Film Review: The Phantom Carriage (1921)

Also known as: Körkarlen (original Swedish title), The Phantom Chariot, The Stroke of Midnight, Thy Soul Shall Bear Witness (alternate English titles)
Release Date: January 1st, 1921 (Sweden)
Directed by: Victor Sjöström
Written by: Victor Sjöström
Based on: Körkarlen by Selma Lagerlöf
Music by: Mattie Bye (1998 restoration)
Cast: Victor Sjöström, Hilda Borgström, Tore Svennberg

AB Svensk Filmindustri, 104 Minutes

Review:

“Don’t fret over those poor souls now, Sister Edit. You’ve done enough for them.” – Maria

I love silent era horror films, especially German Expressionist films. While this isn’t German, the Swedes created something that feels right at home alongside films like NosferatuThe Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and The Golem.

Körkarlen or The Phantom Carriage, as it’s called in English, has a real cinematic magic to it. It also isn’t quite horror, even though it features the embodiment of Death. Mostly, it is just dark and creepy. It’s also enchanting and mesmerizing.

What works most for this film is the atmosphere. It’s gloomy but it’s comforting in a strange way. The special effects are really good for the time and they hold up quite well for a picture as old as this.

I love the look of Death and his carriage and the symbolism that is littered throughout the film in regards to mortality and life.

The story is similar to Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol but without it being a Christmas story. It follows a man, as he travels through his past with Death at his side.

If you like silent era horror pictures, then you’ll probably love this. It’s a dark fairytale that wraps you up in its magic and doesn’t let go until the 104 minute carriage ride is over.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: a lot of the German Expressionist horror of the time and I actually watched this back to back with 1932’s Vampyr, which flowed nicely with it.