Editor’s note: Angus Scrimm, who passed away over the weekend at 88, was a veteran horror actor best known for his role in Don Coscarelli’s 1979 cult classic “Phantasm.” In his later years, he regularly collaborated with low-budget horror filmmaker James Felix McKenney in films ranging from “The Off Season” to “Automatons.” Most recently, Scrimm acted in McKenney’s episode of “Tales From Beyond the Pale,” which premiered on Indiewire last month. Here, McKenney shares his thoughts on Scrimm’s friendship and work ethic.
I had the extremely good fortune to direct the man called Angus Scrimm in three feature films and an audio play. I interviewed him for an internet radio show and various DVD bonus features, and co-presented his Lifetime Achievement Award at last year’s New York City Horror Festival. I was honored to consider him a friend.
We last spoke on the phone just before Christmas. We talked about holiday plans, J.J. Abrams, dogs (a favorite subject) and some recent films that Angus had enjoyed (he absolutely loved both “Joy” and “Trumbo”). A few days later, a box of See’s Candies arrived at our house with a warm holiday greeting for myself and my longtime girlfriend and collaborator, Lisa. At just about the same time, our package of New York-made goodies made their way to his home in Los Angeles. You see, Angus had a real sweet tooth, just one of many attributes that defined this wonderful and remarkable man.
Angus was incredibly modest.
My first conversation with Angus was in early 2003 when I offered him a role in our film, “The Off Season.” The part was that of an eccentric chain-smoking neighbor. He called me to tell me how much he enjoyed the script, but that he had to turn down the part because he had lost so many friends to smoking-related illnesses. When I told him that I’d happily make the character a non-smoker, he was astonished. “You would do that? For me?” he said. I told him that I would do just about anything to cast him in the role. “Well then, how can I refuse?” he responded.
For years after that, whenever I — or anyone else connected to our little group at Glass Eye Pix — would offer him a part, Angus always refused at first because he didn’t feel comfortable flying in from Los Angeles to play a role that he felt could be filled by a New York-based actor. He didn’t want to put a local out of work. He couldn’t wrap his head around the fact that we didn’t just want to fill a role in our film. We wanted Angus Scrimm.
He was very easy to work with.
The movies that Angus and I did together were so under-funded that the term “low-budget” would be considered an understatement at best. The conditions were never great, things were always cramped and we never had enough people on the crew to provide a regular stand-in for our distinguished actor. But he never complained. Not once. Rainy weather, heat waves with no air conditioning, long hours, last minute cancellations and location changes, travel difficulties – you name it – Angus took it all in stride. He always knew his lines and took these little no-budget genre outings very seriously. And, of course, he always gave an amazing performance.
Angus was insanely thoughtful and generous.
Every time we spoke on the phone or had dinner together, the conversation would include Angus asking about every member of our extended film family. He remembered every person’s name and was always genuinely interested in their lives and careers. He was regularly sending people extremely thoughtful gifts, both large and small. Our house is filled with memories of Angus: DVDs of his favorite films, candy (always candy); vegan cookbooks by Chloe, the gifted daughter of his greatest collaborator, “Phantasm” creator Don Coscarelli; even a subscription to Dog Fancy magazine. Angus was always thinking of others.
Then there was the time Lisa and I traveled to see our friend while he was appearing at a horror convention in New Jersey. We met him in the lobby of the hotel where the convention was being held to have dinner at the restaurant there. We had barely said our greetings before the first Angus fan approached to ask for a hug and a photo. Angus, of course, obliged. This happened over and over again with Angus taking the time to happily chat with every single fan, despite his growling stomach. It took us almost 40 minutes to cross that small room.
He had an amazing sense of humor and did not take himself seriously.
Just Google “Angus Scrimm sings” and you’ll see how incredibly fun (as well as talented) Angus was. Even during the last couple of years when he was feeling tired and easily fatigued, he was always very quick with a joke and eager to entertain his fans. His quick wit and clever responses seemed rehearsed, they were so perfectly timed and executed. But they weren’t. Angus was just a very funny man.
We had one more film that we were planning to do together, a dark fantasy called “World’s Fair.” Angus and I had been arguing on and off about the script, which he thought was too grim, its outlook too bleak. I refused to budge and stopped talking about it. Eventually Angus phoned me, suddenly more excited about the project than he had ever been. He had had an epiphany: He would perform the role entirely nude. I was never entirely sure if he was kidding or not because no matter what I said, the 88-year-old actor wouldn’t crack. Ever. Sadly, the film did not come to be in time for Angus to give us one more very memorable performance.
There are so many other things I could say about Angus’ character. He may have played some nasty villains on the screen, but you won’t find a single person who worked with him who won’t tell you that the reality of Angus couldn’t be farther from those characters. He was incredibly kind, gentle and sweet. Most of all, he was gentleman, a guy with a lot of class.
After every interaction with him, or even just when Angus would come up in conversation, Lisa would always say this; “Whenever I spend time with Angus, he makes me want to work harder to be a better person.”
That sums up Angus to me. A man who showed us how easy it can be to be humble, thoughtful, generous, funny and kind. The world would be a wonderful place if we could all just be little more like the man known as Angus Scrimm.
All who had the great fortune to know Angus and his work, miss him deeply. Goodbye, friend.