Made in 1977 and released in 1979, Phantasm is one of those films that lives on in infamy throughout cult movie circles around the world, and it's a justified notoriety. Phantasm is literally oozing with atmosphere, be it from the chilling score, the infamous silver ball sequences or the bizarre zombie dwarf scenes.
The film introduced the horror genre to Angus Scrimm's malevolent Tall Man being, a supernatural entity masquerading as a silent grave robber, who steals bodies and turns them into zombies in order to do his bidding.
It starts off innocently enough, with musician Jody looking after his 13 year old brother following the deaths of their parents, but by the time the credits roll, there has been gore, flying silver balls with blades and drills sticking out of them, alien dwarves, an inter-dimensional gateway to what looks like a cross between Mars and Hell, lots of creepy music and Angus Scrimm being an unnerving presence as the freakishly odd Tall Man.
It's really not your average supernatural film, mixing ghosts, horror, science fiction, an almost Spielbergian sense of familial nostalgia. It's a weird mix, but it works extremely well. It worked so well that there were three sequels of varying quality, but none of them really matched the freezing cold atmosphere and unique visuals of the original cult classic.
The budget limitations aren't as apparent as they could be, and despite the mad things going on onscreen, it holds together very well and suspension of disbelief is easy. The terrifyingly quiet and lumbering form of the Tall Man is of course one of the film's main attractions, and it's his stony countenance and besuited frame that make him so very creepy. It's easy to see why both Scrimm and the character became so iconic to the horror genre.
Even though it's not strictly a horror film, Phantasm was embraced by the scene and subsequent entries in the series took the horror angle further. The mausoleum scenes are marvellous, stark and cold in their appearance, which also goes for much of the film. The supernatural elements are all quite stark while the regular-real-world elements are a little grimy. Phantasm's story may initially seem a little too wacky to be this brilliant, but stick with it to the end and you won't be disappointed. A cult classic in the truest sense of the term.