It’s been a rough few months for horror fans, and once again, we must say goodbye to another horror icon. This time, we pay tribute to Angus Scrimm, better known as Phantasm’s mystical mortician, The Tall Man.
An aptly (if simply) named villain, Tall Man Scrimm measured in at 6’4’’, a menacing figure even when immaculately tailored in his trademark black and white two-piece suits. Born Lawrence Rory Guy in Kansas City on August 29, 1926, Scrimm worked as a theater usher as a teen and went on to study drama at the University of Southern California. Acting took a back seat to his first love: writing. A prolific journalist, Scrimm worked for newspapers and magazines and also wrote album cover notes for the Beatles and classical artists, winning a Grammy in the process.
He first developed a friendship with Phantasm director Don Coscarelli when the he agreed to appear in then-eighteen-year-old Coscarelli’s fledgling feature (Scrimm was middle-aged at the time). Coscarelli called him back after scripting Phantasm, which he’d specifically penned with Scrimm in mind.
Scrimm often worried that he would be typecast as a horror heavy. It proved to be a valid concern, and though he never managed to transcend his larger-than-life alter ego, he became a much-adored staple of the horror convention circuit, reportedly always making time for fans.
Phantasm consistently appears on horror critics’ all-time best lists, and its artsy, cosmic quirk helped jolt fans out of the slasher-soaked 70’s. Its success bred four sequels , due in large part, to the strength of Scrimm’s Tall Man, a character, who, like Phantasm itself, didn’t quite fit the typical terror mold.
Angus Scrimm—who’d played half-a-lifetime’s worth of a character who dealt in death—died of natural causes on January 9 at a hospital in Tarzana. He was 89.
May he rest in peace.
If Arthur Fonzarelli, WWE’s The Undertaker and Phantasm’s The Tall Man have taught us anything, it’s that mortuaries are scary. Okay, so maybe they didn’t teach us, perhaps they just reinforced the obvious (and if you don’t understand the Happy Days/pro wrestling references, well…GTS).
I had a friend in high school whose dad owned a funeral home and my friends and I all hung on every word of every holy-oh-no-that-can’t-possibly-be possible-story he ever told us…
But none of his best stuff even touched the narrative of Phantasm (though I think after we saw it, we all wondered if his dad was keeping murderous Jawas in the basement).
For those who came in late, allow me to explain.
In Phantasm, mournful teen Mike (Michael Baldwin) is living under the watchful eye of his big brother Jody (Bill Thornbury) following the death of their parents. It turns out there’s a lot of death in their tiny little town, and most of it’s sort of suspicious. When Jody and his bandmate, Reggie (Reggie Bannister), attend a friend’s funeral, Mike tags along but hides in the bushes so he can spy on the gaunt, gargantuan director of the Morningside Mortuary, believing that he may be culpable in the mysterious deaths. When Mike witnesses him single-handedly toss an occupied casket into the back of the hearse, he knows there is undoubtedly more to The Tall Man (Angus Scrimm) and his small town funeral service.
Mike breaks into the Victorian mansion-like Morningside and quickly regrets his decision.
A group of brown-hooded dwarves suddenly chase him around the hellish, maze-like corridors, but they don’t intend to sell Mike to Tattooine moisture farmers.
And the spiked chrome orb that flies after him doesn’t seem to want to help him learn how to fight with his lightsaber. On the contrary; it tries to pierce his brain and suck the cerebrospinal fluid out like a five-dollar shake (continuing this week’s pattern of cross-cultural entertainment references–we’re up to five, if you’re keeping track at home).
When Mike et al. discover a weird white room in the heart of the funeral home, they soon get their answers to the reason for all the weirdness (here’s a hint: The Tall Man and his lil’ buddies ain’t from around here).
But as soon as they think they have a handle on how to defeat The Tall Man, things really get kooky and like them, we’re never sure what’s real and what’s a Lucy In The Sky-type (six) dream or who’s alive or who’s been turned into a pint-sized minion of darkness (spoiler!).
Thankfully, as Christians, the answers about our own deaths are a little more straightforward. In John 3:14-15, Jesus lays out the greatest promise ever to Nicodemus, telling him that, “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.“
Author John follows with the immortal NFL (seven) poster board gospel that “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
There’s a home awaiting us, one that makes Southfork look like the Little House on the Prairie (eight and nine). In it, there are many rooms, and each one has our name on it. We get to live for eternity with the Eternal, basking in the glory of his love for ever and ever, if we will only believe in the truth that sometimes, admittedly, seems even crazier than Phantasm. Because how could the God that created the universe leave Heaven to be born as such a weak and vulnerable thing, walk among us in a sin-sick world without ever succumbing to its disease and die for a limitless legion who would continue to mock and curse and reject him?
It’s the only answer and even it doesn’t live up to the task of making sense. But therein lies its beauty: it doesn’t have to. It is a gift that can only be freely given, and can never be earned. It transcends rationality and scoffs at logic. It baffles the learned and enlightens the common. And for those who trust enough to accept its nonsensical genius, it provides the keys to a mansion over the hilltop in a land that will never grow old.
Beats a one way ticket to a white room.
With black curtains.
In the station.