Say what you will about Atlanta, but there’s no doubting this town’s love of horror movies, cartoons and puppetry. I mention this because I recently had the chance to chat with local artist, actor, musician and all-around ghoul Shane Morton. If something monster-themed goes on in Atlanta, it’s a safe assumption he’s involved somehow – perhaps even in the guise of daytime horror host Professor Morte.
Shane’s latest project is “Your Pretty Face is Going to Hell,” Adult Swim’s live-action workplace comedy set in the unholy bowels of the Inferno. His credits on the show include art direction, creature design, special effects make-up and various infernal props and sets. Now let’s get on to the interview…
Hey Shane thanks for taking some time to chat.
Yep, any time. If there’s one thing I love talking about it’s special effects and monster movies.
So tell me a little bit about “Your Pretty Face is Going to Hell?”
“Your Pretty Face is Going to Hell” is the greatest thing ever to happen to me. When I got involved with it at first, they called me just about doing the makeup and stuff and I went there and had meetings with these guys and after about 10 minutes I realized they didn’t have an art designer. They didn’t know what the look of the show was going to be like, so I freaked out and I said, “Give me two days and we can come back and meet again and I’m going to show you guys a bunch of ideas.”
Because it sounded like the ultimate TV show for me: a satanic sitcom with a monster in every shot. And I knew I really had to be the guy in charge of the monsters for this. So I went home and I did probably about 50 sketches and a couple of paintings and I shot some stuff — some miniatures I had here and did a test makeup to prove that I could do an intense makeup like that in under 40 minutes. Then I came back and I and I wowed them.
I had a lot of fun designing this thing. And having that much freedom – like they basically were like “okay, you’re the art director of hell,” you know. And not only did I design everything but I built everything. Like every cell phone that looks like the Necronomicon. Every sheet of paper that looks like flesh that has pubic hair on it. Every elevator switch, every rock that’s in Satan’s office I hand carved.
I mean it was a real labor of love for me because right off the bat they said, “Nobody can do all this. You can’t do all this” and I was like, “I’ve got to because it’s got to have a look,” you know. And I want to make it look funny because some of this stuff, it’s not funny people getting their arms ripped off in hell and getting peed on and stuff — let’s try to make it fun. So even the gore effects and the makeup, they’re all a little goofy. So it keeps it funny. And I’m just real excited about it because we were given a lot of artistic freedom and Chris Brown was my partner on this. He helped a lot.
Chris actually designed Satan’s leg and hoof assembly, which is beautiful stuff. We had the budget to use yak hair instead of a cheap gorilla suit. The stuff looks pretty good for the budget that we had and the time that we had because we did a lot of stuff. It was in hell for six months, literally. But it was a good kind of hell. It was real creative.
Any props in particular that you were especially proud of – stuff you want viewers to be on the lookout for?
I’m proud of the computers. Even the computers in Hell are monsters and I made these puppets that would vomit and wink and make kissy faces and stuff. Dave Willis said, “We need a conspiracy going on with computers, can you whip us up another one?” And these guys are always asking us for stuff like that so I brought a whole kit of different pieces of faces and teeth. And you never knew what might come up so I whip this extra computer puppet out in like two-and-a-half hours that I have while I was in between stuff on set. And that silly little prop I made ended up being one of my favorite things on the show. And it’ll probably have, you know, 10 seconds of screen time but I really loved it.
The other thing that I really loved that no one’s going to really see is all the accoutrement of Satan’s office. We really went wild. He has a shelf of greatest hits with the crown of thorns, the nine-inch nails and an apple with the bites out of it.
And we had plans to try to get like a wall of shame with like him shaking hands with Hasselhoff and the Octomom but we couldn’t get clearance for that. But if you look around Satan’s office, I did a bunch of paintings of him from back when he was the great Luciferian figure and he was all buff. He’s a little sloppy now, so I did a bunch of different paintings of him through the millennia in different styles. So if you look around Satan’s office, some neat little stuff’s going on in there that we had a lot of fun making.
Have you seen the urinals?
No. Do tell.
