RIP Angus Scrimm, aka Phantasm's Tall Man

As if losing one iconic face wasn't bad enough, now one of horror cinema's creepiest villains has left this plane behind for good.

Angus Scrimm, the actor who played the Tall Man in the 1979 horror classic Phantasm and its three released sequels, died on Saturday at the age of 89.

The character of the Tall Man was a 19th century mortician named Jebediah Morningside who, fascinated with the question of what lay beyond death, constructed a machine through which he could travel into other realms of time and space. On his first journey, however, he came back from an unknown destination forever changed into the being known as the Tall Man.

In the Phantasm films, the Tall Man reanimates the dead as dwarves which he builds into an army of zombies that do his bidding. He can also move objects with his mind, possesses superior strength, can shapeshift and has an arsenal of metal spheres that can fly at victims and assault them with a variety of hidden weapons.

Phantasm writer/director Don Coscarelli had employed Scrimm in a 1975 movie called Jim the World’s Greatest and had been intimidated by the 6'4" actor, so he decided that Scrimm would make a great horror villain. Coscarelli told the Los Angeles Times in 2013 that he knew the Tall Man would be a "very powerful character," but had no idea that Scrimm would "take it to the level that he did."

As is often the case with horror villains, the Tall Man became the symbol of the Phantasm films, with Scrimm playing the role in Phantasm II (1988), Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead (1994), Phantasm IV: Oblivion (1998) and the yet to be released Phantasm V: Ravager, the first in the series not directed by Coscarelli. The actor wore suits that were too small and lifts in his shoes to appear even taller as the character.

Following the success of Phantasm, Scrimm also turned up in movies like Subspecies, Mindwarp, I Sell the Dead and John Dies at the End. Scrimm also appeared on a number of episodes of Alias, partially because series creator J.J. Abrams was a Phantasm fan (his Bad Robot production company is overseeing a digital restoration of the original film as well).

Born Lawrence Rory Guy in Kansas City, Kansas on August 19, 1926, Scrimm decided early on that he wanted to be an actor (reportedly in 1929 at the age of three after seeing Gary Cooper in The Virginian!) and set out for Los Angeles after graduating high school early. 

While studying theater at USC, he worked at a variety of jobs, including a stint at Capitol Records during which he wrote liner notes for albums by Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, the Beatles and many others -- a profession he continued even after his acting career took off (he even won a Grammy in 1974 for Best Liner Notes, Classical).

Horror fans, however, will always remember his cocked eyebrow, his frightening stare, his nightmarish minions and his doom-laden cry of "Boooooooy!" The Tall Man may be on his way to another dimension, but his movies will always be here to terrify us.

(via The AV Club)

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