Monday, June 27, 2011

'The Phantom Carriage' to Get the Criterion Treatment

Criterion is prepping one of the great silent horror films for its first official release on Region 1 DVD and Blu-ray on September 27 (just in time for Halloween season!). The Phantom Carriage, Victor Sjöström’s 1921 tale tailing The Grim Reaper as he collects fresh souls on New Year’s Eve, will include the following features:

• New digital transfer, restored in collaboration with the Archival Film Collections of the Swedish Film Institute
• Two scores, one by acclaimed Swedish composer Matti Bye and the other by the experimental duo KTL
• Audio commentary featuring film historian Casper Tybjerg
• Interview with Ingmar Bergman excerpted from the 1981 documentary Victor Sjöström: A Portrait, by Gösta Werner
• The Bergman Connection, an original visual essay by film historian and Bergman scholar Peter Cowie on The Phantom Carriage’s influence on Bergman
• Archival footage from 1919 of the construction of Räsunda Studios, where The Phantom Carriage was filmed
• New and improved English subtitle translation
• PLUS: A booklet featuring an essay by screenwriter and filmmaker Paul Mayersberg

Here’s what I had to say about The Phantom Carriage in Psychobabble's 120 Essential Horror Movies::

Germany did not have a monopoly on great horror in the genre’s earliest days. In stark contrast to its expressionistic peers, Sweden’s The Phantom Carriage introduces a more naturalistic horror film. Divorced from the grotesque surrealism of Caligari and the fantasy environments of The Golem, The Phantom Carriage packs its chills more subtlety. Aside from double exposure shots to achieve the ghosts’ semi-transparent appearances, special effects are in short order. Nightmarish imagery is not. A spectral grim reaper stalks the desolate Swedish countryside in search of a new soul to replace him as driver of the titular conveyance on New Year’s Eve. In one unforgettable shot, he retrieves a body from the bottom of the sea as eerie underwater vegetation sways in the foreground. More electrifying is a TB-infected drunkard axing through a door to get at his terrified wife and kids in a scene that must have made an impression on Stanley Kubrick. Ingmar Bergman certainly acknowledged the film’s effect on his Seventh Seal, and even cast director Victor Sjöström in the lead role of Wild Strawberries. Though Bergman would make a more philosophically profound film with The Seventh Seal (the main thrust of The Phantom Carriage is "alcohol bad; Jesus good"), Sjöström made a far spookier one.

Get The Phantom Carriage on DVD or Blu-ray at Amazon.com.
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