That was another thing I was really happy with because I kept trying to make sure that everything we did was as practical as possible. Because, sure, we could just throw up a green screen and stick a guy’s head in the urinals but I was like no, I want to make these urinals evil. I want to make the urinals even look like H.R. Giger made them. So when Satan’s peeing in the urinal, that’s a real guy’s head in their screaming. We built an elevated set and they stuck their heads through.
And we used a lot of old-school magic tricks with blood pumps and hidden wires and things like that to float stuff around. So I can’t wait to see the whole thing with all the digital finishes and all. Because it’s really beautiful. We’re really excited about it. And out of all the things that I’ve done — besides things like writing — this thing has been like the most amazing, because those guys really let me go for it.
Is there anything in the world of horror that you don’t do?
No, not really. With this last movie we just made, “Dear God No,” I wore almost every hat, from producer to location scouting. I did all the special effects. I acted. There were some days on set when I was doing like five things at the same time. I kind of like that. I’m good at multitasking. Some people say I’m a control freak. When I’m doing a Silver Scream Spook Show, I’ll run out on stage with paint drying on my hands because I did like 12 people’s makeup. I would rather do it all so the show has a real harmonious kind of flow to it.
Speaking of the Silver Scream Spook Show, how long has it been going on now?
Six years. Cool. And on stage you take on the guise of Professor Morte. Were you inspired by daytime horror host of old?
Oh yeah. When I designed Professor Morte, I kind of took a bunch of different influences. There are certain things a horror host needs to have. They’ve got to have a fright wig like Ghoulardi. You’ve got to have a painted-on mustache. Zacherley didn’t have a painted on mustache, but he had painted on nose hairs.
And I went for this Saturday morning H.R. Pufnstuf feel and put a Witchiepoo nose on and I added some day-glow airbrush makeup to kind of lighten it up a little bit because I did want to be appealing to children. So I kind of just mixed all of it together and there was Professor Morte. There’s a lot of ‘Murder’ Legendre in there too, Béla Lugosi’s character from “White Zombie.”
Now I’ve actually been doing Professor Moriarty for about 10 years, but it really jelled when I got together with Johnny and Gayle at the Plaza Theater and Jon Waterhouse and Blast-Off Burlesque. We put this great team together and a lot of those people have moved on to other projects, but I still have a great creative team that’s helps me with that show.
Very cool. I do really dig the daytime horror host vibe. For me, It was Grandpa Munster hosting monster movies on TBS.
Oh yeah. I’ve got all that stuff on tape.
It’s great. Because I knew Al Lewis and he was a real character and it’s great to see him at that point in his life because that’s when he was about the craziest. About five years after that he was almost totally incorrigible, which… you know… I still loved. I’d go hang out with him at the horror conventions. He got into all kinds of trouble for stuff I probably can’t talk about on the phone but he was really awesome. So I got a lot of Morte from him too.
He was a master. I can’t say enough great stuff about Al Lewis and we were lucky to have him as a horror host when we were kids.
So given all the horror-related stuff that goes on here, do you think Atlanta’s a good horror town?
It’s the king of horror towns. I have some friends who tried to do spook shows out in L.A. They had Forrest J Ackerman as a guest, they’ve got serious makeup pros bringing their newest props down, and 50 people would show up to this thing. Meanwhile, people are obsessed with it in Atlanta. That’s why I can do the Rock and Roll Monster Bash at the drive-in and sell 2,500 tickets and they stay for all the movies.
There’s like a true love for it here, and I have a theory on that too. It all goes back to programming Ted Turner gave us as kids. We were raised on Ultra Man and the Three Stooges and fantasy films and it’s almost like Ted Turner had an agenda to instill us with wonder and warp or minds with all this weird psychotronic stuff.
We had five channels back then and it was loaded with better stuff than 170 channels gives you nowadays. it was a really great time and I really think Ted Turner’s programming is one of the main reason why Atlanta is the horror hub it is today.
And of course he gave us pro-wrestling programing as well. And if I’m not mistaken, you had some involvement with Monstrosity Championship Wrestling?
