Countdown to Halloween #25: The Tall Man

The Tall Man is one of those characters in the rogues gallery of horror icons who is painfully underrated in comparison to his slasher film brethren. More of the fanfare goes to the Freddy Kruegers and Jason Voorhees’, but The Tall Man stands out from the others, literally and figuratively. While not as immediately visually arresting as any of the more dominant horror franchise characters, The Tall Man’s subtle distinction of being a lanky, tall (duh), creepy looking man in a suit is still unique in all of horror. One could even say his look is partially the inspiration behind the internet phenomenon of Slenderman, whose name and look is very reminiscent of The Tall Man.

Above: Slenderman.

Below: The Tall Man.

What makes The Tall Man unique aside from his look, is the idea behind him. His presence as a mortician alone invokes many deep seated fears that reside inside a lot of young children. The fear of death, loss, the elderly and the unknown, all exemplified by the hauntingly strong Tall Man. More than that, is the otherworldly nature that comes be understood by the main character of the film. When The Tall Man is first seen, he’s carrying caskets singlehandedly into a hearse. It’s a feat that echoes the unearthly strength The Tall Man possesses, but only begins to shine the light on everything that The Tall Man brings with him.

In the movie, the main character first spies the The Tall Man in the graveyard. He follows The Tall Man, and we see him as his bizarre journey unfolds. We see The Tall Man’s funeral home that has flying, seemingly sentient silver balls that house sharp instruments of death inside, ready and willing to bore into your skull. Furthermore there’s the secret room where dozens of strange barrels are kept, all housing the bodies The Tall Man has been collecting. Then there’s the portal to another world, where The Tall Man makes the crushed, now midget like slaves of the former bodies he’s taken. The whole film is a startling, surreal, and incredibly dreamlike extravaganza that pulls you along for the ride, based entirely on the mystery of wondering just who is this Tall Man?

And why are his balls so deadly?

Because The Tall Man is more than just another bad guy chasing you in the night, trying to kill you. He’s something from another world, in every sense. He’s the bad man doing strange things in the graveyard at night. He’s the embodiment of your fears made flesh. He’s the invading force from another planet, come to harvest the human race for his bidding. But most terrifying of all, he’s the monster in your dreams. He’s the thing that comes into your room at night, and terrifies you in the one place you think you can be safe: inside of your mind. Because when you watch Phantasm, you’re watching one of the few films that has perfectly captured a dream on celluloid. He could and can exist, because of the nature of dreams, and how intertwined with reality they can be.

For example, I had a nightmare once that I’ll never forget for the rest of my life. In it, I was laying in my bed, trying to sleep, which is in itself already pretty meta for a nightmare. In my sleep-dream, I felt a force coming. Something dark and strong, bringing a stinging malevolence with it. Without even turning around to physically look at it, I could feel it getting stronger as it got closer to me. It had a smokey wispy form to it, and at the center of it were two glowing red eyes and a pair of sharp, jagged teeth. In my minds eye, I could see it approaching me, slowly draining my life into itself. It grew stronger with each inch it crept towards me, my life giving it shape and form. I felt a deep, sucking pressure on my chest, as if the life was really being drained from me in that moment.

And in that moment, I realized I was dreaming. I knew what was happening wasn’t real, but it didn’t stop. No matter how hard I tried to scream, or awaken myself, I couldn’t make it stop. It kept getting closer and closer, and I knew that even though this Thing wasn’t real, it was going to kill me. Just before the Thing touched me, surely taking my life completely, I managed to finally awaken. The adrenaline had been so strong I could feel it pumping throughout my veins. It woke me up screaming, and I sat up wide eyed, utterly terrified. I knew it was a dream, but in that moment of my dream state I was fully conscious. In that state, what’s to differentiate reality from fantasy? How are my dreams any less real if I’m stuck in them, and can’t make them end, or control the outcome? If I was a religious man, I have no doubt I would have started praying every night before sleep to keep the sleep demons away. I realized then that dreams could be far more real than real life, and carried more power and potential than many accredit them for. Sure it was all just a dream, but in that moment in my nightmare, it was just as real as real could possibly be. In dreams, monsters do exist and they CAN hurt you. What is life anyway, other than just a waking dream? One you can’t wake up from?

That monster, and The Tall Man live in that dreamscape. They can be just as real as you let them be, because our world is directly connected to theirs, through dreams. Don Coscarelli just managed to put one on film and show it to us.

For more about Phantasm and the Tall Man, check out these links…

Vintage Reviews: Phantasm
The Best of the Genre (By Decade): Top 30 “70s Horror Movies”
Cinemax’s Femme Fatales: Episode 10 – “The Clinic” Review

Keep an eye out as another character on the Countdown will be revealed every night at 12:01 am for the rest of the month. You’ll also be able to find them HERE.

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