Cinema Sunday: The Devil Commands (1941)

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Title: The Devil Commands

Distributor: Columbia Pictures

Writers: Robert Hardy Andrews, Milton Gunzburg, William Sloane (novel)

Director: Edward Dmytryk

Producer: Wallace MacDonald

Starring: Boris Karloff, Richard Fiske, Amanda Duff, Ralph Penney, Anne Revere

Released: February 1941

MPAA: Approved

 

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I’d like to say that there’s a rhyme and reason to my movie selections, but alas, there is not. I will say that for now, I’m severely addicted to movies starring Boris Karloff. His filmography is fascinating to look at. Diversity, longevity, and power, make it nothing short of spectacular. The man is one of the true legends of the genre. And quite honestly, I’d say all that even if you removed “Frankenstein” from his list of credits!

After leaving Universal Studios when his contract expired, Karloff worked for Columbia Pictures, RKO Pictures, and AIP (with Roger Corman directing most of those). He hosted some television shows (Thriller, Out of this World, and The Veil), used his awesome voice on radio shows (Lights Out), and made cameo or guest appearances on a few different television series. The man, by all accounts, was a great guy that kept most of his personal life to himself, and even helped build the Screen Actors Guild from its infancy!

OK, now, I give you…The Devil Commands!

 

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The film opens with a the voice of a woman telling the audience her name is Anne Blair, and her father’s name was Dr. Julian Blair (we see a creepy old house, during a thunderstorm). She tells of how the townspeople were afraid of her father, and the strange goings-on at his abode. She tells of better times when her father was a professor at a local university, but that one night, an experiment changed all that…

We then see a scientist, Dr. Julian Blair (Boris Karloff), as he’s attempting to show five other scientists that his invention (a wild looking helmet, some wires, and a machine that looks like a polygraph), and research, have yielding fantastic results. He shows them how his machine, while hooked up to a human being’s head (one of the scientists at this time), can show brain activity, and possibly even thoughts! The scientists are skeptical, and Blair seems a bit put off. As the experiment winds down, his assistant, Karl (Ralph Penney) bursts into the room, along with Blair’s wife, Helen (Shirley Warde). He then straps her into the machine to show them that the brainwaves of a woman, are far superior to that of a man (the two of them make a a lot of jokes, but loving remarks as well). Again the crowd is skeptical that this means anything significant, but Blair and his wife must rush out the door to pick up their daughter.

 

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The two drive off, and speed toward their destination. Helen then remarks that they must stop to pick up a birthday cake for their daughter. There’s nowhere to park, so Helen (who’s driving) tells Julian to get out of the car and get the cake, and she’ll drive around the block and pick him up upon returning. He barely gets back outside after getting the cake, when a car slams into their car, killing his wife. After the funeral, you can see a marked decline in Dr. Blair’s demeanor. Not in the way any grieving husband would be, but completely lost in his soul.

 

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Later, he heads over to his laboratory, and for some unknown reason, he turns on his machines. The last person he used it on was his wife, so her brain patterns are still on the graph. Suddenly, the graph beings to move again, and the waves are in the same pattern as his wife’s were! He deduces that this means his wife’s spirit is trying to contact him. Just then, his daughter walks in, and his mistakes her for his wife for a moment. As Anne (Amanda Duff) walks in, he tells her that her mother’s spirit is alive and well, and made the waves on the graphs.

 

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He then brings his colleagues back to tell them, and they think he’s had a mental breakdown. He becomes angry, and even resentful of the fact that they don’t believe he’s discovered something astonishing. He flips out, and orders everyone t leave, including Anne, and her boyfriend (and former assistant to Dr. Blair, Dr. Sayles – Richard Fiske) to get out. Karl stays behind though, and tells Dr. Blair that he talks to his dead mother all the time, with the assistance of a medium named Mrs. Walters (Anne Revere – image above). At first, Dr. Blair doesn’t think she’s for real, but then he agrees to go see her. As the séance begins, we do see an apparition, that supposedly talks to Karl. After it’s over, Dr. Blair confronts the medium about some of her shenanigans, but does come to realize she has some latent psychic powers that he can use to talk to his dead wife.

From this point on, Dr. Blair does anything and everything it takes to achieve his goal. But is that goal so terrible?

 

OK, here are my thoughts:

This film definitely has one not so good thing going for it…the title. I don’t know who decided on the title, but it’s absurd. Not once is “the devil” mentioned that i can recall, or do they ever imply that Satan is in any way shape or form involved. It’s quite ludicrous. Other than that, this film is a real gem for Karloff. He plays a great mad scientist, but also it’s how he plays someone grief-stricken from losing a loved one. Bravo, Mr. Karloff.

The performance lifts this film to unbelievable heights, as the sets, music, and costumes are nothing above average. The atmosphere is quite good, especially after Karloff’s character begins his association with the medium. Speaking of that character, Anne Revere does a splendid job with her performance as well, and should be lauded for it. She’s a real creepy lady in this one! Oh, and Amanda Duff is absolutely gorgeous in this film (image below)!

I know this one is available online and in a DVD set you can grab cheap too if you’d rather go that route. No excuses, get this one ion your collection!

 

Click here for a clip!

 

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Cinema Sunday: The Tingler (1959)

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Title: The Tingler

Distributor: Columbia Pictures

Writer: Robb White

Director: William Castle

Producer: William Castle

Starring: Vincent Price, Judith Evelyn, Darryl Hickman, Patricia Cutts, Philip Coolidge

Released: July 1959

MPAA: Approved

 

After a double-dip of Amicus films, I thought it had been too long since I’d visited a film starring one of my all time favorite actors, Vincent Price! I still have quite a few films of his that I want to spotlight, and this one is right at the top of the list, so I figured, why not? By this time in his career, Price had been working diligently and built up a good reputation. He had also begun to do almost nothing aside from horror films, which was a big deal for him, and would’ve been for any actor of that time (the genre was very well-respected back then).

