The Devil Commands (1941)

Article #177 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 9-9-2001
Posting date: 1-23-2002

A scientist experimenting with brain patterns loses his wife in a car accident. When his machine registers her brain pattern after her death, he becomes obsessed with trying to communicate with her from the world beyond.

This Boris Karloff vehicle has one of the most intriguing premises I’ve encountered, and represents one of the most interesting blends of science fiction and horror. It’s also one of the best illustrations on how an obsession can take over and destroy a man’s life, as we see the gradual deterioration of character as he at first alienates his family and friends, then accidentally destroys the mind of his assistant, going from there to grave-robbing and murder, and finally risking the life of his own daughter for his experiment. The seance sequences in the latter half of the movie are very striking, with their use of science fiction paraphernalia and horror elements, with skeletons taking part in the seance while dressed in what look like diving outfits, and a miniature tornado being created as a result of the experiments. Karloff’s performance is great, but there are times when I feel the structure of the story is a little clumsy, and I find myself wishing that a little more time and money had been invested in the movie. Nonetheless, this is a fascinating film.


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