Turing 88 years old this August, Angus Scrimm is one of the oldest living-legends in the world of horror cinema. Rightfully so. Born Lawrence Guy, Scrimm has steadily graced the genre since 1972 after making his screen debut in Curtis Hanson's first feature SWEET KILL. In the four subsequent decades, Scrimm has made a living playing seedy and sordid characters in a wide array of genre outings, a trend he continues to this day. Of course, Scrimm will go down in history as being synonymous with the legend and lore of The Tall Man...the indefatigable grave-robber from the PHANTASM films. But that's not all the man has done. Outside of the PHANTASM universe, Scrimm has appeared in such genre joints as SCREAM BLOODY MURDER, WITCH'S BREW, CHOPPING MALL, TRANSYLVANIA TWIST, SUBSPECIES, MINDWARP, DEADFALL, WISHMASTER, I SELL THE DEAD and most recently, JOHN DIES AT THE END. It's been a long and winding road for Mr. Scrimm, no doubt, one that continues to follow the ever hallowed Tall Man and his twisted travails (PHANTASM V: RAVAGER is due in 2015). So what do you say...should we Dissect his path? Let's slice and dice!
Come on now, anyone who thinks PHANTASM is NOT Scrimm's finest hour is flat out delusional. Put simply, The Tall Man has become the role of a lifetime for Scrimm, who parlayed his natural hulking frame and brute stature into what's become an all-time iconic horror heavyweight. And an unheralded one at that! I mean, dude doesn't even have to utter a sound, his mere over-lording presence speaks terrifying volumes alone. Props to writer/director Don Coscarelli for recognizing this and awarding Scrimm with a role he's gone on to effectively inhabit over three decades and five feature films. In that regard, The Tall Man has assumed the kind of horror-lore only reserved for the likes of Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers, Leatherface and perhaps Jigsaw. That said, would you consider The Tall Man worthy of being on the Mount Rushmore of horror villains? See what I mean about being undervalued?!?
For those who know not, PHANTASM revolves around the menacing boogeyman mythos of The Tall Man. He's all seeing. He's everywhere. And it just so happens that his sinister spirit is awoken when Mike, after tragically losing his parents, follows his brother to a funeral. Upon seeing The Tall Man pull a little grave-robbing shenanigans, a hellish underworld is unearthed, and Mike must spearhead an effort to stop the madness at once. Problem is, The Tall Man and his spiked-spherical weapons he hurls at mofos with Nolan Ryan heat...lopping off domes, slicing limbs, shredding bones, etc. But let's be real, those are just cool accessories...the true terror comes from Scrimm's mysterious nature and overbearing demeanor. A demeanor he's gone on to perfect and ply over the course of a four-film, 35-year franchise. A fan favorite at that. Undoubtedly, The Tall Man is likely, and proudly I should add, to accompany an asterisk on Scrimm's headstone.
The law of averages suggests that, over a lifetime of starring in B-movies and generic trash cinema, a blemish or two would be found. And my man Angus isn't exempt. Thing is, as a venerated character actor and not a leading man, you can hardly blame Scrimm for taking a gig in whatever picture he could. I mean, he wasn't giving bad performances himself, it's just that he has appeared in a number of projects largely below his talent level. Shite like VAMPIRELLA, SATANIC, LEGEND OF THE PHANTOM RIDER, FATAL FRAMES, SATAN HATES YOU, RED 71 - all completely derivative and forgettable movies that tried to use Scrimm's name to garner credibility, but ultimately failed to deliver. That said, when Scrimm decides to make a sequel to one of these suckers, then yeah, blame need be placed. Ladies and gents, that brings us to the utterly asinine Jim Wynorski movies MUNCHIE and MUNCHIE STRIKES BACK. My lord!
Billed as a sequel to the 1987 horror comedy MUNCHIES, MUNCHIE ('92) and MUNCHIE STRIKES BACK ('94) had about as much to do with the original as TROLL 2 or HALLOWEEN 3 did. Which would be perfectly excusable if the movies were actually good, but remember, we're talking about Jim "Popatopolous" Wynorski - schlock-meister extraordinaire. Not only that, apparently Scrimm plays a different role in the original than the sequel. He's credited as Undertaker in the first, and Kronas in the second. No matter though, not even the hair-raising presence of Scrimm could save these pictures from being anything other than flat out embarrassing. Shite, I've seen better Alf episodes. Good thing Angus saw the light and largely stuck to horror from then on.
