Off Hollywood

Off Hollywood - Angus Scrimm

By Jennifer Juniper Stratford

As mainstream cinema focuses its attention on the latest CGI accomplishments and the production of remakes, I felt it was important to remember the individuals who paved the yellow brick road. So I set out with my Polaroid camera to photograph and interview disappearing Hollywood, the version that matters most to me—the directors, actors, special effects artists, producers, even composers who’ve had great influence but have since fallen under the radar. This is a record and a reminder of the true soul of the movies.


Angus Scrimm, Actor (Phantasm, Mindwarp, Subspecies, I Sell the Dead)

A good friend of mine gave me a list of names and email addresses of people he knew I’d be interested in contacting. Angus Scrimm was on there?! Holy shit! I quickly wrote him an email. The next day I answered the phone while driving. “Hello Jennifer,” the voice said. “This is Angus Scrimm calling.”

I pulled over and scribbled “the Tall Man from Phantasm“ on an envelope and gave it to my friend who was riding next to me. As we discussed meeting up to take a Polaroid, he said, “I bet you don’t like silly ideas.” I explained that I want him to present himself however he chooses. He interrupted me. “Well, I do have one of the silver sphere.”

I muttered something pretentious then stopped. “Wait, what? You have one of the silver spheres?” 

“See!” he said. “You do like silly ideas.”

Angus Scrimm is famous for playing the roll of the Tall Man in Phantasm, a supernatural and malevolent undertaker who turns the dead into alien dwarves on another planet that can be reached through a dimension portal located within his morgue. The silver sphere is an object that flies through the gateway and often lands by gouging its knives into the victim’s head and spraying their blood out the opposite side of the sphere, all by command of The Tall Man. The spheres contain the brains of the dead bodies that he crushes down into the alien dwarves.

He’s proud of Phantasm but would rather not be recognized solely for playing the Tall Man. In his teens, Angus Scrimm moved to California from Kansas to study drama at USC with William C. DeMille, brother of Cecil B. DeMille. It’s no wonder Angus sighs that he never got the chance to be in “an old-fashioned comedy where they dress up in tuxedos and hats.”

One film he is particularly proud of is I Sell The Dead, released in 2008. Now he’s off to play what he described as a “very old vampire” in a new film alongside Tony Todd. Angus’ career is still very active even at 85 years old.

When I admit to him I’m a big fan of Mindwarp, his only science fiction film and Fangoria’s first, he thanks me. Although it never achieved the fandom of Phantasm, it’s an innovative movie that should not be overlooked. Mindwarp’s plot was very close to The Matrix but predated it by three years and the production had nowhere near the budget. Mindwarp was shot in 22 days in abandoned mines in Gay, Michigan, and at a studio in middle-of-nowhere Wisconsin. Angus Scrimm plays two roles in this film: one, the Seer, who leads a gang of outerworld mutants in the physical realm, and then he’s also the Systems Operator of Infinisynth, the virtual world. If you’re really into Tron’s Master Control, watch Mindwarp immediately. Imagine a computer jacked into a man’s brains with industrial tubes from the hardware store, but the voice is that of a DeMille trained actor. Angus Scrimm is serious about his craft. When he thanked me for seeing Mindwarp, I felt his appreciation. 

As we headed over to a park he frequents every afternoon with his dog, Sweetheart, to take the picture, he handed me a dog treat box with a few biscuits still in it, plus the silver sphere wrapped in a silk scarf. 

I unwrapped the scarf and upon the sphere’s first glisten in the Valley Village sun, I had the overwhelming sensation of being allowed to touch something that should be in a museum. It had everything I expected of a movie prop. It was light, cheap, probably made of foam, but carried all the ingenuity of a special effects team with very little money. I hate to sound like one of those people that say “drum machines have no soul,” but why do movies today need a whole warehouse full of CGI technicians to make a damn silver sphere out of foam? 

“Would you mind giving Sweetheart a biscuit”? Angus says in his regal tone. 

I reach back into the box and hand his dog a treat.


This portrait, among others, is showing in ”Instant Revolution,” opening this Thursday at Polaroid’s Impossible Project Gallery with other Polaroids by James Franco, Maripol, Mary Ellen Mark, and Gary Baseman.

425 Broadway, 5th floor
6 PM till 9 PM
Through March 23


Jennifer Juniper Stratford also created that weird, amazing epic music video play with Geneva Jacuzzi called Dark Ages for us. And we did an interview with her here

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