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I’ll say one thing about Boris Karloff, he never disappoints. Karloff was the kind of actor who made every film in which he appeared worth watching. It didn’t matter if the material was good or bad- Karloff always gave it his all and made every moment he was on the screen fun to watch. After establishing himself as a horror movie icon at Universal, Karloff branched out working in various genres for various studios. During the late 30s and early 40s Karloff took on a series of "mad doctor" roles at Columbia Pictures, and while these films weren’t in the same league as his Universal monster movies, Karloff’s presence made them memorable. I remember watching THE MAN THEY COULD NOT HANG, BEFORE I HANG, and THE DEVIL COMMANDS ($25) on television during my childhood and loving each one of these films because of the Karloff touch.

In THE DEVIL COMMANDS, Karloff portrays scientist Dr. Julian Blair, whose research has yielded the ability to distinguish and record an individual’s brainwaves. However, on the evening of this great scientific triumph, Blair’s wife is killed in an automobile accident. After the funeral, the distraught scientist returns to his laboratory and accidentally switches on his equipment, which registers a brainwave pattern identical to his deceased wife. Convinced that his wife is trying to make contact with him from beyond the grave, Dr. Blair changes the focus of his research to break down the barrier between the living and the dead. Of course, members of the scientific community think that Blair has lost his mind, which drive him and his research underground, where he begins working with a spiritualist named Mrs. Walters (Anne Revere), who has the uncanny ability to act as a receiver and channel the massive amounts of energy generated by his equipment. The cast of THE DEVIL COMMANDS also includes Amanda Duff, Richard Fiske, Ralph Penney, Kenneth MacDonald, Shirley Warde and Dorothy Adams.

Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment has made THE DEVIL COMMANDS available on DVD in a really nice looking full screen transfer that frames the movie in its proper 1.37:1 aspect ratio. For the most part, the un-restored black and white film element used for the transfer is in good shape, although there are some blemishes at the reel changes and one prolonged instance where scratches and lines are rather apparent. All things considered, the film elements are not too bad for a low budget feature from 1941. The image on the DVD appears pretty crisp and offers good definition. A grain structure is noticeable much of the time, but is never excessive. Blacks are pure and the whites are clean and stable. Grayscale offers a good level of variety and shadow detail is more than respectable for a film of its age. Digital compression artifacts always maintain a low profile.

THE DEVIL COMMANDS comes with a pretty solid Dolby Digital monaural soundtrack. There are no significant signs of background hiss or other sonic anomalies, which would seem to indicate a bit of a digital cleanup. Dialogue is crisp and always perfectly intelligible, plus Karloff’s voice maintains its distinctive character. As expected, limitations in fidelity render the music a bit hollow, but it does hold up at normal listening levels. No other language tracks are included on the DVD, although English and French subtitles are provided. The basic interactive menus allow one access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as trailers for DARKNESS FALLS, IDENTITY and TSUI HARK’S VAMPIRE HUNTERS.

As a Karloff fan, I got a big kick out of having THE DEVIL COMMANDS on DVD. The disc looks and sounds perfectly fine for a vintage title that hasn’t undergone any form of restoration. Hopefully Columbia will follow through and offer the above-mentioned Karloff "mad doctor" titles, as well as THE BLACK ROOM and THE BOOGIE MAN WILL GET YOU.



The Devil Commands (1941)


DVD reviews are Copyright © 2003 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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