The Phantom Carriage (1921) Director: Victor Sjostrom
The Phantom Carriage is a phenomenal and haunting Swedish silent film, and is popularly considered one of the seminal works of Swedish cinema. It was directed by and also starred Victor Sjostrom, of later repute for his roles in The Wind and, most notably, in Ingmar Bergman’s Wild Strawberries. Bergman would later go on to praise this film as one of the greatest of all time, having a powerful influence on him, and he claimed to watch it at least once every summer. The Swedish title, Korkarlan, can be translated to mean “Wagoner”. It is based on the Nobel-Prize winning novel of 1912 called “Thy Soul Shall Bear Witness!”
It tells the story of Edit, a dying sister of the salvation army, who cries out for David Holm, played by Sjostrom, who is in a graveyard explaining the old Swedish legend of the last person to sin and die on New Years Eve must drive Death’s ghostly carriage and pick up the souls of the dead for the year. He recounts this reminding himself of his friend Georges who died. Then a fight breaks out and he is smashed over head with a bottle, killing him. Suddenly Georges appears with the phantom carriage and David is filled with remorse. Georges takes David on a series of dreams, or flashbacks a la Charles Dickens, to show how much better his life was before the influence of Georges and drinking. They appear before Edit who begs them not to take her, and just before they do, David awakes in the graveyard and rushes home to his family.
This is a very good film filled with remarkable special effects far above and beyond its time. Its brilliant and advanced cinematography should be noted for building the terrifying suspense and tension, a significant achievement for an early horror film. It comes highly recommended to lovers of classic film.