New Zealand, the bawdy saying goes, is where men are men and sheep are nervous. But in Jonathan King's horror comedy "Black Sheep," it's humanity's turn to shiver and shake. Transformed by a renegade geneticist from docile balls of cotton to bloodthirsty mutants, the film's four-legged flesh-eaters run riot over a sprawling family farm, sending its inhabitants scattering like, well, sheep.
Following in the footsteps of Sam Raimi and fellow New Zealander Peter Jackson, King mixes slapstick humor with gushers of gore. Bodies are ripped to pieces, intestines pulled out, lips bitten off, each piece of tattered flesh lovingly crafted in latex by New Zealand's Weta Workshop.
The reliance on physical rather than digital effects may speak as much to the movie's budget as its artistic aims, but it instills "Black Sheep" with a kind of bloody nostalgia, a longing for the days when a severed head couldn't be simulated with the click of a mouse.
The sheep's metamorphosis is masterminded by Dr. Rush (Tandi Wright), a typically nefarious but strangely fetching mad scientist. Tasked by the rancher Angus Oldfield (Peter Feeney) with genetically engineering a softer, woollier breed, she's taken matters into her own hands, with predictably dangerous results. The job of halting the resultant rampage falls to Angus' brother Henry (Nathan Meister), who has been absent from the farm for 15 years. The reason? A crippling case of "ovinophobia," which he describes as "the completely unfounded and irrational fear that one day this was going to happen."