I’ve known Joe Sherlock for years now, at least via the Internet — I can’t remember exactly how I learned of Joe and his movies, but I do know that he was one of the first people to review Science Bastard, the cheesy short film I wrote and directed back in 2002 or thereabouts. I’m happy that he made the time to do this interview for Cheese Magnet — he’s wildly enthusiastic about b-movies and all manner of other things, as you’ll see, and on top of that, he’s just a great guy.
SP: Let’s start out with the basics: where were you born, and what was being a kid like for you? Were you interested in filmmaking at an early age?
JS: I was born near Philadelphia and grew up in New Jersey until I was 11. Life was pretty sweet. I watched the local Philly horror host Dr. Shock on Saturday afternoons – two horror movies back to back! STAR WARS came out when I was just about 10. We saw JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS for one of my birthdays. Check out the cool monster party my parents threw for me.
When I was 11, we moved all the way across the country to Oregon and I’ve been here ever since. My sci-fi and horror passions continued to grow, fed by comic books, stuff like BUCK ROGERS and QUARK on TV, and a local indie channel (KPTV Channel 12) that showed lots of genre stuff from DARK STAR to SILENT RUNNING to THE ALIEN FACTOR. I even drew my own comics, early on superhero stuff and then sci-fi adventure stuff.
I was definitely keen on filmmaking when I was growing up. I did a lot of crazy audio tape stuff – skits, fake commercials and things that were clearly influenced by SCTV. It was a logical step to move to visuals. My dad had a super-8 camera and I made some stop-motion shorts. Later, my friend John got a VHS video recorder and we made music videos, fake movie trailers and eventually short features.
SP: I know you grew up on stuff like The CBS Late Movie, KISS, and other 1970s staples. What are some of the things you loved as a kid?
JS: Loved KISS and still do. I remember after getting KISS Alive II, setting up some dummies in my bedroom with halloween masks, one even up on a card table like a KISS stage riser, for an imaginary concert. I loved all that 70’s and 80’s stuff – early on it was THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN and THE INCREDIBLE HULK, Saturday morning stuff like ARK II and JASON OF STAR COMMAND, and later things like BUCK ROGERS and FLASH GORDON. I saw a lot of great genre stuff on the CBS Late Movie like SHOCK WAVES, NIGHT STALKER episodes, PARTS: THE CLONUS HORROR, and of course, PHANTASM. (You can read Joe’s post on his Halloween PHANTASM tradition right here).
SP: You’re a Don Dohler fan, right? What was your introduction to Dohler’s work – I assume you were into CINEMAGIC magazine. How much of an influence was he?
JS: I saw THE ALIEN FACTOR on indie channel KPTV 12 sometime in the early 80s. It hadn’t been that long since I’d moved to Oregon and all of the accents, architecture and locations really reminded me of Jersey. Plus it has that homemade feel that made me think, ‘Hey, I could do that!” I managed to record an airing of THE ALIEN FACTOR off of TBS and watched that VHS so many, many times. I rented GALAXY INVADER from the local Hollywood Video. I started up my Dr. Squid zine in the early 90s and wrote to Don Dohler for an interview by mail. He was fantastic – wrote back with great, honest answers and seemed like a really swell guy. Later on once we both were on the internet, he and I corresponded a bit. He was always such a nice guy, helpful to other filmmakers. I actually didn’t see any issues of CINEMAGIC until a few years back! I know so many other movie guys who grew up reading it, but I just never came across it. FANGORIA and STARLOG for sure, though.
SP: Who were some of your other influences?
JS: John Carpenter and his frequent DP, Dean Cundey. STAR WARS. Fred Olen Ray, Jim Wynorsky and David DeCoteau for their fun b-movies that were fast and didn’t apologize for what they were. Roger Corman for the same reason. I love Don Coscarelli’s stuff – he works in great character moments with unique horror concepts.
SP: As a Coscarelli fan, I assume you’ve seen KENNY & CO.? Before I’d seen it, Don Adams used to describe it to me as “a dry run for PHANTASM,” and when it finally came out on DVD, I flipped over it. I watch it pretty much once a year now. It’s probably my second favorite Coscarelli flick (after PHANTASM), and I’m curious as to what you think of it.
