'I now understand that the Tall Man is even more enterprising than I could ever have imagined, as I have come to believe he wants nothing less than world domination and the annihilation of our species." - Don Coscarelli, creator of The Tall Man.
The Tall Man is the role for which actor Angus Scrimm was best known. Definite villain of the Phantasm series of films, while the Tall Man may not have achieved the worldwide fame that, say, Pinhead from Hellraiser has, the guy is still pretty popular amongst connoisseurs of horror.
The Tall Man, as featured in Phantasm I to III and Phantasm: Oblivion, is a complex character whose method of operation has increased in complexity throughout the films. Explanations for his behaviour, including his origin and purpose, has been covered, notably in Phantasm IV, though never truly explained. As quoted above, Don Coscarelli, writer and director of the Phantasm films, has evolved his own ideas of who (or what) the Tall Man is, eventually reaching the conclusion that he is, quite simply, the nemesis of humanity.
In Phantasm (1979), the Tall Man is introduced. Of reasonably impressive height, as you might expect, and with grey hair, Angus Scrimm goes to great lengths to screw up one side of his face, producing a surprisingly effective air of menace and dread. Mike, a young boy, recently bereaved, sees the Tall Man display inhuman strength as he removes a coffin from a grave and places it into the back of a hearse. Later in the film, the Tall Man's finger, though severed from his body, is clearly still alive, allowing Mike to convince his brother Jody and friend Reggie of the Tall Man's existence.
The Tall Man, upon further investigation, is not alone. It appears that he is stealing the bodies to create an army of evil dwarves, clad in strange blankets and with unpleasantly yellow blood. To add to this, the Tall Man is armed with shining steel spheres, which fly through the air and hook themselves into their victims. In this film, the spheres then swiftly drill into the individual's skull, pumping blood out behind them. Despite a severe crushing at the end of film one, the Tall Man returns for film two and is killed by Mike, Jody and Reggie, who inject him with his own supply of the mysterious fluids used to re-animate the corpses.
Despite even this, the Tall Man returns again, developing his trademark booming cry of 'Boy!', drawn out menacingly. By the third film, too, we understand a little more about the Tall Man's purposes. His army of spheres has increased in complexity, sporting a range of deadly gadgets to augment the Tall Man's array of dwarf-minions.
As the cycle of films progresses further, it becomes apparent to us that there is more than one Tall Man, as though his existence in our universe is merely as a representative of an entire race. Indeed, dimensional portals appear in the film, two silver poles, through which the characters are occasionally and, thankfully, briefly drawn. In the Tall Man's home dimension, barrels are stacked against a desolate, windswept desert. It is clear that the Tall Man's purpose, at this point, is to procure corpses, convert them into the dwarf people and return them to his home dimension. If, for some reason, the Tall Man dies, he is replaced immediately by another Tall Man, who appears through the same portal.
All is well by now. We have reached film three, and while we may not fully understand the Tall Man, we are happy with the explanation as given. Film four, unfortunately, titled Phantasm: Oblivion simply so that the IV can be capitalised in the sub-title, leads us a merry dance which simply confuses the issue. Mike's brother, killed long ago in the second film, appears once more, trapped inside a silver sphere. Jody somehow passes back in time, witnessing the true origins of the Tall Man: a meek, mild inventor involved in early experiments generating electricity, who somehow invents the dimensional gateway to the other dimension. It does not, it must be said, make sense, and even ardent fans of the film struggle to explain how the fourth film's mythology meshes with that of the first three.
Despite this, the Tall Man stands as a classic example of popular horror villain. Mysterious, unpleasant and quite deadly, we are somehow drawn to this depiction. Angus Scrimm may have gone on to other roles (now, alas those fabled roles in the sky…), but his continued appearances at conventions (concerning which Angus was renowned for his good humour and patience with fans, once they got over the eerie experience of meeting the Tall Man face-to-face) and other sci-fi or horror gatherings clearly showed that the Tall Man was his crowning achievement.
'I am continually amazed that the fans have so much affection for such a dark character whose trade is essentially death. Audiences enjoy laughing with the Tall Man as he does his appalling deeds." - Angus Scrimm, The Tall Man.
Sources: imdb, www.phantasm.com, Amazon, the films.