It's clear Scrimm's trademark has become his lumbering physicality. At 6'4'', his lurching size and stature has wisely been used as a formidable asset to scare the piss out of viewers across the globe. And even though he can do the job without uttering a single word, the ever distinct look of Scrimm is matched only by his deep, gravel-voiced intonations that beautifully and nightmarishly complement each other. Don't believe me? Just take a look at his performance in PHANTASM IV: OBLIVION. My man had laryngitis during the shoot, which reduced his trademark vocal tone to a cartoonish Orson Welles echo. It's a comic mismatch of the physical and aural that actually cements how integral Scrimm's natural voice is to The Tall Man character. At least when he's required to speak. The two are inextricably linked. So, by extension, The Tall Man has also become Scrimm's trademark film character...one he's now played 5 times over the course of 35 years.
With 50 credits dating back to 1972, Scrimm has a whole trove of buried treasure in his resume. I already mentioned cool little titles like CHOPPING MALL, MINDWARP, I SELL THE DEAD, WISHMASTER, etc. But because of his long-lasting collaborations with Don Coscarelli, and the fact that this next project marked a return of sorts to the horror genre (after doing a stint on "Alias"), I nominate Scrimm's work in The Masters of Horror episode "Incident On and Off a Mountain Road." Seriously, I got chills when Scrimm popped up after all those years, it was such a pleasantly eerie surprise. And the cherry on top? It happens to be one of the best Masters of Horror entries of all...right up there with DEER WOMAN and CIGARETTE BURNS.
The premise may seem deceptively rote, but the payoff proves otherwise. "Incident On and Off a Mountain Road" picks up when a woman named Ellen, driving alone late one night on a secluded mountain road, is suddenly struck by another vehicle. When she comes to, Ellen follows a trail of blood leading from the other car in the wreck. The trail leads to a twisted backwoods monster known as Moonface, who ultimately chases and captures Ellen and brings her back to the basement. There she meets Buddy (played calmly yet menacingly by Scrimm), a quasi-confidant of Moonface who actually feigns helping Ellen. When she makes a run for it, Buddy betrays her and screams out for Moonface to stop her escape. Well, Ellen ain't being denied after that. I've already said too much about the episode, but suffice it to say, it's the timing and tradition of this hidden gem that makes it a standout special. Scrimm brings his trademark demeanor to a duplicitous role that actually calls for him to register more acting range than he's known for. Not just a hidden find, "Incident On and Off a Mountain Road" is also a nostaligic and celebratory reunion of director and muse.
You may already be aware of this, but up next for Mr. Scrimm is to reprise his infamous role as The Tall Man in PHANTASM V: RAVAGER, which is currently making the distribution rounds. Hopefully steams picks up on that front soon, and here's hoping even more that the flick doesn't fall into some muddled direct-to-disc purgatory. After-all, the fifth PHANTASM flick was directed by the legendary Don Coscarelli, and also stars original actors Reggie Bannister, Bill Thornbury, Kat Lester and Michael Baldwin. If that's not good enough to get you pumped, scope what Coscarelli had to say about the flick below:
The Phantasm films have been a guerrilla operation for decades now, totally outside of the studio system...We do them for the fans, and I think Ravager will definitely please them. In the past few years several studios have made offers to remake Phantasm with large budgets, but the fans were very vocal that they wanted the original cast to return and finish this iteration of the story with class. And for the first time there’s an extended sequence on the Tall Man’s home world. I know Phantasm fans will be as excited as I am to see it."
Sounds pretty badass! A completely independent, low-budget PHANTASM flick with the original actors and director? Kind of reminds me of what Don Mancini did with CURSE OF CHUCKY...making a flick exclusively for the FANS, irrespective of studio support and bottom-line filmmaking. Gotta love it!
In a 42 year career that so far includes 50 big and small screen credits, it's clear Angus Scrimm has carved a more than respectable niche in the horror film genre. And while he's amassed an array of different parts over the years, Scrimm has had the rare fortune of reprising a single horror character that has been apotheosized to the heights of Freddy, Jason and Michael. Perhaps not as popular, there's no denying the awesome staying power of The Tall Man, and the consistent terror Scrimm brought to the role each time out. And while he'll no doubt be remembered for such an iconic role, remember, that's not all to the legend of Scrimm. My man also popped up in shite like SWEET KILL, SCREAM BLOODY MURDER, CHOPPING MALL, TRANSYLVANIA TWIST, SUBSPECIES, MINDWARP, DEADFALL, WISHMASTER, I SELL THE DEAD, JOHN DIES AT THE END and many others. At almost 88 and still going strong, I speak for us all here at AITH when I say...Lawrence, you're one hell of a Guy!