review

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Henry Oldfield (Meister), who has a terror of sheep after a cruel childhood prank, returns to the family farm as an adult to sever his ties with the business. There, his brother (Feeney) is running a programme of genetic experiments which turns placid sheep against humanity.

★★★★

The pitch (zombie sheep!) for this New Zealand horror-comedy sounds dispiritingly like something you’d expect to slink out of Troma (say, Poultrygeist) or the lower depths of agricultural comedy splatter (Revenge Of Billy The Kid). An optimist might hope for something along the lines of early Peter Jackson. However, writer-director Jonathan King delivers a surprisingly classy, albeit wholesomely depraved picture showcasing effective special effects and broad comic performances with enough nuance to work up some suspense between the entrail-eating and sheep-shagging jokes.

The image of placid sheep staring evilly or attacking like rabid dogs is funny and unnerving, but the film takes the time to establish that the animals aren’t as fluffily endearing as their popular image before the carnage starts - introducing the adult Henry having a panic attack in a taxi stalled on a rural road by a close-pressed, slow-moving flock. There’s something about the cloven hooves, swollen foreheads and blank eyes of regular sheep that really do make them creepy if you get too close to them. The best line comes when the hero is asked to define his “ovinophobia” as angry sheep are chewing at the door, and insists that it’s “the completely unfounded and irrational fear that one day this was going to happen!”

King gets laughs from nonsensical agrispeak and bad farming practice (a sinkhole for disposal of failed experiments), but also jibes at the ditzy environmentalists who are at least as responsible for this specific outbreak of carnage. An aggressive vegetarian hippie with a ramlike beard-tuft grabs a canister containing a zombie lamb foetus and smashes it while running through the woods, only to be bitten and transform into a hulking, carnivorous creature who resembles an ovine take on the villain of The Howling (The Bleating?).

There’s malign glee in a long shot of a fast-rushing flock of angry sheep, about to swoop down on a crowd of suited businessfolk listening to a presentation about gen-engineered master sheep, but King also makes imaginative use of gorgeous, slightly desolate New Zealand scenery.

Make up your own sheep-related pun - ewe’ll love it, mutton to be ashamed of, ram-bunctious etc. If you only see one zombie sheep movie, you won’t have a lot of choice, but this certainly delivers all you could wish for.