What The Hell Is The Tall Man? Hell Is The Tall Man! ‘Phantasm’ (1979) Turns 40 – Retro Review

On the 40th anniversary of Phantasm, it makes sense to look at one of the film’s most memorable characters… The Tall Man. Played by Angus Scrimm, The Tall Man first graced us with his towering, frightening presence in 1979 in Don Coscarelli’s Phantasm. He was always a powerful, cryptic and bizarre force, seemingly imbued with evil. A bringer of death, The Tall Man has never been as quiet as many other horror icons. Although he’s mostly silent, he occasionally offers some simplified gems about death. There’s this one, for example, from Phantasm II: “You think that when you die, you go to Heaven? You come to us!”

Of course, over the course of time, more facts have come out about The Tall Man. His original name was Dr. Jedediah Morningside, and he began as a relatively humble mortician. He was even alive during the American Civil War! However, over time, he became obsessed with his craft, even building an interdimensional device to explore the realm between life and death. It worked, and he seemingly transcends boundaries of time, space, life and death. However, something about his travels to the nether regions changed him. It’s possible that, by seeking knowledge of death, he has somehow become the embodiment of it, or of Hell itself.

The Tall Man’s Quirks

Every fan of Phantasm knows of The Tall Man’s trademark raised eyebrow, and also about the sinister Sentinel Spheres, which stalk for human victims to add to his army of undead. He has super strength, an apparent immunity to actual death (though many have tried), and a penchant for shouting the word, “Boy!” at Mike (Michael Baldwin). The Tall Man also has an extensive collection of evil dwarves called Lurkers, as well as some telekinetic and psychic abilities that he uses often to elude the heroic Reggie (Reggie Bannister). His weaknesses? Though he’s very powerful, The Tall Man can be injured temporarily. He also is weak against freezing temperatures.

So, What Is He?

As stated in the title of this article, it’s safe to assume The Tall Man represents some variation on the concept of Hell. There’s even something Biblical about his damning the world in his quest for truth and domination. I personally wouldn’t say he is Satan per se, but something very much like him. There is one interesting question, though: Does The Tall Man find himself to be evil? It seems he believes he is justified in his quest for world domination. If he (or whatever force possesses him) wasn’t so convinced of this, why would he go on with his efforts? Perhaps he has a desire for power as its own end, but that almost seems unlikely, as he tends to lack the vanity so common to historical rulers.


What is that reflected in the sphere?

Another plausible theory is that he represents a bizarre new plague, in the body of a man, with manic inclinations toward forging an army of death. Either way, something about the fictional universe The Tall Man inhabits is rotten, and is as mysterious as any other concept of life, death, Heaven and Hell. He is certainly someone —  or some thing — you wouldn’t want to mess with!

Finally, it can simply be said that Angus Scrimm was a great actor, and The Tall Man will stick with us as a horror icon, so long as horror fans still walk the earth. He’s up there with Dracula, the Wolfman, Frankenstein’s monster, Freddy, Jason and Michael Myers. Do you agree?

What do you think about Phantasm and The Tall Man? Let us know in the comments!

About wadewainio

Wade is a wannabe artist and musician (operating under the moniker Grandpa Helicopter), and an occasional radio DJ for WMTU 91.9 FM Houghton. He is an occasional writer for Undead Walking, and also makes up various blogs of his own. He even has a few books in the works. Then again, doesn't everyone?

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