Yeah, as if I needed another project. (laughs) I was just like, “I really want to see Luchador fighting Werewolves.”
At first we just did it kidding around out here at the Atlanta Zombie Apocalypse so people had something to watch while they were in line. But it ended up being so good. Since then we’ve only done it three times, but we’re sold out every show. We’re about to take over the Batman stunt show at Six Flags and really ramp this thing up. It’s a lot of fun.
My girlfriend hates wrestling, but she loves MCW because how can you not love Dragula the Gay Vampire taking on these homophobic werewolves from Alabama? It’s got entertainment value for everybody.
Now on the subject of the old monster movies and old horror movies; aside from simple nostalgia, is there something about the old films that just work better? What’s lacking in the vast majority to day of horror films?
I think they lack poetry. I think they lack heart. That’s why modern films don’t speak as deeply as the old ones do. I’ve thought a lot about this because with all our knowledge and all our technology and skills these days, they should be able to do that. And you really don’t get too much of that and I think it’s because they’re just trying to dazzle us with special effects. So much happens that they don’t give it a beat and let you really stop and breathe it all in.
It’s the machines churning this stuff out – and it’s really hard to make good art when the machine has gotten so big. I worked for Rob Zombie on “Halloween II” for three months and we did some great stuff. We had great plans for these huge set pieces — I mean we spent $1 million on this set piece that I designed. We had 270 people in makeup and it still didn’t get the treatment it needed.
There were all these little things, like Harvey Weinstein came in and ripped 20 pages out of the script. Once the machine is that big, it’s really hard to make something that makes any sense. It seems like smaller – smaller was better.
Obviously you have a lot of favorite horror films. But is there a favorite horror film of yours that you think deserves more recognition?
Well, I’m big into the silents. It’s my favorite era of film making. And I tell people this all the time: between 1925 and 1935, they did everything you can do with fantasy or horror film. You have the king of all movies and fantasy films in “King Kong.” It’s the greatest spectacle ever. It has the best special effects. They’ll never be topped. They’ll come up with cleaner ways to do digital animation, but it lacks the performance that those stop-motion puppets had.
And you had this scariest horror movie, which to me was “Nosferatu.” And all of that German expressionism led to the Universal horror movies, which aped that style of film making, with all the shadows and tension building. So I think that the silent films get pushed aside too much. A lot of people go, “Oh, but they’re so slow and dull.” And I ask people have you ever seen “The Black Cat?”
And they all say, “No,” but it’s the sickest movie ever made. It has every nasty horrible thing from necrophilia to incest to Satanism to sacrifice to torture. I mean it’s just a nasty, evil film. You can feel evil emanating from this movie. And that was the end. After that the code started and they stopped everything because “The Black Cat” was the final nail in the coffin. But I dare somebody to find me a sicker film than “The Black Cat” or a scarier film than “Nosferatu” and all these were made during that 10-year span.
Now why do you think we’re so drawn to things that frighten and disgust us?
Well, that’s tricky. Death is the big thing – what it is, where we’re going after. You want to get a little peek at it. There are probably a million reasons, but I think the reason that we’re attracted to the monsters, especially the classic monsters is that we saw them as children and they’re all kind of like misunderstood children. Like Frankenstein’s monster, he’s this big kid that just wants to find love and nobody will give it to him and kids are like that.
As a kid, you feel out your body. Things are kind of weird. Maybe you’re not making the baseball team or whatever or you’re a nerd and you’ll gravitate towards these characters because they’re kind of like you. The creature from the Black Lagoon — I felt a lot like him as a kid because I was really weird and I was always getting sent to the principal office for drawing these crazy pictures and asking questions that little kids aren’t supposed to ask.
So in a way I felt like this weird outcast from another world. And as weird as it might sound, I grew up on St. Simon’s Island too. So I was on this island and sometimes I felt like the creature from the Black Lagoon and it’s hard to explain, but there’s definitely something there.
About the author: Robert Lamb is a senior writer and podcaster at HowStuffWorks, where he co-hosts Stuff to Blow Your Mind with Julie Douglas. He has a love for monsters, an aversion to slugs and a hankering for electronic music.