Black Sheep: Jonathan King interview
Rounding off our creature feature day, Sarah talks to director Jonathan King about Black Sheep...
Jonathan King’s Black Sheep was the opening film at the Film4 FrightFest last year, and it was, in a word, fan-fucking-tastic. Funny and scary in just the right amounts, it was clever and fast-paced and silly and probably one of the best cinema experiences I’ve ever had. If you didn’t see it on its (limited) cinema run, you missed out. But it’ll be out on DVD soon, so don’t worry too much. In the meantime, you can read this – I got my fangirl on talking to Mr King about the movie…
DoG: The obvious question – why sheep? Did you have a bad experience with a sheep at any point in your life? D’you think there are any other farmyard animals who are ripe for a horror movie makeover?
JK: Why sheep? Because that’s always been pretty much New Zealand’s only claim to fame (besides the All Blacks and Lord of the Rings — and there’s already a film of the latter and I certainly wasn’t going to make a film about the former!). Wherever you go in the world as a New Zealander people ask you about one of those three things. The day my subconscious put together sheep and the splatter and horror movies I grew up on I smiled, and knew that it was a combination that would work.
DoG: People have compared Black Sheep to early Peter Jackson movies; how do you feel about that comparison?
JK: Well, it’s fine by me! I liked Bad Taste and Braindead very much when I saw them. I was equally influenced by things like The Evil Dead, Dawn of the Dead and American Werewolf in London … but I’m inspired by filmmakers like Peter Jackson (and Sam Raimi) who were able to start with fun horrors movies and keep widening the envelope of what they’re doing to include some fantastic (and very successful) films.
DoG: The special effects in Black Sheep by Weta Workshops are fantastic – do you prefer that kind of style to CGI gore?
JK: For this kind of film, I certainly do. I would by lying if I said budget wasn’t a factor in the approach we chose, but having gone the practical route, I do think it’s best for the film. Pretty much everything you see in Black Sheep is something that happened in front of the camera rather than on a computer. We had the advantage of digital technology to remove rods, combine elements together or enhance the odd moment — but I think audiences have responded to an old-fashioned approach to our creatures and gore. Even if you know it’s not real, you know it was something we made and really filmed …
DoG: Black Sheep mocks various people fairly equally – from the evil scientist types to the rabid animal-welfare guys – what’s your actual feeling on genetic modification etc?
JK: Well, I think kinda where the film ends up sitting on the debate would be something like my own views … but the film is primarily entertainment, rather than a enviro-political statement. Like you say, the film is pretty even-handed in finding humour in all sides of the debate: I find extremists of all colours funny.
DoG: There are some very heated debates going on in the IMDB message boards for the film – do you follow online reviews/forums at all? Isn’t it tempting to wade in?
JK: I think anyone who posts to a message board probably has extreme opinions anyway … and it’s a lot easier to say you hate something and that anyone who disagrees with you is a moron than it is to say something real. For everyone of those, someone rebuts it … and round and round it goes. I don’t think I’d be adding anything to join in. Listening to audiences in a dozen different countries laugh, scream and cheer at the film as been a much more direct and real connection with the public for me.
DoG: A lot of critics didn’t seem to get Black Sheep for one reason or another – d’you think there’s some genre snobbery going on there?
JK: Well, I’m amazed how many did get it in exactly the spirit it’s intended — having esteemed journals like The New Yorker, Time Magazine, Salon and Time Out all seeming to enjoy it tremendously was beyond my hopes and expectations for the film. I think if there is genre snobbery, it’s from hardcore horror audiences who may not have found it mean or stoopid enough for today’s tastes. People who aren’t sure if it’s their cup of tea or not often seem to come out enjoying it more!
DoG: You’re obviously a fan of American Werewolf in London; are you a horror fan in general? Will you be making more horror films (or films with horror elements; Black Sheep obviously wasn’t a straight horror film) in future? What’s your next project going to be?
JK: Yeah, I do love horror films … but I’m not a fan of the recent spate of torture porn. I would love to make a scarier film than Black Sheep one day; I’d love to make something as eerie and elegant as I Walked With A Zombie, as atmospheric as (the original) The Haunting or as visceral as The Thing. My next film is a scary and dark fantasy adventure called Under the Mountain — based on a book, it’s influenced equally by things like The Thing and Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Amblin films of the 80s like ET and Poltergeist.
Black Sheep is out on DVD on the 31st March.