The Phantom Chariot (1921)
Genre: Silent Fantasy Drama (Sweden)
Starring: Victor Sjostrom (Wild Strawberries), Tore Svennberg
Directed By: Victor Sjostrom (The Wind; He Who Gets Slapped)
Overview: This ghost story tells the tale of those that die at the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve, made to drive The Phantom Chariot and reap the souls of the dead as punishment.
Acting: Early German silent cinema. For as much as these people were probably fairly new to film, they did quite a decent job. No maniacal overzealous howling, no monotonous deadpan faces. There is a certain expression that must go with a horror story of this sort and from the reaper to the dying to the one begging to be given a second chance, I must say I was quite impressed.
Cinematography: It's all about double exposure, ghostly images, a beat-up old carriage, the reaper driving it and the festering horse pulling it. If these images don't impress you, there won't be much else there to do it. Of all the films I've seen, this is the most obscure and hardest to find and therefore naturally the print will be a little rustic. Nothing so crappy as Foolish Wives, but when you think of old silent classics, this is pretty much the look you expect. Having said that, 'classic' is a pretty good description.
Script: Confined by the limits of intertitling, we have to be witness to the Reader's Digest version of what is obviously quite a deep and emotionally charged tale. This does translate very well however, and when we are graced with elements of character development, we do genuinely feel the guilt and rage and resentment as they do. There was just enough writing to support the plot without being overburdened by words on the screen.
Plot: As mildly predictable as I found it to be, my guest was pleasantly surprised as was I to tell you the truth. Sometimes it's nice to have a story go where you expect it to. I was so intrigued by this plot that the next day I was thinking about how I would redo this story if I were given the chance. I expected the end to be far more bleak and sinister than it was since German silent films tended to be less fluffy than MGM Hollywood Studios (who always insisted on a happy ending). All that aside, this is a ghost story and ghost stories are effin' cool.
Mood: The Phantom Chariot is haunting, dark and grim like only the Silent Era could do. There is something to be said about a voiceless film crowned only by ominous music. Darkly we see the reaper collect his souls unwillingly and as morality plays go, this one is multi-layered in its intricacy.
"No, you're dead." "Aw, Come ON!"
Overall Rating: 82% (Haunting...)
Aftertaste: This goes by many names. The original German is Korkarlen, and other English titles include The Phantom Carriage, The Stroke of Midnight and Thy Soul Shall Bear Witness. A ghost story by any other name is just as obscure and you'll be hard pressed to find this film around town. In fact I think I may be the only one in our Nation's Capital to have a copy, so if you want to borrow it and be obscure film super-cool, just gotta ask...
Thanks baby for this wonderful birthday present!