JS: I had read about KENNY AND CO for years, but until the DVD came out a few years back I’d never been able to see it. Once I did – I LOVED IT! And I can totally see what Don (Adams) is saying. I’ve read interviews with Don (Coscarelli) saying that he wasn’t that old when he made the movie so he wasn’t that far removed from being that age and I think that is why is captures so much of what being a pre-teen boy is about. Of course it reminded me a lot of when I was growing up, not in specific incidents necessarily, but more the “feel” of what it was like. At the 2012 Crypticon Seattle convention, I was excited to be able to buy a copy of KENNY & CO and get Don’s autograph on it, but when I went by the table on Sunday, he was sold out! He did a live commentary to BEASTMASTER the first night of the con and with only about 20 people there it was like hanging out in Don’s living room, just chatting about his movie! So very very cool.
SP: Did you ever make the move to Hollywood?
JS: I never did. I married right out of college and was lucky enough to get a good job locally. At the same time as the full-time job, I ran a comic book and game store for several years with some friends. I started really trying the shot-on-video movie stuff for real just before the comic shop closed, with DIMENSION OF BLOOD, followed by MONSTER IN THE GARAGE. I had all kinds of ties here and just figured I could make movies with people and places here just fine…and that’s what I’ve done!
SP: Which of your movies would you recommend for Cheese Magnet readers to dive into the Joe Sherlock ouvre?
JS: BLOODSUCKING REDNECK VAMPIRES (aka Inbred Redneck Vampires) for sure – it’s crazy and funny and goes well with beer! TWISTED FATES is a fun b-horror anthology that I think has a lot of my style in it. UNDERBELLY was my attempt to do some non-horror stuff with a sexy thriller. Watch out for the body count flick BLOOD CREEK WOODSMAN later this year – it’s my best effort yet!
â€¨SP: What’s the highest budget you’ve ever worked with, and how did that affect the filmmaking process?
JS: I’d say probably $3000 and that was an estimate for what my buddy Mike and I spent on BLOODSUCKING REDNECK VAMPIRES. We had gobs and gobs of characters and shot most of the movie in a small town about 3 and a half hours’ drive from me. We shot over many, many weekends, so there was a lot of food and beer purchased! Lots of beer. Plus several sets of fangs, gallons of fake blood, costumes, gas money, etc. And beer.
SP: I’m a huge fan of BLOODSUCKING REDNECK VAMPIRES – it’s a micro-budget masterpiece that delivers the groceries on all counts: cute girls, gore, and one of the toughest things for a micro-budget flick to pull off, humor that actually works. Can you give us a little more detail on what went into making the movie – with all that beer, there have to be some good behind-the-scenes stories.
JS: Oh, boy. So many tales. The main location was the small town of Winlock, Washington. Mike’s co-worker lived up there and had the old house, barn, horses and property and she got the whole town whipped up into the movie – casting extras, arranging all sorts of locations from mobile homes to the bar to the hair salon, etc. But like I said, it was 3.5 hours away from me so those shooting weekends were killers!
We’d really written ourselves into a corner with so many characters. We brought some people in with us but Lindsay Hope who played Lil Eva was local – we shot at her house! And most of the small parts, bit players and extras were all locals. And they were pretty much paid in beer.
The commentary that Mike and I did actually has a ton of behind the scenes tidbits in it. (just note, the retitled release, “Inbred Redneck Vampires” from MVD is missing the commentary track, trailer and photo gallery, so pick up a copy of the original release or buy the dvdr-on-demand version from Amazon).
(You can also see BLOODSUCKING REDNECK VAMPIRES, in its entirety, FREE, right here)
One big thing was that we shot one scene in Portland, Oregon with the original actress who was going to play the vampire Catherine, and then she flaked on the first long weekend shoot we had up in Winlock. It was horrible! We had to rearrange and shoot everything we could that didn’t have her in it, including shooting as much of the big Tripe Days Festival finale without one of the main characters! As fate would have it, we recast with Felicia Pandolfi, someone I’d worked with a lot before but I thought she’d already moved out of state. Turns out she hadn’t moved quite yet, so she was cast as Catherine and did a fantastic job. But the opening of the movie is a hodge-podge of what was originally written and what we could do to salvage that original scene.
Lindsay also got a job shortly before shooting so suddenly we had to rearrange the shoot because she was going to be gone at work a lot of the time we’d had her scheduled. As such there are a bunch of points where we had to shoot her by herself and cut those shots in later. I think it all worked out OK, but it was just one more snafu!
Now, I shouldn’t really complain too much about my drive time to the Winlock locations. Scott Shanks, who played Jean Claude, lived about 4 hours south of me, so he was driving over 7 hours each way for this crazy movie! One weekend, he forgot his jacket for the Tripe Days Festival finale scenes. Luckily he knew someone who had a similar jacket and didn’t have to back-track the entire 7 hours to get it, but I know it added a fair amount to his travel time that weekend. What a trouper!
