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DVD Review

The Phantom Carriage (Körkarlen) & The Image Makers


Starring: Victor Sjöström, Hilda Borgström and Tore Svennberg
Tartan Video
RRP: £24.99
Certificate: U
Available 11 February 2008

There is an old legend that the last person to die on New Year's Eve will be fated to become the next driver of the phantom carriage, traversing the land collecting corpses for a year until a new driver is found. For David Holm that time has come. Although he is wanted at the deathbed of a nurse, his wife has no idea that he is off getting drunk with his no good friends, however for Holm the night will end with him having to confront the consequences of his life choices...

The Phantom Carriage (Körkarlen, 1921), based on an original novel by Selma Lagerlof,  was directed by Victor Sjöström who also took the staring role of Holm. Assisting him in this endeavour was Hilda Borgstrom, Tore Svennberg, and Astrid Holm.

The film has not worn well. Although the print is surprisingly good for a film more than ninety years old, the tempo belongs to another age and another culture; personally I find Swedish films tend to have a slower, more introverted mode of story telling and Phantom is no different.

That it was influential to a generation of Swedish film makers also cannot be denied - with Ingmar Bergman, who owned a personal copy of the film, citing it as one of his primary cinematic influences. In fact many of its themes and surreal imagery would reappear in Bergman’s own Seventh Seal.

The saving grace for this aging film is the new beautifully haunting soundtrack by KTL, which I’m sure, will horrify purists, but give it a try as it really does lift what is basically an aging horror film to a whole different level. Added to this are some really quite good special effects, for the time, and what you have is a small slice of cinematic history.

Okay, it’s not going to appeal to everyone. Film was still in it infancy, even the language of film was still in flux, so many of the elements which a modern audience would recognise just aren't there.

To make a nice double disc edition Tartan have included Bergman’s own film The Image Makers (1 hr 40 min) which he termed a teleplay and recreates a screening of the Phantom Carriage. It’s an interesting look at ownership with the director, actors and author all vying for position in determining who understood the piece the best.

So, a nice little set, but one for the purists. The Phantom disc has an extra in the form of some KTL music, over shots from the film - a kind of music video of sorts.


Charles Packer

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