Fifteen years ago Henry Oldfield (Nathan Meister) lived on his father's farm with his older brother Angus (Peter Feeney), raising sheep as most of the farms in New Zealand did, but one day something happened to put him off the animals for life. Angus was prone to playing practical jokes, and terrified his sibling by pretending to be a sheep monster while wearing the creature's hide, which was bad timing as right at that moment they received the tragic news that their father had died, falling from a cliff because of one of his sheep. Now Henry returns to the farm, hoping to counter his phobia of the livestock and sell his stake in the property...
Of course, the scariest sheep-related incident in film was the bit in O Lucky Man! where Malcolm McDowell had a nasty surprise when he went over to a patient in the top secret hospital and whipped that sheet off him, but Kiwi filmmaker Jonathan King hoped to change all that with his horror spoof Black Sheep. The novelty of making those wooly beasts your villains captured imaginations around the world, so even if this was not a blockbuster hit there were more than a few moviegoers aware of it thanks to that premise, but those expecting ninety minutes of cheap, gory laughs were slightly taken aback to see that King actually took this notion quite seriously.
What this amounted to was a zombie movie except with sheeplike characteristics, so the animals are shown to be plentiful in the country, edging into every shot of the sweeping landscape and reminding us of their ubiquity there. Therefore when they get infected and turn carnivorous, and aggressively so at that, the fact that they're pretty much everywhere around makes for more tension than a straight comedy might have conjured up. Not that there are a dearth of funny lines, as some of the quips do prompt chuckles, it's just that as far as horror went, King was going straight for the jugular.
The infection stems from a couple of animal right activists who have got wind of the illegal experiments that Angus's lab has been conducting, and the male half, Grant (Oliver Driver), steals a canister intended for incineration. Inside there is a mutant lamb which not only bites him, thereby turning him into that rarest of chiller creatures, a weresheep, but bites an actual sheep as well, kicking off the spread of the disease throughout the population. It so happens the female half of these activists, Experience (Danielle Harris), teams up with Henry who has just accepted his cheque from Angus, although their relationship gets off to a shaky start because she thinks he's the enemy. He's not, as the sheep and the scientists are the enemy, and the film gets some mileage in sending up her cluelessly right-on views.
But what this is really about is creating those suspense and gore sequences, the latter of which are helped along by special effects by Weta, Peter Jackson's effects company: the killer sheep are nicely handled, even if the weresheep tend towards the hokier side. This is partly excused by the comedic aspects, yet the overriding impression is that King came up with his monsters to attract audiences to what was really more conventional in contemporary horror terms than he might have cared to admit. In spite of those reservations you might have, you cannot deny his ploy worked and any other savage sheep movie would have this to contend with as the subgenre benchmark. If it was not for the originality in its setpieces, purely sheep-based as it was, it's unlikely this would have made many ripples, but as it was this was enjoyable inasmuch as it depicted something you wouldn't usually see in horror, and that went a long way. Music by Victoria Kelly.