I’d like to think that the relationship between William Castle and Price was one that helped vault both of their careers into the stratosphere, and it definitely helped the genre tremendously, and the industry. Castle was known for his cheaply made films that used a gimmick to get the audience to squeal, and more often than not, he accomplished that feat and more. OK, without further interruption, here we go…

 

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The film begins with it’ Producer/Director, William Castle warning the viewers that he’s obligated to warn us that we (the viewers) will also be experiencing some of the sensations physically that the actors in the film did. He urges you to scream at the top of your lunges to help alleviate this sensation. The screen is then bombarded by floating heads that scream loudly, and the film begins.

We see a man in a jail cell, and he looks as though he’s about to go mad. He’s led from his cell to a room (execution), and then the scene switches to a room marked “autopsy” and we see Dr. Warren Chapin (Vincent Price), as he’s readying the room for another customer. A few minutes alter, and a body is rolled out of the room, and towards the autopsy room. Once the body arrives, Chapin begins his work. He notices that the dead man’s back is broken in two different places, and he theorizes that something other than electrocution did this. The other man in the room, Oliver Higgins (Philip Coolidge), tells Chapin that this man is a serial killer that also happens to be his wife’s brother. Chapin discusses his fascination with fear, and experimenting on people to figure out the effects from it.

 

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After the autopsy is over, Chapin gives Higgins a ride into town. They walk by a movie theater that Higgins and his wife own. Higgins uses sign language to tell his wife that he’s going to have a cup of coffee with Chapin at their apartment across the street. Eventually, Mrs. Higgins (Judith Evelyn), comes in and Oliver explains that she cannot speak or hear, so she must read lips or use sign language. As they talk, Chapin gets cut, and the mere sight of blood causes Martha to faint. later, Chapin tells Oliver that the reason she faints when she sees blood, is because she cannot scream and release the fear inside of her. Chapin, after Oliver asks him about the tingling sensation, dubs this condition “the Tingler.” Chapin leaves and heads for home.

 

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Over at his house, Chapin enters and is greeted by Lucy (Pamela Lincoln), and then his partner, David (Darryl Hickman). He tells David about his interesting experience today with the deaf-mute woman, and the two theorize about the effects of fear. Lucy gets mad and wants to leave, so David eventually complies. Later that night, Isabel (Patricia Cutts), Lucy’s older sister (and guardian), and apparently Chapin’s rich, estranged/ex-wife. Chapin and Isabel exchange quips, and then after Isabel gets cranky, Chapin pulls out a gun, and threatens her with a pistol. He leads her down to the lab, and threatens her. He demands that she leaves Lucy and David alone, and that gives half of her father’s fortune to Lucy. She tells him she wont do it, and lunges for the phone to call the police. Chapin shoots her, and while the body is still warm, he begins to experiment on her.

 

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He quickly takes x-rays of her spine to see what causes it to break suddenly when someone is struck by a terrible fear. A moment later, she leaps up from the table and shrieks. He tells her it was only blanks in the gun, and that she passed out from the situation. Meanwhile, a cat that David procured for the experiment hops in the window and scares Isabel. He tells her that the cat was originally intended for the experiment but he thought she’d make a better volunteer. He also asks her is she’s seen this cat before in any of the local alleyways. She threatens him and gives him an ominous forecast for his future.

 

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The following day David comes over to the lab, and shows him the x-rays of Isabel just as she was scared stiff. David is astounded by this find as they both see that there is indeed something in the spine just as someone is frightened. Chapin wants to push forward, but David is worried. Chapin convinces him to follow along, and the two try concoct a plan to extract a “tingler.” Chapin gives David the night off, and he and Lucy get the impression something is amiss.  They’re right, and they peek in on Chapin as he injects himself with some drugs (LSD?) to induce a fear in himself.

 

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Chapin starts to go on a trip, and is trying to record all of this, but is having trouble keeping up with things the longer he’s under the influence. He starts to hallucinate that the walls are closing in on him, and he begins to panic. He feels like he can’t breathe, and sees the skeleton in his lab come after him. He tries to stop himself, but cannot, so he screams out. After he wakes, he tells David and Lucy that there isn’t anyway possible for someone to stop themselves from screaming from fear. He then gets a sinister idea, and leaves. David is worried he might experiment on Oliver’s wife, since she cannot scream.

Will Dr. Chapin resort to experimenting on Martha? Will he prove his theory about the Tingler? Check out this classic to find out!

 

OK, here are my thoughts:

This film is another good one from Castle and Price. House on Haunted Hill is better, mostly because of the cast, but also in plot. You can’t dismiss this one though, and I’m sure the gimmicks helped this one be even better when it was in the theaters. The special effects were pretty cool, especially the scene with the blood. Of course the “Tingler” by today’s standards would be judged as cheesy, but in all honesty, it looks as good comparatively speaking to the face-hugger in Aliens (1986).

The film is a must see for any Price fan, but also for anyone that loves old school cinema, especially of the thriller/horror variety. You do get a cool twist late in the film, and if you love House on haunted Hill, this one has some of the same elements to it that made that one great. Lets be honest for a minute, Price could carry any film, and his reputation was built on performances like this one!

 

Click here for the trailer!