By Isadora Pennington
From the litany of Halloween themed events like the Little 5 Points Halloween Parade to zombie films and shows in production year-round, this city has its fair share of spooky happenings for horror lovers. Behind the scenes of many of the weirdest, creepiest, and most bizarre productions in Atlanta is Shane Morton, an artist with a fondness for monster movies.
Morton is a staple in the Atlanta horror scene with a long resume that includes acting, illustration, painting, sculpting, production and much more. He’s known as a renaissance man in the industry.
“I’ve always done this stuff for fun, you know,” he said. “I was always obsessed with this since I was a kid. I saw King Kong when I was 3 years old and it changed my life. I’ve been making monster stuff ever
“Why is Atlanta so weird?” mused Morton. “It’s because of Ted Turner.”
Morton cut his teeth on the old horror movies shown on Turner’s first broadcast channel, WTCG (later WTBS) which showed a steady diet of classic films and TV shows. Morton remembers watching classic monster movies while eating breakfast, “that sort of thing kind of warped us in a good way.”
Morton took his love for horror and created Silver Scream FX Lab in South Atlanta. The space is nearly 20,000 square feet full to the brim with props, memorabilia, displays, artwork, and movie sets. Production happens in the lab, too, and bits of silicone body parts in progress can be found strewn around the work area. In one corner sits a box of creepy fake faces and along the walls are shelves of fake props mixed in with real animals preserved in jars of formaldehyde.
Many of the pieces on display in the lab can be recognized from Morton’s various projects, including “Your Pretty Face Is Going to Hell” for Adult Swim on The Cartoon Network (which just so happens to be owned by Ted Turner). “When I found out they were going to do a satanic sitcom I was like, ‘I’ve gotta be the guy,’” he said about the workplace comedy set in hell.
Morton has also worked with the Adult Swim team for projects such as the bizarre “Too Many Cooks,” a surreal, comedic short film. The short begins as a parody of ‘80s and ‘90s television opening title sequences which are interrupted by a homicidal character. The clip became an Internet sensation and went viral after its online debut. Metalheads might be familiar with Morton’s work in the recent Mastodon music video “Asleep in the Deep.”
Though he has always been an artist, he didn’t always focus on monsters. While still in high school, Morton started a small business doing airbrush artwork on the beach in his hometown of St. Simons Island. “In the ‘80s that was really popular,” explained Morton. Following a brief and painful stint working at a Burger King while attending the Savannah College of Art and Design, Morton returned to the art business and opened an airbrush shop at Oglethorpe Mall in Savannah making shirts. This, in turn, led him to get involved with the production of the ‘80s horror film, “Return of the Swamp Thing.” He was also building a music career as singer and guitarist for a successful band called The Luchagors.
He was torn about leaving music and return to art, but once he returned to his love of art and horror, Morton’s career took off. This year alone, he has finished eight big projects, including two feature films, three pilots, and three videos. “Hard work ethic helps,” said Morton. “I work every day, even when I’m at home.”
One of 2015’s crowning achievements for Morton and his team is a unique horror film called “Sam & Mattie Make A Zombie Movie.” The film is an action-packed adventure following two bionic teens as they fight against zombies, demons, and their own fears. “Just when you think everything has been done in film and television and then something like this comes along,” said Morton. The film was conceived, written, acted, and directed by best friends Sam Suchmann and Mattie Zufelt, two teens with Down Syndrome who met at the Special Olympics in elementary school.
“There is a purity to what these boys have done and to their approach,” Morton said. “It’s so real, it’s hard to wrap your head around it.”
Now in post-production, Morton is anxiously awaiting screenings of the finished product. He believes that this is the beginning of a new type of filmmaking and thinks that the movie will be a hit with audiences. “It’s gonna be huge,” he said. The film is full of culture references and collaborations with celebrity talents such as the Beastie Boys, Farrelly Brothers and Pauly D.
In addition to the television and production side of his work, Morton is also known for his contributions to projects like the Atlanta Zombie Apocalypse, a fully immersive Halloween attraction that inserts the participants into a zombie outbreak. Performing as his alter-ego Professor Morte, Morton also hosts the popular Silver Screen Spook Show at the Plaza Theater on Ponce. At the time of our meeting he was preparing for Monsterama, a fantasy and horror convention taking place at the Marriott Perimeter on the weekend of Oct. 2-4.
Stay weird, Atlanta.
Photos by Isadora Pennington.