Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Holiday Horror: The Phantom Carriage (aka Korkarlen) (1921)

The Phantom Carriage (aka Korkarlen) (1921)
Director: Victor Sjöström
Starring: Victor Sjöström, Hilda Borgström, and Tore Svennberg
Running Time: 107 min

  I saw this film last year when I started getting more into silent moviess and was really impressed with the story and the visuals for such an old film.  I thought I'd revisit it because I didn't have a chance to write about it and I think this is a perfect film to end this year or any year off with.

    It's New Year's eve and Salvation Army worker, Edit is dying of consumption and her dying wish is to speak with David Holm, who was the first person she tried to help in this town and he's also the one, who passed on the consumption to her.  The other Salvation Army workers scatter into the city to help find David but they don't have any hope that he will return with them, even if they find him.
  Meanwhile, David Holm and his two buddies are sitting in a graveyard drinking and awaiting for the new year.  Only minutes before the new year, David tells them a ghostly tale about what happens if you die on New Year's eve.  He tells them that if you die, then you have to drive Death's carriage for the year and are tormented by watching other people lose their lives.  After witnessing the death,  then you must put their ghostly remains in the back of your carriage.  Shortly after the story, one of the Salvation Army workers, Gustafsson finds them and begs David to come back with him to see Edit.  David, being a right bastard, refuses and the Gustafsson leaves frustrated and disappointed.  David's drunken friends can't believe that he would refuse a dying woman's last wish and try to drag him to go visit her but in a scuffle, they accidentally stab David repeatedly with a broken bottle.  Whoops.  The drunks run away and leave David dying as the bell tolls for the new year.
  The Phantom Carriage arrives to take it's new driver and to David's ghostly surprise it's his old drinking friend, Georges.  Georges feels bad and responsible for David's life.  He feels that if he hadn't lead him astray, David's life would have been a lot better.  Georges then gives him the ghostly version of "This Is Your Shitty Life".  He shows David how he was happy once with his family and how after meeting him, Georges, things all went to shit.  Georges shows David, how his actions caused him to lose his family and how letting his heart turn cold as affected all his decisions and put him where he is now, in this terrible situation.  Is there any way that David can change and turn things around to save his eternal soul or will he be damned forever and have to drive Death's Carriage for the next year?

  This is a great film and very spooky tale.  Victor Sjöström (Wild Strawberries, The Hell Ship) does an amazing job in both directing and starring in this film as David Holm.  He not only tells an interesting moral tale but has some incredible special effects in it for the time.  To create the ghosts, they had to create multiply exposures of the scenes and the real difficulty of doing this is at that time was that the cameras had to be hand cranked at exactly the same speed every time to achieve this incredibe effect.  Which they did and it looks brilliant and creates a wonderful 3D looking ghost.
  Also, Victor Sjöström is very good as bad guy David.  The way he portrays the character is natural and isn't overly evil as you may see in other silent films.  He's an asshole but not a "Snidely Whiplash" villain which makes him more authentic.  

  The story is very moral and may come off a little preachy at times but I think that it works because again the David character has really hit rock bottom and has turned into a real lowlife.  I think this is an extreme case here, and like the Edit character, played by Astrid Holm (Haxan, Mani), you want to David to redeem himself in the end and do the right thing, by any means necessary.
  Also, there is no blood and guts in this film but there are still some very intense scenes.  For instance, there is one scene that is quite similar to "The Shining" with David smashing down a door with an ax and Sjöström ends the picture on a with a very tenuous scene, where David's ex-wife is on the verge of killing herself and the children.  The tension is quite palpable and even I was hoping he would get there in time.  
  As well as the ghosts effects, which I mention earlier,  make this a very creepy film and fun to watch.

  This is a must see if you are a big fan of silent horror films or want to expand your horizons as a fan of the genre .  There is a good story about a man finding himself again after years of debauchery, brilliant special effects for it's time and an great ending that is somewhat chilling.  So if you're looking for something spooky for New Year's Eve, this carriage ride might be the ticket.


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