Angus Scrimm passed away on Saturday at the age of 89. He was best known for portraying The Tall Man in one of my favorite cult horror movie series of all-time, Phantasm. On social media, friends, family, peers, basically everyone who knew him described him as soft spoken, gentle, warm, gracious, and caring.
Don Coscarelli, director of the Phantasm films, had this to say via Facebook:
“Angus Scrimm passed away peacefully tonight surrounded by his friends and loved ones. He was 89 years old. His performance as the Tall Man is a towering achievement in horror film history. He was the last in a long line of classic horror movie stars. Angus was a terrific actor and an even better friend. He will be missed.”
Phantasm is the embodiment of the expression, “They don’t make ’em like they used to.” If you’ve never explored these films, wait until the original is re-released later in 2016 in a gorgeous 4k transfer spearheaded by none other than long-time Phan of the series, J.J. Abrams, in conjunction with Coscarelli. Then turn off the lights and treat yourself to an experience you just don’t get in cinema today.
I recently watched the original with my wife, who had never seen it before. To her, it was more terrifying than The Exorcist. I can’t wait to show her the next one. The original film has all the traits you’d expect from an independent low budget project made in the late '70s. There’s an arthouse sensibility to it, a grittiness and lack of smooth perfection that contributes to its sense of realism and spontaneity.
Phantasm II was the closest the series ever got to the “mainstream,” with a legitimate theatrical release, albeit against some stiff summer competition that led to its mediocre box office. There’s a noticeable higher budget, better special effects, a more linear “road picture” approach, and a polished feel that breathes an entirely different life to the series. Phantasm II is the true legitimizer of the franchise, and an awesome follow up.
It took 6 years from there to get Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead off the ground and another 4 years for the supposed final installment, Phantasm IV: Oblivion. These last two outings were a return to the more “independent” lower budget style, resurrected into life on the outskirts of the studio system, always with a struggle for financial backing, and yet made because of the undeniably passionate fan base, or excuse me, Phan base, which has followed this series now for over three decades.
Familiar characters have always returned to the series, but the one true anchor has always been the evil mortician known as The Tall Man. Coscarelli is right – Scrimm’s portrayal is, indeed, a towering achievement. His is truly one of the most iconic, and most terrifying, antagonists in all of horror cinema. We’ve already seen an actor attempt to replace the great Robert Englund in the role of Freddy Krueger in the A Nightmare on Elm Street series. That remake was a reminder to all of just how synonymous the character of Freddy is tied to the actor that first gave him life in Englund.
Similarly, in the future, the way these things go in Hollywood, a Phantasm remake is inevitable, and another actor will step into the role. I suspect we will feel the same – there is only one Tall Man and he is Angus Scrimm.
If you are reading tributes to Scrimm online right now, you’ll hear some refer to his departure as safely making “passage,” as only the Tall Man could truly articulate. You’ll have to watch the films to understand what this means. While Scrimm has, indeed, made passage, this character of evil, this icon of horror, remains immortal. He is out there. Somewhere.
And as luck, and perhaps fate, would have it, a whopping 18 years after the last film, the cast and crew, many of whom have been around since the beginning, have defied all odds, and have found a way to bring a 5th installment of the series to the Phans. Phantasm V Ravager is set to be released later this year. In what capacity, no one really knows. Will it have a small theatrical run (hopefully) or will it be direct to video? A short teaser has been released online.
In one sense, it will of course be touching to see Scrimm portray this character one last time. That said, the Tall Man isn’t the gentle compassionate Scrimm. He is the embodiment of pure evil. Ruthless. Immoral. He is a killer. He has a life-force of his own. To truly honor this great genre actor, to truly appreciate one of the greatest cult horror series of all-time, I personally hope the best homage in Ravager comes in the form of sheer terror.
Today, I honor the great Angus Scrimm, a simply sweet actor who blessed anyone who came in contact with him.
Later this year, in a theater of darkness, or in our home via candlelight wrapped in a blanket, I intend to honor the Tall Man by having him scare the wits out of my wife and I one more time.