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RIP Angus Scrimm, a true gentleman of horror

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The Tall Man has departed this mortal coil, as actor Angus Scrimm, a genre legend for his unforgettable role in the PHANTASM films, has died at age 89.

Entertainment Weekly reported the news of Scrimm’s passing. “Angus Scrimm passed away peacefully tonight surrounded by his friends and loved one,” director Don Coscarelli wrote in an e-mail to EW. “[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. He was a terrific actor and an even better friend. He will be missed.”

Born Lawrence Rory Guy, he pursued acting for most of his life (he portrayed Abraham Lincoln in an Encyclopedia Brittanica short that appears on Shout! Factory’s PHANTASM II Blu-ray), but found steadier employment for many years as a journalist and author of liner notes for Capitol Records, winning a Grammy for the latter. He appeared in the early-’70s fright films SWEET KILL and SCREAM BLOODY MURDER, but the seeds of his greatest success were sown when he took the role of an abusive father in the 1976 drama JIM THE WORLD’S GREATEST. That movie marked the directorial debut of Coscarelli, whom he referred to, upon his induction into the FANGORIA Hall of Fame at our 1994 Chainsaw Awards ceremony, as “a magician of filmmaking, a man without whom there would be no PHANTASM, no Tall Man, and no ‘Angus Scrimm,’ ” the name he adopted for the 1979 hit.

Scrimm’s memorably menacing portrayal of the undead mortician who terrorizes two brothers (Michael Baldwin and Bill Thornbury) and their ice-cream-man pal (Reggie Bannister) made him an enduring horror hero. Beyond PHANTASM’s three sequels (with another, PHANTASM V: RAVAGER, set for release this year), his subsequent genre credits included Coscarelli’s JOHN DIES AT THE END, the Full Moon flick SUBSPECIES, the FANGORIA Films production MINDWARP (opposite Bruce Campbell) and several projects for Glass Eye Pix, including Glenn McQuaid’s I SELL THE DEAD, James Felix McKenney’s THE OFF SEASON, AUTOMATONS and SATAN HATES YOU and the audio drama TALES FROM BEYOND THE PALE. He was cast as an SD-6 agent on TV’s ALIAS by J.J. Abrams, who has been supervising a restoration of the original PHANTASM.

This writer/editor had the pleasure of working with Scrimm at several FANGORIA Weekend of Horrors conventions, including two at which he took part in our Chainsaw Awards ceremonies. At the first, in which he presented Best Actor, he demonstrated his quick wit by improvising a gag with host Campbell. “Hey look, I’m taller than the Tall Man!” Campbell exclaimed, to which Scrimm deadpanned, “This is my day off.” Playing off the fact that many of the night’s winnners were unable to attend due to work on other projects, Scrimm continued, “I am sorry to report that I cannot be here tonight; I am on location. Where that location is, I’m not quite sure… Maybe it is me and my clone is on location. If so, I hope he’s not working for scale.”

Another favorite memory of Scrimm is his appearance at a New York City Horror Film Festival screening of INCIDENT ON AND OFF A MOUNTAIN ROAD, the MASTERS OF HORROR segment which also reunited him with Coscarelli. During the Q&A, the director revealed that Scrimm was originally intended to sing a song during the episode, and the audience, naturally, encouraged Scrimm to perform it. His resonant rendition of “Mountain Road” brought the house down. Scrimm was a true gentleman and an indelible screen presence, and truly will be missed by his many fans and friends.

About the author
Michael Gingold
Michael Gingold has been a member of the FANGORIA team for the past three decades. After starting as a writer for the magazine in 1988, he came aboard as associate editor in 1990 and two years later moved up to managing editor. He now serves as editor-in-chief of the magazine while continuing to contribute numerous articles and reviews, as well as a contributing editor/writer for this website.
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