Plot: What’s it about?
Dr. Julian Blair (Boris Karloff) is a well known and respected scientist, one who does extensive work in the field of brain patterns. He has spent countless hours involved in brain wave impulse experiments, including the invention of a machine that locates, tracks, and records these important patterns. But in the middle of his research, his wife is killed in a car accident and his life is shattered into a million pieces. His wife was the love of his life and his best friend, so his loss is immense and drives him into a deep depression. Blair soon becomes obsessed with recording his deceased wife’s brain patterns, which drives him to new experiments and somehow, he manages to get some results. A machine is able to register her brain patterns and as such, he pushes forward and delves deeper into his experiments. He becomes consumed with being able to contact his wife on the other side, even turning to a psychic for assistance. But he soon decides that more drastic measures are needed and he looks into darker activities, such as robbing graves. He then uses the corpses as human radios, a kind of bridge into the other side, so he can communicate with his dead wife. But as the bodies continue to vanish and the locals begin to suspect the scientist, will he be able to break through to the other side?
This movie has a cool title, a great lead actor, and an excellent premise, but does The Devil Commands live up to its potential? In truth, aside from Karloff’s presence and the very well crafted premise, this movie is less than impressive. A few scenes do click and let us see how good the film could have been, but most of the dialogue is hurried and ineffective. But what a concept and the mixture of sci/fi and horror is flawless, just the right amounts of each element are present and that creates a potent atmosphere. The Devil Commands has some eerie atmosphere and cheap scares, but also relies on science a lot, which gives the picture a firm base in both genres, with mostly effective results. But the filmmakers needed to juice up the dialogue, to add more depth and personality to the characters and situations. I liked The Devil Commands a lot better after I had seen it a few times however, as I was less concerned with the flaws and focused on the good parts, which are often good enough to balance out the equation. I still think this could have been much better, but Karloff and the premise are enough to keep this one above water. The film screams B movie schlock, but in this case, that proves to be a good thing. Sadly, Columbia’s disc is terrible and as such, I can only recommend this as a rental.
This movie is basically just a chance for Boris Karloff to be Boris Karloff, with little else present to be concerned with. But a lot of folks will be satisfied with that, since this is the kind of material Karloff thrives within. As much as I love Karloff’s work, The Devil Commands is a hard sell even to his diehard devotees, as he is given much to work with here. His screen presence is solid, as always, but Karloff needs some better material here and is unable to put much into his role. You can’t fault him however, as he does his best with the limited material and whenever he has good lines, he nails them and shows some spark. If more of those great lines were present, The Devil Commands could have been a fun, campish picture, but instead, we only see a few glimpses into the film’s potential. Still, if you’re a massive Karloff fan, then his work here is worth a look, even if it doesn’t take full advantage of his skills. Other films with Karloff include The Raven, Targets, Frankenstein, Black Sabbath, The Ghoul, and Bride of Frankenstein. The cast also includes Anne Revere (A Place in the Sun, Gentleman’s Agreement), Amanda Duff (The Escape, Hotel for Women), and Richard Fiske (Men Without Souls, Teacher’s Pet).
Video: How does it look?
The Devil Commands is presented in full frame, as intended. I know this is not a high profile release, but it deserves a better presentation than this. The main issue is print condition, as the materials used here look quite bad. The elements have a lot of nicks and scuffs, not to mention grain and even scratches at times. These defects are frequent and consistent, which detracts from the film’s visual presence. The other trouble is with the contrast, as brightness varies throughout and that causes more visual problems. I found that softness isn’t bad, all things considered, but this is still an older picture, so keep that in mind. I didn’t expect a pristine visual effort in this case, but even so, Columbia must have rushed this one out.
Audio: How does it sound?
The audio is no more impressive than the video elements, which leaves us with a low end soundtrack. The normal mono limitations would be acceptable in this case, given the film’s age and the nature of mono treatments. But in addition to reserved, restrained audio elements, the material here has frequent defects. So expect pops and crackles in most scenes, as well as minor distortion and harshness at times. The dialogue is thin and poor recorded also, which doesn’t leave much to praise about this presentation. You can watch the movie and hear all the elements of course, but expect much beyond that. This disc also includes subtitles in English and French, just case you might need those at some point.
Supplements: What are the extras?
This disc includes no bonus materials.