Sunday, 12 October 2014

The Phantom Carriage (1921)

Victor Sjöström wrote and directed this early horror movie, based on a novel by Selma Lagerlöf, and it easily holds up today as a classic that should be seen by all fans of the genre. What it lacks in modern bells and whistles, it more than makes up for with some rich atmosphere and a feeling that care has actually been taken in adapting the material for the screen.

Sjöström also stars as David Holm, a man with a bit of a drinking problem, to put it mildly. As the movie begins, viewers are shown a dying woman (Edit, played by Astrid Holm) and then scenes that feature David and his current drinking buddies. Edit wants to see David one more time, before she dies, but he's not the easiest man to find. Especially while he's regaling some people with an enjoyably spooky story. It's almost midnight on New Year's Eve, and David is reminded of what his friend, Georges (Torre Svennberg) used to say. The last person to die in any year has to spend the next year driving the titular phantom carriage. Georges used to become scared of everything on New Year's Eve, which makes his death, almost exactly one year ago, fairly ironic. It turns out that the tale of the carriage is true, and Georges IS the driver. But that doesn't stop him visiting David again, resulting in an unforgettable night involving many memories, a lot of pain, and death.

While it may seem slightly crude and simple to modern audiences, The Phantom Carriage is an enjoyable piece of work. The special effects from the time still hold up well enough to carry the story, and the structure of the screenplay is surprisingly sophisticated, with numerous flashbacks building up a big picture that brings everything together just in time for a satisfying finale.

If Sjöström impresses as both writer and director, I have to admit that he's also not too shabby acting in the main role. The man's no slouch, whatever hat he's wearing. Holm is good enough as Edit, although her character is so often dying or suffering emotionally, and Svennberg is very good as Georges. Hilda Borgström portrays the woman who married David, and loved him for many years before drinking started to affect their lives, and she does very well, portraying her character as tough, but often at breaking point.

Very reminiscent of A Christmas Carol, The Phantom Carriage is a spooky story with a valuable moral lesson at the centre of everything. Many scenes show nothing more than standard domestic drama, but there's always an atmosphere of fear creeping through most of the main sequences.

Despite how good it is, there will still be people who just don't give it the time it deserves because of it being a black and white, silent movie. Don't worry about those people. Be sure to watch The Phantom Carriage when you have the chance, and leave them to keep their blinkers on.


Or you could also check it out on YouTube right HERE.


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