The Phantom Carriage Poster

The Phantom Carriage (1921)

Drama | Fantasy | Horror
Rayting:   8.1/10 12K votes
Country: Sweden
Language: None | Swedish
Release date: January 1, 1921

On New Year's Eve, the driver of a ghostly carriage forces a drunken man to reflect on his selfish, wasted life.

Movie Trailer

User Reviews

Boba_Fett1138 28 February 2007

Not as well known as the English, American, German and French cinema, though cinema from Sweden from the '20's was also quite good, interesting and revolutionary.

This is a movie that is made great by its story. The story is told in 'A Christmas Carol' kind of way, in which the death himself confronts the deceased with his past, present and what could have been. It's of course a story that concentrates on morals and it does this very well. The message comes across as very powerful and effective. This is of course also definitely due to the effective directing from the father of Swedish cinema; Victor Sjöström.

The story is based on the novel by other Swedish author Selma Lagerlöf. The story is adapted by Victor Sjöström himself, who perhaps should had taken out a few more elements, to let the story and movie flow better. It perhaps takes a bit too long before the movie starts to take form and the story gets clear but when the movie does take form and pace it becomes a really wonderful one.

The movie does not only have a great story, it also is a good looking one. The movie uses some early and effective effects and uses some different color filters to create the right mood and to indicate what it past, present and 'future'.

Sjöström did not only wrote and directed this movie, he also plays the main character. Of course the acting in the movie is over-the-top at times, by todays standards but not as bad as in for instance early German movies was the case. And after all, this movie is more about its story and morals than it is about the acting, so it really doesn't matter much, or distracts.

A really great and effective underrated silent-movie classic from Sweden.


Coventry 27 January 2019

If some of the most brilliant and influential geniuses in cinematic history, like Ingmar Bergman and Charlie Chaplin, state that "The Phantom Carriage" is the greatest film ever made, then who are we to contradict them? But don't just take Chaplin's word or mine for it! Please watch this masterpiece and allow yourself to be emotionally moved, perplexed and feel restless for several nights thanks to this pure masterpiece of Swedish silent cinema!

Victor Sjörstrom, later the mentor of Ingmar Bergman and lead star of his classic "Wild Strawberries", puts down a phenomenal tour-de-force achievement as the writer, director and controversial protagonist of this supernatural folklore tale with heavy moralist and melodramatic undertones. The film mysteriously opens with images of a Salvation Army nurse named Edith in her deathbed and begging her loved ones to go out and seek a man named David Holm. It's New Year's Eve and we find the drunkard and hermit David near the churchyard, where he's narrating the legend of the Phantom Carriage to two of his drinking buddies. The legend says that the last person to die in the year is doomed to become the ghostly coachman and collect the souls of the deceased throughout the next year. Ironically enough, David gets into a fight with the other two and dies whilst the clock chimes midnight. He sees the carriage approach and the driver he's supposed to relieve is a former friend named Georges. The latter forces David to reflect on his miserable life and all the pain and sadness he inflicted on others, including his wife and daughters and the good-hearted nurse Edith.

Admittedly, if this would have been a nowadays and "normal" movie, I would probably find it too preachy and sentimental, but, as one of the oldest films in the world with horror aspects, I found it mesmerizing and at least a dozen times more absorbing than any other family drama. And, although I'm undoubtedly biased, "The Phantom Carriage" is also a vastly unnerving and macabre movie. Early forms of special effects like the double-exposure, as simply as they may be, still have an utmost atmospheric and uncanny impact. The images of ghostly carriage, especially against the bleakly brown or blue hand-colored backgrounds, are genuinely haunting. In fact, much more haunting and nightmarish than 99,9% of all the horror movies that are released today, with modern techniques and a wide variety of digital know-how. Sjöström is fantastic as the drunkard Holm, consecutively nihilistic, ruthless, remorseful and petrified. The only thing more impressive than Sjöström's great performance is his visionary and progressive direction. The rest of the cast is stellar as well, notably Hilda Borgström as Holm's wife and Tore Svennberg as the tormented driver. I don't like to impose movies onto people, but if you're an admirer of the art of cinema, "The Phantom Carriage" is a must-see!

wes-connors 2 May 2009

Once upon a time, in Sweden, there was a poor Salvation Army sister. At death's door, she requests, "Send for David Holm!" But, Victor Sjöström (as David Holm) cannot be located, because he is spending New Year's Eve in a graveyard, with his drinking buddies. Dying Sister Astrid Holm (as Edit) wants to see if praying for Mr. Sjöström's soul, over the past year, has produced any results; arguably, it has not. In the graveyard, Sjöström tells the story of "The Phantom Carriage", which he heard from his dead friend Tore Svennberg (as Georges). According to legend, the last person to die in each year must pick up the souls of all the dead people, until being relieved next New Year's Eve...

