There's a legend that says if you die before midnight on New Year's Eve, you will become a servant of Death and drive his carriage to collect the souls of the dead. This is the story of a man named David Holm, a man who was accidentally killed during a scuffle at 11:59 PM and the carriage is coming for him.
"Lord, please let my soul come to maturity before it is reaped."
In an attempt to find a Swedish movie that I didn't absolutely hate or that wasn't decent at best, I had to turn to the silent film era. Of course I could have gone straight to Ingmar Bergman, but at the start of this marathon it was decided that Ronny would be covering his movies, or rather one of them, at least. Anyway, as I said, that left me with the only option of two of Sweden's most well known silent films: one of them, of course, being "Häxan" and the other one was "Körkarlen". Or as it's known to us English-only Yanks, "The Phantom Carriage".
More drama than horror, "The Phantom Carriage" is based on the novel "Thy Soul Shall Bear Witness!" - Both of which are about love and a legend that if you die before midnight on New Year's Eve, you become a servant of Death. Both the movie and the book are centered on David Holm, a drunkard who lost his family and his way of life in pursuit of booze and his violent tendencies when he drinks. Edit, a dying woman from the Salvation Army, requests to see David on her death bed (because she is deeply in love with him) but when he refuses to see her. It leads him to get into an altercation with his drinking buddies which brings about David's death, at 11:59 PM. Death's carriage approaches to collect David's soul but there is a catch; the driver is David's old friend Georges and Georges has some frightening news for his newly dead friend: He is now to take over the duties of collecting souls for death. Before David cane take over the driving duties of the carriage, Georges makes David take a look at the wrongs from his past and brings David with him when he goes to collect the soul of Edit.
Even though the story is more dramatic than horrifying, "The Phantom Carriage" is a visually haunting and atmospheric movie, even by today's standards. Certainly the movie isn't going to impress today's modern-trendy youth culture; in 1921 it was a ground breaking movie and paved the way in terms of special effects and cinematography. Considering the time the movie was made, it's hard not to be impressed with the style and labor that went into creating it. That time and effort paid off though because it created a movie that ninety years later, is still as effective as when it was first screened. That's strictly speaking from the cinematography and atmosphere aspect alone.
What also makes it a lasting movie is the sincere story of love, regret, and repentance. A number of places site "The Phantom Carriage" as "romantic-horror" movie and I don't think I would actually consider this a 'romantic' piece. Not by today's definition, at least. The story looks at the love Edit has for David, even after rejection and knowing that they could never be because of David's marriage to Anna, and the damage that is done because of the love between Anna and David. When most people think of romance they think of that time of being in love and falling in love for the first time, or realizing that you're in love. "The Phantom Carriage" does more to look at what comes at the price of love; some times beneficial other times damning. Even though the movie ends on sort of a high-note, this is far from being an uplifting movie; rather, it's more melancholic.
There are parallels between "The Phantom Carriage" and Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" as both stories are morality tales about the actions of the past having dire consequences on the future. Though, personally, "The Phantom Carriage" is the better of the two because it's more serious and dramatic tone makes for a more compelling story. It's a depressing piece, almost certainly, but doesn't leave you in total dispair as there is a tiny glimmer of hope amongst the death, sadness, and broken-love. I can't say I felt "good" after "The Phantom Carriage" was over but it was a satisfying experience. I'd definitely recommend checking out - just a great movie all around.
Note: There are currently four versions of this movie with different scores: one of which was composed of various orchestras, another by Swedish composer Matti Bye, one by Jonathan Richman, and most recently by the KTL. The version I watched featured the score by KTL which was amazingly wonderful and greatly added to the mood.