The local woman who played Darlene certainly didn’t claim to be an actress but we were desperate to fill all these rolls. One long long night we were trying to get her scenes done and she was pretty drunk and just couldn’t get her lines. I made up cue cards and put them at different points in the room so all she had to do was read a couple of lines, then turn her head and move to the next spot on set, then read a couple more lines. So many many many takes we did. It was getting close to 3 a.m. or later. I don’t know, it’s kind of a blur. But I was determined to get this scene. It’s like I had blinders on to everyone wanting to go to bed and thinking this was not going to get any better. My buddies pulled me aside and joked that I needed to “take the helmet off,” which was referencing the goalie helmet that Bob was wearing in the scene where Darlene whacks his head with a frying pan. It basically meant I was so tunnel-visioned that I couldn’t see it was time to give it up.
SP: Tell us about TWISTED FATES, your horror anthology — you directed one segment, but who are the other two directors, and how did they get involved? Were all the segments shot in your neck of the woods, with you overseeing everything?
JS: TWISTED FATES was started with the idea that I would “farm out” segments that I had written to other directors and edit all the resulting footage together. It was a rocky road to completion.
The “New Neighbor” story started pretty smoothly – I’d written it with Ron Ford in mind to act in and direct it down in California with some of his regulars. He shot it in the spring of 2003. Unfortunately something screwy happened with the sound in parts and one of the tapes had a bunch of glitches on it. I worked around it as best I could when editing.
I tried to set up the “Welcome Sister” story with a few people but most were too busy with their own things. I’d decided I would just have to shoot it myself, but then Bob Olin, who had acted in several of my projects, expressed an interest in directing it. I ended up being cameraman on that one and we shot it in a park up near Portland, Oregon in October 2008. A week before the shoot, one of the actresses that Bob had lined up dropped out, a fact that Bob told me at a theater pub screening of two movies I’d worked on for John Bowker. We made an announcement to the crowd that we needed an actress for a shoot the next Saturday and Sabrina Larivee raised her hand and volunteered… and she’s been in pretty much everything I’ve done ever since – she is great! The night before the shoot, ANOTHER actress bailed out because she was sick. Bob and I quickly smooshed the script down from 5 to four girls and we shot it all in one day. Again, it’s one of those things were the people just have a great time and put their all into it and I think it turned out pretty well!
The third original story, “Videodrone,” was set up with someone back in 2003 or 2004 who had to bow out, then I tried to set it up a total of three more times over the years and every time an actress would flake out on me. It actually got to the point where I had sent travel money to an actress in California and had to pay for a stop payment on the check when she became totally unresponsive to my contacts. Scott, you even shot some stuff that was going to appear on a TV screen on that segment!
(I had completely forgotten about this, but as Joe reminded me, the footage I shot involved Stephanie Leighs, who played the zombie girl in my no-budget feature, The Stink of Flesh)
In May and June of 2008, I shot a short feature called IT HAUNTS and as I was editing it together I had an epiphany – rather than wrestle with trying to pull the Videodrone shoot together for the fourth time, I’d just use It Haunts as the third story. And that’s just what I did! I’d shot the wraparound sequence years earlier as well.
It finally came out on DVD at the beginning of 2012, then I was selected to be “featured filmmaker” at the Mid-Valley Video Festival in Salem, Oregon and they premiered TWISTED FATES along with a Sasquatch short I’d done. It got reviewed on aintitcoolnews.com, which was great and then, in May, it was screened at the Crypticon Seattle horror convention. I’ve got copies and it also airs from time to time on the free internet horror channel BlackFlag.tv!
SP: I just saw the trailer for BLOOD CREEK WOODSMAN — tell us a little about that movie. It looks like an old-school slasher flick, with plenty of boobs and gore…
JS: It is exactly what you describe! My buddy John Bowker wanted to write a “body count” movie and asked me to co-produce with him and direct it. A guy I went to high school with owned a restaurant/bar and old house in this small rural Oregon town. I’d shot stuff for UNDERBELLY there and he’d always said he’d love to be involved in more movies. So that became our homebase for BLOOD CREEK WOODSMAN.
We shot in the bar, in the restaurant, in his house, in his parking lot, in his RV garage, in his RV, in the surrounding towns, with extras he’d arranged. One of his bar regulars bought old police cars for resale, so we were able to get a sweet prop police car as well as an extra light bar to outfit Mike’s rig as the Sheriff’s vehicle. It was another big cast and so many people brought so much to the production, from police belts to fight choreography experience to great locations like the cabin on the lake and more. Honestly I think it’s the coolest thing I’ve done – shot on HD, lots of production value and like you said, blood, guts and hot chicks!