Director Sjöström, whose lead performance is very strong, combines with photographer Julius Jaenzon to create a visually appealing film. The great "double exposure" effect is used frequently, but never seems overdone; and, it doesn't make the film's other dramatic highlights any less memorable (for example, Sjöström's tearing of his sewn coat and axing of the door). A Selma Lagerlöf story probably wasn't one you could, or would want to, tamper with in the 1920s - which may, or may not be, why the ending of this film is a letdown. And, unlike similar spiritual stories, it's difficult to suspend your disbelief, if you think too carefully about what is really happening in "Körkarlen".

******* Körkarlen (1/1/21) Victor Sjöström ~ Victor Sjöström, Hilda Borgström, Tore Svennberg

gavin6942 13 October 2014

New Year's Eve. Three drunkards evoke a legend. The legend tells that the last person to die in a year, if he is a great sinner, will have to drive during the whole year the Phantom Chariot, the one that picks up the souls of the dead...

Victor Sjöström directed this silent classic, and also stars as David Holm (who goes through various phases of respectability and homelessness). The film is notable for its special effects (double exposure), its advanced (for the time) narrative structure with flashbacks within flashbacks, and for having been a major influence on Ingmar Bergman.

Bergman, easily Sweden's greatest filmmaker, was returning to this film his whole life, and the dark nature of Swedish cinema can probably be traced to "Phantom Carriage". For one example, Bergman cast Sjöström in the leading role for "Wild Strawberries", which also features references to the silent film.

While presented as a horror film, this is not really fair. The horror elements can be found there, surely, but this is more of a take on Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Story". We have alcoholism replacing greed and New Years replacing Christmas, but there are many parallels.

claudio_carvalho 16 May 2009

In the New Year's Eve, the tuberculous sister of the Salvation Army Edit (Astrid Holm) asks her mother and her colleague Maria (Lisa Lundholm) to call David Holm (Victor Sjöström) to visit her in her deathbed. Meanwhile, the alcoholic David is telling to two other drunkards in the cemetery the legend of the Phantom Coach and his coachman: in accordance with the legend, the last sinner to die in the turn of the New Year becomes the soul collector, gathering souls in his coach. When David denies to visit Edit, his friends have an argument with him, they fight and David dies. When the coachman arrives, he recognizes his friend Georges (Tore Svennberg), who died in the end of the last year. George revisits parts of David's obnoxious life and in flashbacks, he shows how mean and selfish David was.

"Körkarlen" is an impressive and stylish silent movie, with magnificent special effects (for a 1921 movie). The characters are very well developed; however, the story is dated and there is a weird and unexplained situation, when Sister Edit tells that she loves David Holm. Why should a enlightened woman love such a despicable man that wasted his life corrupting other people? Despite being religiously dated in the present days, it gives a beautiful message of faith and redemption in the end. My vote is nine.

Title (Brazil): "A Carroça Fantasma" ("The Phantom Coach")

Hitchcoc 14 August 2013

I read a great deal of work on cinema and yet had never heard of this film. It is a remarkable example of the best the silent era had to offer. The acting is subdued and believable. More is done with the faces and postures of the characters than is done with most modern films. Sjostrom a the lead character has the marvelous ability to show a kind of kind exterior while suffering inside. There are times when we see him on the edge of salvation, but he thinks a moment and pulls back inside. He is so set on the revenge on his wife that it trumps everything, even the lives of his little children.

It is the story of a Salvation Army worker, a young woman, who is dying of consumption. On her death bed, she calls for David Holm to be brought to her. The response from those around her is that of fear and disgust. Yet she persists and her cohorts start a search for him. It is unsuccessful since he has determined to have nothing to do with her. Even the wife is brought to the young woman. She is in incredible pain. We now get the story in a series of flashbacks, precipitated by the story of the Phantom Carriage which is driven by the last sinner to die on New Year's Eve. He must put in one year before he is released to his reward. David, instead to going to see Edit (the young woman), gets in a fight with his drinking buddies and is killed, just a few seconds before midnight.

This is a story of reclamation, which is one of my favorite themes. It is rather Dickensian in some ways. The beauty of this is that we are treated to the incredible resistance to transformation that Sjostrom's character puts up. This is one of the better movies I've ever seen.

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