It is with profound sadness that Anythinghorror must report the passing of the great Angus Scrimm, best known around these parts for his recurring iconic role as The Tall Man in the PHANTASM series.
“Angus Scrimm passed away peacefully tonight surrounded by his friends and loved ones,” PHANTASM director Don Coscarelli wrote on his Facebook page. “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.”
Angus was born in Kansas City, Kansas in August 19, 1926, with the more ordinary moniker of Lawrence Rory Guy. He was originally a journalist and has written and edited for the Los Angeles Herald Examiner, Cinema Magazine and TV Guide, to name but a few. He has also had a successful career writing liner notes for thousands of LPs and CDs over the decades (hey, did you think those things wrote themselves?) for artists including Frank Sinatra, the Beatles, Judy Garland, Dean Martin and Itzhak Perlman (he even won a Grammy in 1974 for the notes he wrote on the album Korngold: The Classic Erich Wolfgang Korngold, making him probably the only Grammy winner to be featured on Anythinghorror.
However, he majored in Drama at the University of Southern California under William C. DeMille, who was Cecil B. DeMille’s brother, and was a schoolmate of future director Sam Peckinpah. he used to do theatre off-campus, but DeMille didn’t like his students doing that, so he adopted a stage name: Angus Scrimm (Angus after a relative of his, and ‘scrim’ from a type of theatre curtain), a stage name he’d revive decades later…
Scrimm loved performing on stage, but he had a greater love for the movies, going back to his days as a teenage usher, learning by heart all of the dialogue of the movie playing there, FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN (1943). And though he would remain a lifelong fan of classic horror films like this, he also admired the works of William Powell and Cary Grant, and his dream acting role would have been in a comic one.
After finishing his studies at USC, his first professional acting job was portraying another tall man, Abraham Lincoln in a series of short biographical films for the Encyclopedia Britannica in 1951, although his real big screen debut would be at the age of 46, appearing in SWEET KILL (1972), produced by Roger Corman.He went on to do SCREAM BLOODY MURDER and JIM THE WORLD’S GREATEST, the latter for Don Coscarelli (who was 18 years old at the time!), who would subsequently hire him for this unusual low-budget horror flick he was working on, for which Lawrence would resurrect his stage name. And enter immortality…
At his peak, Scrimm stood around 6 foot 4 inches, though in recent years age had reduced this to around 6 foot 1; to make himself appear even taller when playing the Tall Man, he wore suits that were several sizes too small and platform shoes. but even without such help, Scrimm’s voice and leer would have been enough to make him an iconic villain. At a time when horror villains were all solo bedraggled mute slashers of horny campers, the Tall Man had class, articulation, purpose, an arsenal of flying Swiss Army knives, an army of hooded dwarves – and a good suit!
PHANTASM helped give him a steady acting career in film, theater and television. In addition to the four PHANTASM films released to date, he could be seen in such movies as THE LOST EMPIRE (1984), DEADFALL (1993), even did a gleeful parody of himself as a hulking henchman in the comedy TRANSYLVANIA TWIST (1989).
I was especially impressed by his dual role in MINDWARP (1992), a movie produced by Fangoria (for whom he played the Tall Man in a rare TV commercial for their magazine, which you can view here) that also starred Bruce Campbell and featured themes that would be later explored in movies like THE MATRIX Trilogy. Even cameos and voiceovers like JOHN DIES AT THE END, SATAN HATES YOU and WISHMASTER were guaranteed to raise the quality of your production.
(In the mid-90s the British Encyclopedia of Horror printed a book with a little thumbnail sketch in which Angus was alluded to as a minor American horror icon. He subsequently wrote them a letter saying the following: “I’m so grateful to be listed at all, and I realize at my age I’m not apt to attain the record of a Boris Karloff or a Bela Lugosi, but if I manage before my end to make another two or three significant horror films do you think I might be up to a middling horror icon?”)
But it was the PHANTASM movies that he would be best remembered for. After the fourth movie, he was asked about reprising the role. “I’d jump at it. I’m a little protective of the Tall Man. I’d be reluctant to make a PHANTASM that wasn’t up to the other four. I think it’s a very good quartet of motion pictures. If we did another picture it would need to be just as original and just as sparkling in its ideas and freshness as the first and as the subsequent ones. That would be the deterrent and then of course getting it financed in today’s film industry would be a challenge.”
True enough: PHANTASM V: RAVAGER has been kicking around since 2005. Scott reported here that production was underway, and in fact at this point has been completed, and is only waiting a distributor for sometime late in 2016. I hope that Coscarelli makes sure it’s dedicated to Scrimm – and that it doesn’t get remade. A PHANTASM movie without Scrimm would be like a Michael Bey movie without at least one mindless explosion.
My buddy Scott had the supreme privilege of seeing Scrimm in person at the Texas Frightmare Weekend in 2011, and by all accounts found him to be a charming, affable individual with many anecdotes and positive and interesting things to say about horror and his own career (read his full review here, where you can also see and hear Scrimm sing and do Shakespeare soliloquies!).
Rest in Peace, Angus. Thanks for the chills…