Devastated by the loss of his wife, a scientist goes mad and tries to communicate with the dead in The Devil Commands, the Boris Karloff thriller from 1941. Directed by Edward Dmytryk, The Devil Commands is the type of film that you expect to see spoofed on MST3K. It is a strange, disjointed picture which doesn't make a whole lot of sense, yet has a certain charm.
The poster above showcases one of the creepiest scenes in the film. Karloff, as Dr. Julian Blair, was working on a project to map human brainwaves. Shortly after making a breakthrough his beloved wife is killed in car accident. Dr. Blair then receives, though his brain wave machine, a message that he believes is from his dead wife. No one, including his devoted daughter Anne, believes him. Quick aside--this is what the brain wave machine looks like....
Awesome, I know. What is better is that while wearing this Iron Maiden, you have to hold on to these two sticks that look just like the thing Scientologists use to "audit" people.
So now we know where L.Ron got THAT idea. Anyway, Dr. Julian hooks up with a shady Medium named Mrs. Walters, played by the incredible Anne Revere.
I was so impressed with her performance I did a little investigating (which is a lot for me because I am really lazy.) Anne Revere was not only a descendant of Paul Revere, she was also an Academy Award Winner (for National Velvet) and she was blacklisted due to her refusal to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee. She didn't act again for 20 years. When she returned to acting it was on soaps such as "The Edge of Night" and "Ryan's Hope," two of my personal favorites. Anywho Mrs. Walter's does have some psychic ability, and she gets sucked into Dr. Blair's madness. They move to a crumbling estate with manservant Karl, who is the best character in this flick. I couldn't find a picture of him but trust me, you will wish you had your own Karl to do your bidding. Karl was Dr. Blair's driver who, after being "audited," was never quite the same.
The villagers in the tiny village they move to get quite upset when bodies go missing from the morgue. Turns out Dr. Blair needs bodies to perform his experiments, leading to the creep-o scene depicted above. Rioting, murder, and mayhem lead to the shocking finale.
I was laughing throughout this whole film. It is just so ridiculous. But the acting, as you would expect, is top notch. Karloff never phones it in and Revere is a revelation. I am still not quite sure what the Devil has to do with any of this, but it is a great title.