We shot for about 10 days in August 2009 while Tom Stedham was out from Alabama to play the sheriff. Some weekend and night shoots over the next few months followed and then pick-ups here and there. It was pretty much in limbo for a few years as the original plan called for John Bowker to edit. However, he was backed up with editing the feature that I’d shot and he’d directed in the spring of 2009, EVIL RISING. In June of 2012, Mike Hegg said he wanted to get back into editing after a break and offered to work on BCW. By the end of the year he and I had finished the rough cut and are now working on fine-tuning, sound work and a few insert shots. Hoping to premiere it this spring!
SP: How long does a typical production take for you and your crew?
JS: Most of my projects have been spread out over long weekends, sometimes in a few month span, sometimes longer. A few times I’ve done a big week-long shoot with everyone taking the week off of work and taking advantage of the bookended weekends. That is nice for continuity of weather and haircuts and that type of thing, but it is also rather grueling. Most people in my flicks are friends or friends of friends and have regular jobs, so often it’s just easier to ask people to take Friday off and do a three-day shoot instead of asking everyone to take a whole week off.
SP: Like most low-budget filmmakers, it seems you have a stable of regular performers — tell us a little about them, and how they got involved in your madness.
JS: Like I said, most are friends or friends of friends. I went to high school with John Bowker, Rob Merickel, Jon Wilmot, Dale Wilson and Joe Scott. Rob was always into theater and make-up and is a fantastic special effects guy. I’ve known Tom Shaffer since back then as well. I co-owned a comic book and game store in the 90s and that’s actually where I met folks like Shannon, Felicia Pandolfi, Holly Bernabe and Scott Shanks. Bob Olin was a friend of a friend and was involved in local theater. He is a voracious actor and was quickly in several features and shorts that both John and I were doing. Tom Stedham was in a sequence for ODD NOGGINS that was shot down in Alabama and he offered to come out to Oregon for a movie. I pulled DEADLY PREMONITIONS together for that and since then he came out for John Bowker’s PLATOON OF THE DEAD and then for BLOOD CREEK WOODSMAN. Bryn Kristi is a Northwest actress and model I was aware of from having worked with a photographer friend of mine. She is great – sexy and knows how to kick ass for the camera! I worked with Heather Storm on just one movie, UNDERBELLY – I cast her from a classified ad in the local college paper. She’s since gone on to LA and does movies, commercials and lots of spokesmodel work. When John got the deal to make PLATOON OF THE DEAD back in 2007, he needed a cast younger than the “regulars” we’d been using. As a result of some more classified ad castings, people like Michelle Mahoney, Darla Doom and Morgan Mayhem came into the indie horror madness!
SP: I get the impression you love the heck out of making movies – have you ever had a rough patch where you thought about throwing in the towel?
JS: I don’t think I’ve ever actually thought, “I’ll NEVER make another movie,” I’ve certainly thought, “I am not making another movie for a LONG TIME!” But before long, “the itch” is there and besides, I have a million ideas floating around in my head.
SP: Is filmmaking your “day job,” or do you do something else to keep the lights on?
JS: I have a marketing and publications job in education for the day gig. That plus a wife and teenage son keep me pretty busy, so there is not as much time for movie stuff as there used to be. But I keep plugging away on stuff. You can check out skullfaceastronaut.com/movies for what I’ve got together or my blog.
SP: You received a Drive-In Academy Award Nomination from Joe Bob Briggs – what movie was that for, and how cool was it to get that kind of recognition?
JS: I got Joe Bob’s nomination for ODD NOGGINS, a weird sci-fi horror flick I made back at the end of the 90s. It was basically about a bunch of housewives, most of whom worked for a belly-gram/party clown service, who turned out to be alien headhunters. No, I am not kidding. I was attempting to be weird for weirdness’ sake but the unique angle was I had several other people around the country shoot their scenes according to my script and props that I’d sent them. I cut it all together and made a bizarro cult-ish movie. As far as getting reviewed by Joe Bob, it was AMAZING! I am a big fan of his reviews and used to watch him on MonsterVision all the time. To get that was like a b-movie academy award, man!
SP: Where can people buy your movies?
JS: Start at Skull Face Astronaut — I have a good number of titles in stock myself: click on the movies link and then click on a box cover to see more about the flick and any ordering info. Tempevideo.com has several things I’ve done with John Bowker. I have some titles available through wavemovies.com, and there’s stuff on amazon as well. When in doubt, ask me!