If you happen to find yourself in a horror film anytime soon, rule No. 1 for ensuring your survival is don't search the basement, especially when the power's out. This is a no-brainer for horror film enthusiasts, but for us laypeople there's a lot we don't know about the genre. For instance, it's a little known fact that Tulsa has a surprisingly prominent point on the horror movie map, so to speak.
The driving force behind this unusual distinction is Next Monkey Horror Films, and they play a bloody game indeed. Started in 2001, the Tulsa-based production company currently has three feature-length films distributed worldwide.
Mastermind Darla Enlow has been watching scary films all her life. "I've loved horror movies ever since I was probably six years old," she said. "My father used to work at the fire station; therefore he would go on overnight stints at the station and mother, I guess she was a huge influence because she loved horror films, I grew up while he was gone watching the old Vincent Price and Peter Cushing, just the old, old movies like that. Loved 'em."
Her love for the adrenaline rush has only gained momentum. "I remember watching in '76, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and it scared the crap out of me! I was so young, you know, I shouldn't have been watching it anyway. I guess that would be the one that scared me and stuck with me," Enlow said.
The native Tulsan first dabbled in the film industry while attending college at OSU. Slowly but surely, Enlow moved into acting as a movie extra and doing television commercials. The independent film industry proved to be somewhat frustrating for Enlow, who estimated that well over half of projects started are never finished. "I got tired of working on things, putting in all my time and effort as an actor in front of the camera for other peoples' projects and they never got finished. I can't tell you how many times I drove to Oklahoma City. I've brought props, really did everything I could to be there."
Instead of abandoning the frustrating business, Enlow finally said, "I am gonna make a feature film and finish it. I'm gonna have it right here in my hand to hand to somebody, and so by golly, we've done three features and one short and they all got finished."
And there you have it.
Next Monkey wouldn't have been possible without a little help- actually, very little. Darla quickly found her partner in crime, Dana Pike. They are a small but formidable team; Darla takes on double duty as camerawoman and director. Later, she edits the films herself.
Dana does the special-effects make-up and operates the boom mic, the primary microphone that must follow the actors while simultaneously staying out of the frame. Dana also has the added responsibility serving as production coordinator, making calls to cast and crew, rounding them up to shoot. She does wardrobe, too.
Together they carried the weight producing Next Monkey's first two films, Toe Tags and Branded, both completed in 2005. The company released its third and perhaps best-known film, Stitcher, around Halloween of 2007. To understand its success, let's rewind.
The Plot Thickens
A brief excursion to Brain Damage Films in Phoenix, Ariz., to land a distribution deal for Branded and its successful outcome left the dynamic duo fired up. They began to work on their next film, entitled Carthage. Enter Scott Gaffen, theater and casting juggernaut.
Shortly after joining the Tulsa PAC as House Manager in 2005, Gaffen received a call from Enlow offering him the lead in Carthage. Gaffen suspected they first met at an audition long ago, though the two had never worked together. Enlow made it clear that the gig wouldn't pay, but that they'd feed actors at every shoot. "I said, 'I'm there,' because any actor will do anything for food and any artist will do anything for food. I was hooked right there," said Gaffen.
Upon completion, Next Monkey entered the film in a contest conducted by a Tulsa-based distributor, VCI Entertainment, known mostly for old westerns and war flicks. The 20-minute winner was turned into the 90-minute feature Stitcher.
As the casting director for Sticher, Gaffen served as an important liaison between Next Monkey and the other performers. Most of the actors involved were trained in theater performance, including Gaffen. While this initially posed a challenge for all, Enlow acknowledged that everyone's passion for showbiz in general made up for lack of experience onscreen. "A lot of the actors we've worked with didn't really care for horror films or hadn't had the slit throats and the fake blood and all of that stuff, so that was different for them. But we're all a bunch of glory hogs," she said.
"Theater folk also have a knack for working in a timely fashion," said Gaffen. "If a lamp falls down or a set breaks, in film you get to do another take and get it right. In theater you don't have that luxury; you have to make it work. I think that kind of flexibility lends itself really well to film."
Next Monkey kept every single element of the movie local right down to the soundtrack, which includes songs by RadioRadio and Sybil's Machine, among several others. Even the special effects make-up had some Tulsa love in it; all of the fake blood and rubber scars came from Top Hat Magic, 4016 S. Yale.
All of Enlow's movies have an Oklahoma vibe about them, something she wants to preserve. "We know that it would be silly to do a story set in downtown high-rises. We have that here but we also have to keep in mind what we have access to. We have to think about our dialect here in Tulsa sometimes. Like in Stitcher there's a lot of rednecks, it's at the lake in little towns," she said.
Stitcher premiered at the Riverwalk Movies, 600 Riverwalk Ter., at Halloween last year to a packed house. The Next Monkey team plans to make another film around next summer. You can bet it'll be scary, too. Enlow doesn't mess around. "I never have done chick flicks. I'd rather see just a good old fashioned scary movie."
From now until Nov. 10, Next Monkey's films are on sale at Top Hat. To learn more, check out www.nextmonkey.com.
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