Indie Horror Filmmaker Joe Sherlock

A slavering werewolf slinks through the mist. A redneck zombie rips through flesh. A homicidal handyman lurks in your attic. 

These are just a few of the cinematic subjects that local indie horror filmmaker Joe Sherlock has essayed in the last 30 years, during his time spent making movies in Corvallis. As Sherlock prepares for the release of his new horror film Dark Zone Thirteen on June 29, we spoke at length about his background, creative process, and how Corvallis has played an integral role in his movies to date.

Coming of Age
“I’ve been drawn to horror movies ever since I was a kid,” says Sherlock. “My dad took me to see a screening of Dracula at the public library when I was growing up in New Jersey. My family moved to Corvallis in 1978 and I continued to eat up all manner of horror and sci-fi flicks on KPTV-12, plus comic books and Fangoria magazines.”

Since coming to Corvallis, he has worn nearly every filmmaking hat as an indie, DIY auteur. Low-budget filmmaking necessitates such, and the results show what he has written, produced, directed, shot, edited, acted, and composed for roughly 20 feature films since his debut title, Dimension of Blood, in 1996.  

“My friend John Bowker and I started making shorts and music videos and fake commercials and such in the late 1980s, using gigantic VHS camcorders and editing between two VCRs. It was all for fun. In 1995, I decided to try to take one of these short features more seriously and made an X-Files/b-movie hybrid called Dimension of Blood.

Sherlock worked on four indie horror films in the mid to late 90s, before witnessing a transitional phase in the industry as the millennium approached. With the distribution and technological model beginning to shift from analog to digital, he was keen to face the challenge of evolving with the times.

“The very end of the 1990s and beginning of the 2000s was a crazy time,” says Sherlock. “Even as the distribution landscape has changed, I’ve still just stuck to my own little niche – mostly horror movies with a bit of quirkiness to them. I’ve made projects for other producers and distributors, I’ve sold movies to distributors, I’ve made my own stuff and sold it online, run my own Video on Demand channel, rented theaters for hold screenings, had things shown in film festivals, etc. The drive to create is there, I just keep making’ em.”

In addition to Dimension of Blood, he has filmed at least portions of the following films here in the valley: Beyond the Wall of Fear, Blood Creek Woodsman, Old Noggins, Twisted Fates, Deadly Premonitions, Platoon of the Dead, Underbelly, and most recently, Dark Zone Thirteen. 

“I’ve shot stuff all over Corvallis, in private homes, in parks, at OSU, various businesses, etc. I’ve moved from shooting on VHS all the way to digital now, but the process is mostly the same.”

DIY Diligence
The axiom “time is money” is most relevant in the film industry. It is understood that the more money you have, the more time you can afford to make a movie. With such limited resources at his disposal, Sherlock has made a career overcoming the lack of time and money through tactile ingenuity and unwavering do-it-yourself enthusiasm. 

“I’ve always done things the DIY way, so I have not really engaged the city in any of my projects. I’m usually working in private homes or businesses, or just out in a public park or something. Corvallis is great because of the variety of locations.”

Warding such a variety of responsibilities on a film set presents its own set of challenges. Fortunately for him, the rewards are worth the difficulties.   

“I’d say directing and shooting is the hardest part… getting the work done in what is usually a short amount of time,” Sherlock admits. “It’s where a lot of magic happens but it can be exhausting. That being said, it’s also the most rewarding because I am seeing ideas and words that previously only existed in my head come to life, sometimes in even better ways than I’d hoped for.”

Dark Zone Thirteen
Sherlock’s newest endeavor, Dark Zone Thirteen, is an anthology film that will consist of six short horror tales. The vignettes are conceived as “scary tales from the infamous unpublished thirteenth issue of a fictional lost pulp magazine.” 

He drew inspiration for the film from making the rounds of the independent horror film festival circuit and fan conventions. 

“I’ve been lucky enough to have many of my flicks premiere at the Crypticon Seattle horror convention,” Sherlock beams. “My last movie ran into casting and production issues causing it to painfully drag out over more than a year. At the beginning of 2019, I decided I wanted to try putting together a brand new anthology to show. Four months later [in May], Dark Zone Thirteen had its world premiere at Crypticon Seattle 2019.”

Sherlock wrote all six stories and directed four of them. The other two were directed by Joseph Voegele out of Washington state, and Filip Hanzek out of Croatia. A portion of the “Just Beyond the Corner of Your Eye” chapter of the anthology was shot in Sherlock’s own house, while the bulk of “The Hunter” chapter of the film was shot in the McDonald-Dunn Forest. 

“The most fun was probably shooting at the f/Stop Fitzgerald’s pub in Salem,” he says. “We shot bar scenes there, then we headed upstairs to their theater to shoot theater scenes. After that, the cast and crew had pizza and beer and we watched one of my movies on the big screen!”

As for the challenges, he admits “the hardest part was probably a sequence with a lot of blood – I mean a lot of blood. Shooting in a bathroom was convenient because people could hop in the shower easily once their scene was done.”

Following its screening at Crypticon Seattle, Dark Zone Thirteen is set to have its theatrical premiere on Saturday, June 29, 7:30 p.m. at the Clinton Street Theater in Portland.  

“My plan is to have DVDs in my online store and the movie available on my Vimeo channel by the end of June.”

Following Dark Zone Thirteen, Sherlock is poised to continue working on the Things franchise, for which he helmed Things 5: Strange Monsters. He will write and direct Things 6 and Things later this year. 

To watch Sherlock’s work online, visit http://skullfaceastronaut.com/ and http://skullfaceastronaut.com/vod/.

By Jake Dee