Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Scariest Characters in Cinema #21 - The Tall Man

Phantasm is one of the best examples of the virtues of independent filmmaking, particularly with genre films. It involves a scary morgue, killer dwarves, interdimensional travel, Dune references and smooth jams - somehow, all of these strange elements, which would have never survived the development process of the studio system, work together beautifully. Its many endearing idiosyncrasies feel like they have sprung whole from the mind of writer/director Don Coscarelli, who began with the goal of scaring the pants off audiences and, in the process, created one of the most unique ongoing mythologies in horror cinema. Even when the Phantasm sequels become a bit too silly (the shotgun-wielding 10-year-old in Phantasm III, for instance) they're never generic retreads; each film legitimately continues and expands the universe developed in the first film. They're so stubbornly rooted in 1979, like the movie adaptation of the greatest stoner rock album cover ever, that I can't help but kind of love them.

Phantasm is best known, of course, for two things - the deadly flying silver spheres that deliver impromptu lobotomies to their victims and Angus Scrimm as the Tall Man, the mysterious mortician that has diabolical plans involving the aformentioned killer dwarves and parallel universes. The 6'4" Scrimm wore platform shoes to further emphasize the Tall Man's imposing figure; his disproportionate size, especially in contrast to the first film's adolescent protagonist (A. Michael Baldwin) emphasizes the way Coscarelli cleverly plays on children's fear of authority figures (Phantasm is the perfect horror movie for 10-year-olds). It's a nearly dialogue free-performance, and Scrimm's is a physical performance worthy of Max Schreck. He stalks through Phantasm's surreal universe like he owns the place - which, actually, he sort of does.

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