Boris Karloff stars in the appropriately moody horror-suspense-science fiction drama – The Devil Commands. Made in 1941, it was a perfect fit for the actor who had just starred in some of the best horror movies ever made up until this time including Frankenstein and the Mummy. Directed by Edward Dmytryk for Columbia, it is a tense and wonderful little film that seems to have slipped itself in between the cracks in Karloff’s Universal offerings.
Karloff plays Dr. Julian Blair who has created a machine to map brainwaves in people or patients and is the culmination of his life’s work. After a tragic accident that leaves his wife for dead, Blair retreats to his lab not being able to go home to an empty house for fear of facing his family or grief head on. It is there that he gets the idea to use his machine to contact the dead, specifically his dearly departed bride. With the help of a medium, and for fear of being committed to an asylum, Blair retreats from society to continue his experiments in private. Soon, his actions start to become circumspect with the locals and everything soon comes to a head.
Coming in at a little less than sixty-five minutes long, the film is tight and precise with no wasted moments. The science of course is laughable in this day and age, but when put in context which one must do to enjoy such a film, it is really quite brilliant. Blair of course, has gone insane with his longing turned into obsession and his grief into recklessness. Karloff plays his role to perfection as the mad doctor, having the look and the acting skills to do as such.
While not the greatest horror film of all time, nor the best science-fiction film either, it is a great little movie that does not rely too heavily on special effects, but on the actors to create the mood and the environment of the film and to make it believable for the audience. The Devil Commands succeeded in doing so and is a small gem in the art of good filmmaking.
4 out of 5