Shane Morton estimates that 20 percent of his flesh is wrapped in tattoo odes to classic movies: Creature From the Black Lagoon, Godzilla, silent-movie fetish object Lon Chaney. Morton has a living room full of monster-movie fright masks and is probably the only guy on his street of wood-frame bungalows in Scottdale with a freak show in his backyard.
He points to a pile of bloody body parts.
"... My second wife."
Stacked like grindhouse charcuterie in his backyard shed, the bits and pieces were made from a full-body cast of his ex-wife Calu for a low-budget film, Cheerleader Autopsy.
Considering the interior design and skin art so focused on gore and monsters, this tattoo artist/rocker/special-effects man isn't exactly the kind of person you expect to rail against the loss of innocence and the sorry state of childhood imagination today. But appearances can be deceiving.
"The entertainment kids have today, it's deplorable. There's a reason this country's in a mess right now. There's no family structure," laments Morton, recalling a happy upbringing with his intensely creative welder dad and sci-fi-mad mom on St. Simons Island.
Some of Morton's fondest memories center on time spent with them at the drive-in when his mother would pop a bag of corn, light a mosquito coil and pack the family into the van for an evening of classic horror. "I've been possessed by this stuff since I was a child!" he says. Despite the pierced nose, mutton chops and punk-metal tendencies, you can see in his mile-a-minute enthusiasm that Morton is still very much in touch with his knee-high self.
It is through his alter ego, Professor Morte, that Morton connects with that notion of a vanished childhood. Modeled on the variety shows that preceded a horror movie from the 1930s through the '60s, Morton's Silver Scream Spook Show features burlesque dancers, comedy routines and the pun-cracking Professor Morte as emcee. Every month for the past year at the Plaza Theatre, Morton has been staging his spook show in an attempt to rekindle a more innocent time.
"His knowledge of classic horror is amazing," says Jonathan Rej, owner of the Plaza.
On June 3, Professor Morte will preside over the annual horror double feature Monster Bash at Atlanta's bastion of the sublimely outmoded, the Starlight Six Drive-In Theatre.
In deference to his own fond drive-in memories, Morton made sure to include something in Monster Bash just for kids: Ray Harryhausen's 1974 The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, which precedes Sam Raimi's more adult feature, Army of Darkness. The Starlight, it soon becomes evident, connects Morton's adulthood to his adolescence.
"It's the best drive-in I've ever been to."
Morton mentions the pauper's graveyard at the Starlight's edge.
"If you're at screen five, you look over the fence, there's graves right next to you."
Suddenly, Morton's anecdote takes on the dimensions of a Professor Morte ghost story.
"And if you're adventurous enough – and I wouldn't recommend this for just anybody 'cause I've seen really horrible things out there, but we used to go out there ..."
His voice drops almost to a whisper: "... and look around and stuff.
"But it's dangerous."
Morton is a fixture at the Starlight winter and summer. He painted the movie-monster mural on the Starlight's snack bar. His tales of drunken revelry and star-kissed nostalgia at the drive-in's Mondo Movie Nights and Drive Invasions are many. He could tell you about the hot rods or Johnny Legend bashing in the roof of his rental car. The girl fights. But, for Morton, it's the most elemental pleasures that resound.
"I just love it, getting to see movies under the sky like that.
"It makes me feel like a kid again."