Jonathan King has made the ultimate, "when animals attack," horror film!

Director Jonathan King might well have made the sleeper hit of the summer. In his new film Black Sheep it examines the relationship between man and animal. There are 40 million sheep in New Zealand and only 4 million inhabitants. After a genetic experiment goes wrong, New Zealand's sheep start turning nasty, and it's the humans who begin bleating.

King recently conducted an interview with us to discuss the film, the logistics of making sheep nasty and what his plans for the future are.

How in the world did you come up with the idea for killer sheep in this movie?

Jonathan King: I was working my way through the animals in New Zealand: cats, dogs, pigs, cows, sheep ... Sheep! No, actually it just popped into my head. The juxtaposition made me laugh ... but I could also see how sheep could be scary and dangerous.

Are there any movies you would cite as inspiration?

Jonathan King:The Evil Dead and Dawn Of The Dead were seminal horror movie experiences for me. Later An American Werewolf in London -- which had a big affect on the tone of this. Jaws and The Birds are films that played into it as well.

When you cast the film and you told the actors what the movie was about what were their reactions? How about when you were looking for financing?

Jonathan King: Certainly the actors who did the best auditions were the ones who 'got' the idea and the approach the best. I was always telling them not try and be funny -- the situation is funny, the characters just have to approach it like it's real. That's where the comedy comes from and the actors in the film really got that and did a terrific job with that approach.

Financiers responded immediately to the pitch. They knew about New Zealand's connection with sheep and saw it as a fresh horror idea. Our challenge was to make sure the script delivered the kind of movie you'd hope to see when you heard the idea.

Was the toughest part of this film making the blood thirsty sheep look real when juxtaposed with the real sheep in the movie?

Jonathan King: Yep! Well, getting sheep to do anything was the toughest part. I found it's all very well to write "a thousand sheep pour over the hill and tear peoples' throats out ..." it's another thing to get sheep to do that. Luckily we had incredible animatronic and puppet sheep that are good enough to intercut with the real sheep, so you can't tell what's doing what.

How effects intensive would you say this film is?

Jonathan King: Well, it is from the position that every time you see a sheep doing anything it's an effect or gag of some sort. But, having said that, all the effects are practical and grounded in reality, and all serving a story moment. We wanted to build the treat of the sheep up ... and then deliver the worst-case scenario! We're pretty happy with how we achieved that.

How would you describe this movie? Is it a horror film? A comedy, horror film? An animal attacks, comedy, horror film? How might you sum up this movie in one sentence?

Jonathan King: I call it a comedy horror film. It's the ultimate sheep-go-bad-splatter-adventure ... if you think of everything you'd hope to be in there, it is (I think!). We took all aspects of what you know about man's relationship with sheep (yeah, even that!) and filtered it through the sensibility of this film.

Did you find yourself walking a fine line between the genres of comedy and horror? I ask that because when dealing with killer sheep there just seems to be something inherently funny about that.

Jonathan King: There absolutely is something funny about sheep. As soon as I had the idea, I knew what kind of film it had to be. I played with that balance a bit during the shooting of the film and, perhaps even more, during the editing. We had to balance when you're laughing at the creatures and when you're scared of them. It was something I had to deal with with the 'weresheep' particularly ... having said that, if it got a laugh, it probably stayed in the film!

Do you think you might try and tackle other killer animal movies? Like maybe pigs gone wild or something?

Jonathan King: No. Animals. Ever. Again.

What are you working on next?

Jonathan King: I'm developing a scary sci-fi/horror adventure called Under the Mountain and a haunted house story set in the 1970s called Encounter. As well as that I'm looking at projects internationally and would love to find the right one ...

Black Sheep stampedes into theaters June 22, 2007 from IFC First Take.

Evan Jacobs at Movieweb
Evan Jacobs