I went into this expecting an Expressionistic horror film, along the lines of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari or maybe Haxan, to get that Scandinavian flavor, and there’s certainly a ghostly creep factor to much of the beginning, but the film as a whole is more of a morality tale – not that that’s a bad thing.
It’s New Year’s Eve, and when two carousing men threaten a fight, their previously-merry companion David stops them seriously to tell them the story of the phantom carriage – each year, the last person to die on New Year’s Eve must drive Death’s carriage and collect the souls of the dead for the next year. The special effects on the carriage and the driver are pretty spooky, especially for 1921, and really effective. Of course, David ends up visited by the phantom driver, who turns out to be his old friend Georges. Georges reminds David of his happy life with his wife and family, then how he turned astray and left them as he fell further and further into degeneracy. Ultimately, the story is about whether David can redeem himself and return to his family, or if it’s too late for him.