Scene It Before: The Hanging Tree from Phantasm

A picturesque Agoura Hills tree makes a brief appearance in the 1979 cult horror classic

I am obsessed with Halloween. I spend all year looking forward to the holiday and dedicate the entire month of October to chronicling the set locations of scary movies on my blog, so I figured that, like last year, I would do the same with my Scene It Before posts.

Today I want to tell you about Phantasm. The 1979 cult classic centers around an evil undertaker from another dimension known as The Tall Man (Angus Scrimm) who steals dead bodies from cemeteries and then sends them back to his world to be used as zombie slaves. Flying silver spheres that kill people also figure into the storyline. I can’t say that I especially like the film, but while researching its locations I came across a haunting image of what has come to be known as “The Hanging Tree” in Phantasm fan circles. I was absolutely mesmerized by the vision of the sapling, which stands alone on a remote dirt hill. I knew immediately that it was a place that I had to see in person.

I did that on a rainy day last December. A deep cloud cover was rolling in behind the tree while I was there, which made for some beautiful and eerie photographs.

The Hanging Tree in December 2014
The Hanging Tree in December 2014

The Hanging Tree appears only briefly at the end of Phantasm, in the scene in which The Tall Man chases Mike (A. Michael Baldwin) through an open mine shaft. The site was supposed to have more screen time, though. The scene was originally shot with Mike hanging The Tall Man from the tree (hence its nickname), but that imagery wound up on the cutting room floor. Director Don Coscarelli later used the sequence as part of a flashback in the movie’s 1998 sequel, Phantasm IV: Oblivion.

A screen grab from "Phantasm IV: Oblivion"
A screen grab from “Phantasm IV: Oblivion”

In real life, The Hanging Tree can be found just off the 101 Freeway in Agoura Hills, about 400 feet southeast of the intersection of Kanan and Agoura roads. Amazingly, it looks almost exactly as it did when Phantasm first premiered over three decades ago. One look at the sinewy angular branches and desolate background and it is not hard to see how the tree wound up on film; it is a photographer’s dream.

Other locations featured in Phantasm include the Dunsmuir Hellman House in Oakland, Fosselman’s Ice Cream in Alhambra, a dilapidated home in Woodland Hills (that I wrote a Scene it Before post about last year), and Julian, a town about 25 miles east of Escondido. None hold a candle to the beauty of The Hanging Tree, though.

Lindsay Blake is an actress, writer, celebrity admirer and Los Angeles enthusiast who contributes to CityThink each Thursday. Her true love is filming locations, and she founded the Web site IAMNOTASTALKER in 2007 to document her vast findings on the subject. For more “stalking” fun, you can follow Lindsay on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.