Electrical Memories

Based solely on Boris Karloff’s performance in The Devil Commands’ opening 10-minutes, he seems like the nicest guy. A gentle voice, caring, laughing, and joyful, he’s someone worth sitting down to speak to, likely for hours.

But this is Karloff at Columbia, part of his disconnected “mad doctor” series, meaning he’s soon to to turn against humanity in his experiments. Devil Commands has it all too – a mute lab assistant, stormy nights, a torch mob, and bizarre electrical experiments, the latter likely the last time electricity earned a sci-fi focus prior to post-World War II’s nuclear anxieties.

Devil Commands offers some chilling images, the cheap visual effects acceptable and surreal

For all the genre cliches (and more so, Karloff-bred cliches), Devil Commands still intrigues. While hardly as scintillating at the title suggests, Karloff is helped by a ferociously cruel and cold co-star Anne Revere, a performance worthy of being alongside one of the screen’s horror icons.

The ethical conundrum stems from Karloff’s character seeking to speak to his dead wife through the brain’s electrical impulses, an idea revolting to his professor companions. That’s the only religious implication despite the title as those around Karloff see this work as some bizarre voodoo. Isolated and without moral or lawful guidance, the experiments ensue, delivering on the desperation of grief, and Karloff slowly becoming visibly disheveled on screen.

Packed into a brisk 64-minutes, the story couldn’t possibly lag at that length, and the pacing keeps firing. This includes wild prop metal masks with lights on the sides, as if a caged Frankenstein monster. While low intensity, Devil Commands offers some chilling images, the cheap visual effects acceptable and surreal.

Each of the “mad doctor” films rank equally so in quality, their cheap, b-level presence is equivalent to easy listening music for horror aficionados. Columbia clearly banked on Karloff’s name, and so did any other studio lucky enough to have him. There’s a reason for that, and these brief genre films prove as much – he was a capable actor, unfortunately typecast, yet still carrying a presence worthy of watching each time out.


Seemingly unrestored, this messy presentation is among the weakest in Mill Creek’s Thrillers from the Vault box set. Resolution is low enough to cause visible aliasing on numerous edges; the bigger the screen, the more it’s apparent. Lackluster grain replication looks entirely digital, less grain than blocky artifacts.

Print damage comes and goes, but does turn toward severe numerous times. Murky gray scale withers in middle tones, better in brightness than black levels, but that’s graded on a curve in this case. There’s minimal detail to see as The Devil Commands barely betters DVD in sharpness.


Dated as expected, the audio fares better than the video at least. Dialog replication belies the age, pure, crisp, and clean considering the early sound/cheap recording source. Minimal music, certainly stock material, sounds older than the rest, waning in clarity. The ancient thunder effects sound older still. Static and popping intrude at various times.


The best in the commentary business Tom Weaver handles another fantastic commentary.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

The Devil Commands
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Boris Karloff performs wacky mad science in The Devil Commands, a derivative if fun little thriller.

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The following six screen shots serve as samples for our subscription-exclusive set of 27 full resolution, uncompressed HD screen shots grabbed directly from the Blu-ray:

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