"Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves" - Matthew 7:15.
Todd (Laurence Mullaney) is working late at the office one evening. He receives a call from his wife and he tells her he's been held back; she's not happy. A new temp then walks into his office and he flirts outrageously with her, asking to take her out for a drink in a nearby bar after work. She politely declines. She does, however, deliver a sealed brown envelope to his desk: upon opening it, he's perplexed by the scrawled on the piece of paper inside - "We Know What You Are!".
When he's the last person to leave the office a short while later, Todd's accosted by a group of punk rockers in the parking lot beneath his company's premises. He's beaten, abducted and take him blindfolded to an abandoned warehouse where he's handcuffed to a chair.
The gang - actually a punk band when not kidnapping and torturing businessmen - are fronted by Schafer (Michael Schantz). He begins his interrogation of Todd by explaining that he's the brother of the woman Todd was having an affair with up until recently. We learn that his sister got pregnant, before being murdered under mysterious circumstances shortly afterwards. Schafer believes Todd killed his sister.
"You think I did that?" gasps Todd as Schafer shows him a police photo of his sister Kate's mangled corpse.
"That's what we're here to find out" leers Schafer.
Todd, of course, protests his innocence. Schafer's band-mates - Clive (Zach Gillette) and Marcus (Bryan Manley Davis) - are behind him 100%, helping him capture and even rough up the bewildered-looking Todd. Oh, guess who else is there too? Dylan (Ria Burns-Wilder). She's Schafer's girlfriend ... and the temp that Todd flirted with earlier in the evening.
But then Schafer throws them all a curveball: he reveals that he believes Todd to be a werewolf. Yes, a werewolf. He reasons that there was a full moon on the night of Kate's murder, and that police reports indicate she was torn apart with animal-like ferocity. Schafer attributes another murder in the area, on the night of another full moon, to Todd too.
An exasperated Todd attempts to convince his captors that Schafer's accusations are crazed. He's a middle-aged businessman with a wife and kids. Could he really be lycanthropic too?!
I'm not telling. After all, the unfurling drama of this 79-minute indie flick pretty much hinges on whether or not Todd is a howling creature of the night.
Written and directed by Kurtis M Spieler, SHEEP SKIN does a good job of holding our attention and keeping us interested in learning the truth. It's based on a short film that Spieler made back in 2007.
Apparently shot on a budget of just $25,000.00 over the course of eight days, the film makes great use of cranking out tension from its (predominantly) single-location setting. The camerawork is solid but unfussy, being careful so as to never detract from the dialogue-heavy action occurring onscreen. Editing is super-tight and proficient in this regard. The script is flab-free; the pace is unflagging. Spieler never allows things to feel stagey despite the limited settings.
For such a low-budget film, the finished sheen is highly cinematic. It's an impressive feat on such a budget. The intelligent lighting and subtle colour-correction certainly help in this regard.
Performances are very good. I've read some comments online which effectively berate Mullaney for being unconvincing in his role. I didn't think so. Each of the actors serve Spieler's screenplay well, going for as plausible a spin on a classic horror trope as possible. The results are successful for the most part.
For the most part? Well, the scenario - as intriguing as it is - does feel a tad stretched out. But if you stick around, you will be rewarded by a righteously bloody finale with some pretty decent FX work to help it along.
Oh, there's a pretty cool punk rock soundtrack employed sporadically throughout too.
Unearthed's region-free DVD comes via distribution from MVD Visual Entertainment.
The film is presented uncut on it, in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio and enhanced for 16x9 televisions. Though clearly a low-budget production, the movie can boast a very healthy picture. Colours are strong and accurate, images are vibrant and pin-sharp, blacks are consistently solid.
English audio is proffered in a bold, boisterous 2.0 mix. Clean, clear and well-balanced throughout, this playback is as reliable as the picture presentation.
An animated main menu page darts across the screen in a whirl of recurring static noise. From there, an animated scene selection menu allows access to the film via 12 chapters.
Bonus features begin with an alternate monochrome version of the film. This comes with a video introduction from Spieler, explaining how he and cinematographer Adrian Correia experimented with black-and-white during production. He reveals what it is he likes about this version of the film - it gives it more of a punk rock feel while paying homage to classic horror films of yore - but also reasons why he eventually decided to release the colour version commercially. The film does play very atmospherically (not to mention cinematically) in monochrome.
We also get an audio commentary track from Spieler on the colour version of the main feature. He's joined by co-producer Nicholas Papazoglou for a jovial chat. The latter is quieter in the mix than the director, but they bounce well off each other and this is an incredibly detailed, informative - though never heavy-handed - chat track regardless.
A deleted scene comes with another introduction from Spieler. He explains why the scene was cut. In all, this non-consequential sequence runs for 3 minutes with intro.
The original short film features next. It's a taut 12-minute affair which skilfully condenses all the drama and mystery of the film into a much shorter timeframe. The only familiar face here is Mullaney (as the abducted Todd again) and the location this time is a field that used to house drive-in cinema screenings. But this is good stuff.
"Tearing back the Skin" is an 11-minute featurette in which Spieler hosts as we get some valid behind-the-scenes footage based around the film's crucial finale scenes (and therefore difficult to discuss here without giving away major spoilers!).
Finally, we get a 3-minute music video by the film's punk band, Dick Punchers. Well, it's billed as a music video but it's actually a black-and-white behind-the-scenes photo gallery related to the film's shoot, set to an enjoyably rudimentary song with (presumably) Burns-Wilder singing lines like "If you're a werewolf, I'll punch you in the dick ... If you're ambidextrous, I'll punch you in the dick" and so on.
I enjoyed SHEEP SKIN a lot. It's slick, stylish, gory, intriguing, well-acted and well edited. It outstays its welcome slightly, but it's still definitely worthy of 80 minutes of your time. It's the best werewolf film I've sat through in a while.
And it's been given a great all-round DVD release here.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by Unearthed Films|
|see main review|