This month sees the return of the Horror Icon article. And what better way to begin than with a man whose physical presence was imposing and who, according to various sources, has the highest body count in horror cinema history.
This man may no longer be a part of this world, but he left his mark within the horror genre and will never be forgotten. He is Angus Scrimm.
Born as Lawrence Rory Guy in Kansas City, Kansas on August 19th, 1926, Angus Scrimm made the move to California as a teenager before beginning a career in journalism. He was a journalist and writer for TV Guide, Cinema Magazine and The Los Angeles Herald Examiner.
In 1951, Scrimm tried his hand at acting, playing Abraham Lincoln in a short by the same name. It would be twenty-one years before he would try his hand at acting again.
His first few appearances, Scrimm was known as Rory Guy, alternating as Lawrence Guy depending on production. His first appearance in the horror genre was in Scream Bloody Murder (1973) portraying Dr. Epstein. A tale of revenge and blood-lust, Scream Bloody Murder is a quite enjoyable film for those looking for something different to watch.
For six years, Scrimm took minor roles in both film and television. But it was in 1979 that he returned to the horror genre, under the name of Angus Scrimm, for the role that made him a household name with horror fanatics worldwide; Phantasm. (Fun Fact: Although being very tall, standing at 6 feet 4 inches, Angus Scrimm wore suits several sizes smaller and boots with lifts inside that added an additional 3 inches to his height)
The Tall Man is a horror icon in his own right. Scrimm became the imposing figure on screen, commanding the attention of the audience. It is this role that really began his career in horror and is a must see for all horror enthusiasts.
1980 saw the return to the horror genre with the horror-comedy, Witches Brew, a remake of Lon Chaney’s 1944 film Weird Woman. Certainly more of a horror spoof movie that doesn’t take itself seriously, Scrimm appears once again as Lawrence Guy.
It would be six long years before Scrimm would return to the horror genre. Making an appearance in 1986’s Chopping Mall, Scrimm played Dr. Carrington and was once again accredited as Lawrence Guy. I’ll admit I’m a fan of Chopping Mall and do recommend the film for those that enjoy lighthearted horror-comedy films.
Two years later, Scrimm reprised the role we’ve come to associate with him; The Tall Man was back for Phantasm II. It’s very rare that I find a sequel that surpasses an original film, but I’m one of these people that found Phantasm II to be more enjoyable than the first. The sequel follows Mike, who has just been released from a psychiatric hospital, continuing on his journey to stop the evil Tall Man from grim work.
Fast forward to 1991 when Subspecies hit cinemas. Scrimm headlined the film, playing King Vladislav. Enjoyable classic tale of good brother vs bad brother. It does have its weak spots (but don’t all films) but it makes up for its shortcomings with enthusiasm and imaginative ideas. Worth the watch.
It’s rare for a sequel to outdo the original. It’s even rarer when the third film in the series is also strong. That’s just what happened with Phantasm III: Lord Of The Dead in 1994. Mike and Reggie continue to hunt the mysterious Tall Man. Scrimm delivers another powerful performance, breathing life back into one of horrors most underrated characters. (Fun Fact: Apart from reprising his role as The Tall Man, Angus Scrimm also plays the part of the doctor who opens Mike’s eye to check his pupil with a mini-torch in the opening sequence. The nurse next to him is played by Kathy Lester, who portrayed “Lady in Lavender” in Phantasm)
The mid-nineties were filled with brief cameo appearances. 1996 saw Scrimm play the Man In Grey in Fatal Frames – Fotogrammi mortali and the High Elder in the straight to video Vampirella. In 1997 he narrated the opening of Wishmaster which starred three other horror icons in Robert Englund, Kane Hodder and Tony Todd.
In 1998 audiences were thrilled to see a new entry into the Phantasm series with Scrimm once again reprising his role as The Tall Man in Phantasm IV: Oblivion. This, for me personally, is the weakest link in the series. Time travelling to discover the origins of The Tall Man isn’t exactly a thrilling premise. It does, however, begin from where part three finished, thus giving it a continuation feel. It’s enjoyable but doesn’t hold a candle to what had come before it.
The early 2000’s saw Scrimm playing minor roles, including a stint in an episode of The Nightmare Room in 2001, Masters of Horror in 2005 and was heavily featured as Calvin McCullough in the TV series Alias. He did star in Satanic alongside fellow horror icon Jeffrey Combs in 2006. A poor film to say the least, Satanic can only be recommended for background noise at best. Thankfully that same year, Scrimm starred in Automatons which faired a bit better among audiences. The low-tech FX film was a breath of fresh air and I found it to be rather enjoyable. If you can get your hands on it, it’s worth the watch.
2008 saw Scrimm return to the horror-comedy route with I Sell The Dead. It was a fantastic cast with a great idea but it lacked…. Something. I personally didn’t feel a connection to the film. It was a dark comedy that ran at a snail’s pace. I felt like if it was better paced and the humor wasn’t so hit and miss, it might have become a cult classic.
In 2010 Scrimm teamed up again with Reggie Bannister to star in Satan Hates You. A great independent movie effort with a great cast and had the feel of a 1970’s grindhouse film. I’m not normally one to recommend religious films, but this is worth it. While religion is the film’s premise, it doesn’t push it upon the audience. It’s a great film if you take it for what it is.
2012 bought us John Dies At The End, which had Scrimm appearing as Father Shellnut. I’ll be honest, I love this film. I prefer the book, but the film is adequate. This film takes a mindbendingly outlandish premise, which through the course of events, and some wonderful obtuse lateral thinking, persuades the audience that it’s perfectly likely to be true.
In 2014, Scrimm starred in Disciples. I’m not usually one to say avoid a movie at all costs, but avoid this movie at all costs. It was horrendously done, and I’m sad to see names like Scrimm, Tony Todd and Bill Moseley attached to it. It’s more comical than horror and what makes me sad is the big names don’t live up to what they were capable of. All around disaster.
In 2015, Scrimm did redeem his credentials a little with Always Watching: A Marble Hornets Story. Not exactly a new idea, but it certainly wasn’t horrible, Scrimm held his own in a minor role.
Sadly, on January 9th, 2016, Angus Scrimm passed away, aged 89, in Los Angeles. His death leaves a large hole in the hearts of many horror fans, especially as he was filming the final Phantasm movie, Phantasm: Ravager, at the time. The film is now completed and will be released posthumously, no doubt in his memory.
Angus Scrimm; A private man who was warm, loving, and devoted to his friends. He never married or had children, but opted to spend his time rescuing dogs from shelters. On screen he was a menacing figure that rivals Jason Voorhees for the biggest body count in horror history. He will be greatly missed so in the immortal words of The Tall Man “You play a good game boy, but the game is finished. Now you die.”