THIS SATURDAY, September 24, the Hollywood Theatre is screening the classic horror film Phantasm. Unfortunately, I won’t be in Portland that evening, though I wish so much I could attend. Phantasm has a special meaning for me. May I take a few moments of your time to tell you why?
During Labor Day weekend 1979, on my first visit to Hollywood, I was introduced to the actor Angus Scrimm, also known as Rory Guy, who had just completed his starring role in Phantasm. A surreal horror film, Phantasm featured an unforgettable monster—a grave robber known only as “The Tall Man,” who was played, of course, by the 6-foot-4-inch-tall Angus. That day in Hollywood, Angus bought us lunch, and we returned to his home for the interview. He then asked if I would like to watch his new movie. I could not imagine how this was possible in someone’s living room. He then explained a new technology called “videotape,” which I had never heard of in Scotland. I sat on his couch and watched this horror movie on the star’s television set.
I was blown away at such a thing. Imagine my expressions as I watched the Tall Man, menacing and devoid of kindness, scaring people on screen—all while I saw him smile benignly from across the room. That afternoon was forever frozen in my 28-year-old, impressionable, journalistic mind. Days later, after my return, I raved about this experience on the BBC and in the pages of The Dundee Courier. Later, I even became a paid consultant to local business friends who were starting a videotape rental store in the blue-collar city of Dundee.
From that day, Angus and I became friends. He once told me that Phantasm was so successful people had visited his home to make a cast of his face that would be sold for Halloween masks. When I moved permanently to Hollywood, Angus and I would visit. He told me how this movie and its sequels had given him even more success—before Phantasm, he had bit parts on TV and in movies, but he made his income at Capitol Records, writing album notes on Frank Sinatra and the Beatles, even winning a Grammy.
When I started my radio program The Score, Angus suggested I contact Phantasm’s director, Don Coscarelli, and conduct an interview about Fred Myrow, the recently passed composer of his movies, including Phantasm. Don was so pleased with our show he kept this interview on his website.
For more years than I can recall, I had a tradition of telephoning Angus every Halloween. He looked forward to this call. It was a hoot calling my favorite horror monster on Halloween. Several years ago, I asked if he ever thought of retiring. Angus said, “No, if Christopher Lee can keep making films, I can too!”
Last year, I knew time was running out for my friend. At age 89, his voice—always so menacing—was quieter than usual. His words were slurred. He was rather forgetful. But we still talked about I Sell the Dead, a movie that he was very proud of, and for which he had written the CD/LP notes. We talked about Missy, his beloved Alaskan Eskimo dog that he took for walks in North Hollywood every afternoon. Ten weeks after that call last Halloween, Angus passed away.
Angus Scrimm was the antithesis of a horror monster. He was a hard-working actor with a kind and gentle soul. But he had a wry sense of humor, too. One day at a horror convention, a fan said, “Angus, you seem different than when you play the Tall Man in Phantasm.” Angus replied: “That’s because I am the Tall Man. Today, I’m just acting!”
How I wish Angus Scrimm was still with us. And how I wish I could attend Phantasm this weekend. Halloween this year will be different for me. Someone is missing.
Radio host Edmund Stone writes and hosts The Score, a nationally syndicated film music program, which you can hear every Saturday and Sunday at 2 pm on All Classical Portland (89.9 in Portland and online at allclassical.org).