Splatter Time Fun Fest 2012: Körkarlen (The Phantom Carriage, 1921)

Where would the world be without the Swedes and their fascination with death?

Written By: Victor Sjöström
Directed By: Victor Sjöström

We all will die someday. That is one of the few absolutes that every person that is currently living and breathing on the planet Earth shares. It doesn’t matter what we accomplish in life, how long we live, how much money we have, or how good/bad of a person we are, we will all die. I’m thinking that as far as a specific group of people goes Swedish directors have this idea pegged more than others. I can’t think of another country whose directors are fascinated with death to the degree that the Swedes are. But, I find that among the very best of the Swedish directors it’s not just a mere acceptance of death that they bring to the table but a desire to explore and better understand death.

I will not lie and say that I am familiar with Victor Sjöström’s work outside of Körkarlen and his acting role in Ingmar Bergman’s Smultronstället. I do know that he is considered one of the great Swedish directors and that Körkarlen was a personal favorite of Herr Bergman. It makes sense that Herr Bergman liked Körkarlen as much as he did. In many of Herr Bergman’s films I can see trace elements of Körkarlen. The fact that as renowned of a director as Herr Bergman thought as highly as he did of Körkarlen and felt the desire to implement elements from Herr Sjöström’s film into his own work says more than I could ever hope to say about the qualities contained within Körkarlen.

That doesn’t mean I won’t give it the old college try. What struck me most about Körkarlen were two elements. The way that the film didn’t truly moralize, and the ghost effect given to David Holm and the carriage.

I realize that morals are at play in Körkarlen. However, what impacted me the most about the film was how Herr Sjöström doesn’t take an easy black and white approach to the morals it tackles. The film does call on good people doing good things, but it does not write off people who make bad decisions. The way that the screenplay brings forth the idea of death and ties that into the moral decisions we make was a stroke of genius.

The ghost effects used on the characters of David Holm, Georges, and the carriage itself was a brilliant bit of filmmaking. The technique used to impose the ghosts over the rest of the imagery gave the film a transitional quality. It wasn’t scary, but it was otherworldly and it was highly effective in grabbing my attention. The skill displayed by Herr Sjöström is putting his images together and in his use of the ghost effect made me look deeper into the screen and really let the film wash over me.

Along with being fascinated by death the Swedes also make some damn fine films. Körkarlen is yet another great Swedish film. It’s reminiscent of many of the great expressionistic works of the Silent era of filmmaking. Körkarlen is a film with themes that play out more visually than they did in the inter-titles. There isn’t much in the way of traditional horror to be found in Körkarlen, but a fascination with death and an exploration of human frailty equals a horror movie I enjoyed watching.




One response to “Splatter Time Fun Fest 2012: Körkarlen (The Phantom Carriage, 1921)

  1. Pingback: Splatter Time Fun Fest 2012: The 3rd Annual Bloody Machete Awards | Bill's Movie Emporium

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