Even horror becomes socially conscious

Black Sheep from New Zealand , Severance from the UK and Last Winter, a joint US /Iceland production were three well-made horror films giving comeuppance to, respectively, genetic engineers, arms merchants and environmentally conscienceless oil companies.

The first is a comedic chiller that outdoes all the so-called “scary” movies from Hollywood with its antipodean breeziness. Henry Oldfield (Nathan Meister) returns to a sheep farm in New Zealand to sell out his share to older brother Angus (Peter Feeney) who has been genetically engineering sheep in a secret laboratory. Two bumbling environmentalists accidentally release a mutant lamb which infects the sheep with a blood lust on the very day Angus has attracted a group of big-city investors to witness the unveiling of his process.

Sheer cheekiness turns what could have been a disaster into a black comedic situation that’s as funny as it is gory. The very idea of sheep vampires is so outrageous that Black Sheep satirizes all today’s “serious” horror films to our amusement and delight.

Limbs and other body parts are separated from their owners in Severance, which has more slice-and-dice content than the other two films. It can lay claim to some Brit-style humour in parts in this tale of an armaments manufacturer’s sales team occupying a dreary inn in a Hungarian forest. They’re picked off by numerous masked man armed with a variety of weaponry.

We’re left in doubt as to precisely who these murderous gentlemen are or what their motivation is but it all adds up to a “biter bit” situation with “defense industry” employees getting a taste of their own manufactured medicine.

But in The Last Winter we get a taste of another facet of the punishment theme. Director Larry Fessenden takes us to a bleak Northern Alaska base for an oil company which is about to start drilling. Macho project boss Pollack (played by Ron Perlman) visits to find that two assessors in residence have serious doubts about the project’s effect on the rapidly warming environment. he is nevertheless determined to go head with a Cheney-like refusal to face facts.

One of the team members begins to crack; others catch glimpses of strange entities from the corners of their eyes. Physical harm comes to some. This is no Thing-like creature from outer space it’s a growingly powerful preternatural force that could be Nature itself taking revenge.

Sometimes, unintentionally, suspense and horror can lead to unwanted laughter, but Fessenden creates a genuine atmosphere that increases in tension until the abrupt but totally appropriate ending. Don’t look for an explanation; draw your own conclusion about what happens. This is a thinking person’s horror film.

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The Last Winter — a bleak warning

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