Grindhouse Classics : “God Told Me To”

Posted: March 15, 2010 in movies
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"God Told Me To" Movie Poster

Larry Cohen films have a vibe all their own. Even his more “standard” horror fare like “It’s Alive,” or his blaxploitation ventures like “Black Caesar” have that certain off-kilter aspect of — well, Cohen-ness, for lack of a better term, to them. A signature element of personality that manifests itself in some sort of major quirk, or series of quirks, throughout. Today Cohen is pretty much confined to screenwriting, churning out rather standard-issue “thriller” screenplays for flicks like “Captivity” and “Phone Booth,” but back when he was given more free reign, he definitely came up with some movies that were straight out of bizarro world, the most notable of which were probably “Bone,” “Q : The Winged Serpent,” and my personal favorite, 1976’s “God Told Me To.”

This movie takes so many unexpected and almost completely incongruous twists and turns that you just have to sit back, go with the flow, and enjoy the ride. If you’re not willing to completely suspend all disbelief and just trust that Cohen is going to get us to a satisfactory conclusion by the end, no matter how bizarre what’s going on may seem at the time, then you’re going to feel hopelessly frustrated and probably throw in the towel somewhere around the halfway point of the proceedings. But if you are, indeed, able to hold out hope for a satisfying and dare I even say sensible conclusion, even in the face of staggering absurdity, then you’re in for a heck of a good time.

Tony Lo Bianco is searching for God --- so he can charge him with murder

New York police detective Peter Nicholas (Tony Lo Bianco — there’s a name you haven’t heard in awhile) is working one bitch of a case. First, he just happens to be on the scene when a young man named Harold Gorman, perched atop a water tower, kills 15 random pedestrians with a .22-caliber rifle. Nicholas tries to talk him down, but Gorman, after confessing his “motive,” opts to take his own life instead.  Next, an apparently happily married man kills his wife and children completely out of the blue, and calmly offers the same bizarre “motive” that Gorman did, prompting Nichoals to get involved in that case, as well. After that, a beat cop (played by Andy Kaufman — yes, that Andy Kaufman) opens fire on his fellow police officers marching in New York’s famous St. Patrick’s Day parade (an event Cohen would return to in his script for “Maniac Cop”). He also offers the exact same “motive” as te other two recent mass-murderers.

As for what that “motive” is, I’m sure you’ve already guessed — “God told me to” (hence the name, of course, although this flick was also released under the rather dull title of “Demon,” as well).

The man on the moon joins the bullies in blue --- Andy Kaufman in "God Told Me To"

Nicholas has some qualms about being in charge of this investigation due to his own highly devout, albeit rather secret, Catholicism.  Abandoned as an infant, he was raised by nuns for several years in Catholic orphanage. His personal life is a mess, and even though he’s been seprated from his wife (played by Sandy Dennis) and spends most of his time with his girlfriend (portrayed by Deborah Raffin), his strict religious views preclude any possibility of his getting a divorce, which is probably why he keeps his mistress in the dark about the seriousness with which he practices his faith.

Following the leads in this case is going to cause him to question that faith in ways he never imagined, though — that’s because every single clue leads him toward a man named Bernard Phillips (cult favorite Richard Lynch), who apparently was the product of a virgin birth, possesses miraculous abilities, and seems to have a direct line to the almighty himself. No matter how hard he wants to believe otherwise, Nicholas starts to accept the seemingly impossible — there really is a God living in New York, and he really is ordering his followers to kill. But as astonishing as those revelations are, it’s nothing compared to what our erstwhile hero is about to learn about his own past —

Richard Lynch as either God himself, the son of God, both, or neither

This is the point at which summarizing the plot any further is just going to give too damn much away. Like I mentioned previously, be prepared for some seriously goofy shit that will sorely tempt you to groan and shut the thing off. But stick it out and I promise you won’t be sorry. Everything comes full circle and the ending is absolutely perfect. I don’t believe in God myself, but I do believe in Larry Cohen’s ability to tell a damn solid story, and that faith is certainly rewarded come time for this flick to wrap up.

"God Told Me To" DVD from Blue Underground

“God Told Me To” is available on DVD from Blue Underground. The digitally remastered anamorphic  transfer looks sharp and crisp, the sound quality, also remastered, is especially clear and well-done, and what few extras there are really are good, including the trailer (of course), and a fantastic commentary from Chonen, whose recollections of the film are crystal clear and whose anecdotes about production always entertaining and involving. A highly recommended rental or even purchase if you’re any kind of fan of low-budget independent exploitation fare or just mind-fuck films in general, since “Gold Told Me To” will definitely leave you scratching your head at just where the hell this whole thing is headed throughout, but feeling exceptionally satisfied by the time it’s over.

Comments
  1. The DVD cover is awesome!!! You have to post your entries on FB as links so you can include a thumbnail, dude. You’d get lots more readers, I’m sure.

  2. […] “This movie takes so many unexpected and almost completely incongruous twists and turns that you just have to sit back, go with the flow, and enjoy the ride. If you’re not willing to completely suspend all disbelief and just trust that Cohen is going to get us to a satisfactory conclusion by the end, no matter how bizarre what’s going on may seem at the time, then you’re going to feel hopelessly frustrated and probably throw in the towel somewhere around the halfway point of the proceedings. But if you are, indeed, able to hold out hope for a satisfying and dare I even say sensible conclusion, even in the face of staggering absurdity, then you’re in for a heck of a good time.” Ryan C, Trash Film Guru […]

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