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A Background of the Villainous Tall Man from the Phantasm Series

Angus Scrimm as the villainous Tall Man as seen in "Phantasm II"
Universal

As mentioned in last month's article, the long-awaited fifth film in the surreal horror franchise “Phantasm” is coming in the form of “Phantasm V: Ravager.” And in the world of horror, the Phantasm series is something of a different animal compared to its peers. Each one is very disjointed and dream-like, making the viewer constantly question what is real and what isn't (somewhat in the same vein of the Nightmare on Elm Street series), but one thing is for certain: at the center of all the terror in these films is the entity known only as the Tall Man.

But who is the Tall Man? For a first-time viewer, he is just a creepy undertaker in a black suit. For a more focused observer, he is an embodiment...no, a personification of Death. To the fans of the series, he is the ultimate evil: unstoppable, malevolent, and mysterious. So, for fans and non-fans, allow a fan to provide something of a background for the recurring horror villain.

The Tall Man was once mortal. He lived as a mortician during the 1800s named Jebediah Morningside, and he was actually a friendly, gentle human being. However, he was obsessed with death and what, if anything, lied beyond the mortal threshold. So, like anyone enveloped with curiosity, he began to experiment, eventually creating a device that he believed would allow him to see the realm of the dead. Creating a portal with his device, he stepped through into a world unknown, but once he returned, he was no longer Morningside...now, he would only be known by his moniker bestowed by the heroes he would confront in the films- he became the Tall Man.

What he truly is remains unknown, as do his motivations. All that is known is what he does...his modus operandi, as it were. The Tall Man travels from town to town in the guise of his former profession, acting as a mortician. He buries the dead and, on top of that, he adds the living in each town to the list of the dead, using illusions and other trickery to murder them. Once buried, and once the families of the deceased leave the mortuary, the Tall Man removes the bodies from the graves to reanimate them. But the weird stuff doesn't stop there.

Once he's given life back to the corpses (the methods that do so are unknown), he removes the brains and crushes the bodies down...how they live with no brains is a question best left unasked...and dresses them in small cloaks, sending them out as his tiny minions and using them as slave labor on the planet/realm that created him (in the films, it's said they're crushed due to the gravity, if that makes any sense). But what's worse is what he does with the brains: he places them into silver spheres capable of flight. Next to the Tall Man himself, the spheres are the deadliest adversaries of the films, each holding an arsenal of brutal weapons such as drills, saws, hooks, and even fired explosives to use on unsuspecting trespassers that venture into whatever mortuary in whatever town the Tall Man calls his domain at the time.

But none of his creations are as deadly as he is. On top of his striking height, he seems to have telepathic abilities and he is abnormally strong, capable of lifting a casket complete with a body with one arm, and even worse, he's impossible to truly kill. See, the Tall Man, in the course of the films, has “died” a number of times, but he always comes back...it's like his dimension acts as an assembly line of Tall Men and when one drops, there's another to take his place. On top of that and his gift with illusions, anything severed from his body spills yellow blood and can change into frightening, insect-like creatures (primarily seen in the first film where a severed finger becomes a toothy, red-eyed fly the size of a fist).

And that, as mysterious and lacking in actual explanation as it is, is who the Tall Man is...or “what” he is. He is a fitting and suitable horror villain, one who is as memorable, if not more so, than the likes of Freddy, Jason, or Pinhead...someone unstoppable and, strangely, beloved despite his evil. But it remains to be seen what will happen in this fifth, and likely last, film...will the heroes, Mike and Reggie, finally bring an end to the diabolical Tall Man? Is it possible to ever end him? We'll have to see.

Also, as a sidenote, actor Angus Scrimm, who portrays the Tall Man, is actually one of the nicest, charming, and gentlest men on Earth, much like other horror movie actors that play the icons, and for bringing to life such a strange, unique, and creepy character should get more credit than he does. Long live the Tall Man!