26 January 2005 | JaniceBackFromTheDead
"God Told Me To" is in many ways Larry Cohen's best picture, which probably isn't saying all that much to people unaccustomed to the confines of schlock cinema. Viewers who never watch anything that doesn't play at the local Cineplex will look upon this picture with a sense of mounting dread over the low production values and haphazard plot lines. I, however, am the Queen of Bad Cinema, and my realm contains a round table where Sir Cohen sits with Lord Herschell Gordon Lewis, Baron William Castle, and Sir Roger Corman of New Concorde. I can take the offering that is "God Told Me To" and pronounce it good and godly. And I will, because Michael Moriarty appears nowhere in this film. Cohen seems to have a thing for the squirrelly actor of "Law & Order" fame, casting him in at least three of his major works--"The Stuff," "Q: The Winged Serpent," and "It's Alive." After anxiously looking around for Moriarty's name anywhere near this film and not seeing it, I settled in for what I hoped would become a wonderful experience.
Although far from perfect, "God Told Me To" is immensely entertaining. Did I mention I don't care much for Michael Moriarty? Here's a movie any B-movie fan can really sink his or her teeth into. Imagine New York City in the 1970s (I know, it's unpleasant, but do it anyway). The streets bustle with activity as people drive, walk, and ride their bikes to various destinations. Why, look there! Here comes a chap peddling along without a care in the world! Then we hear a shot ring out and the poor guy does a header into the pavement. Do angels ride bicycles? Anyway, more shots ring out and more people tumble to the pavement, presumably incapable of ever rising again. It looks like some guy channeling Charles Whitman is up on a wooden water tower playing target practice. Fortunately, tough cop Peter Nicholas (Tony Lo Bianco) assumes the highly dangerous task of talking the hunter down. He fails spectacularly, but before he does the gunman tells Nicholas that "God told me to" murder all of these people. This cop will continue to hear this phrase in the coming days after a devoted father slaughters his family, after a police officer (Andy Kaufman!) goes off the deep end during a parade, and after a few other highly unpleasant incidents unfold in the Big Apple. In other words, what we see happening here is just a typical day in New York City. What's the big deal? Well, Larry Cohen isn't content to merely let his movie founder in the degradation of the typical police thriller genre. No sir! What starts out as a series of seemingly unconnected crimes turns out to be something so sinister that the human mind boggles while attempting to conceive of it. Turns out Nicholas is a highly devote Catholic with a wife (Sandy Dennis) and a young girlfriend (Deborah Raffin) who feels as though he's different from everyone else. The whole "god told me to" thing finds the detective discovering exactly why he never seemed to fit in. His investigation into the crimes turns up reports of an immaculate conception years before, a shadowy cult that worships some nut named Bernard Phillips (Richard Lynch), and Mason Adams playing an obstetrician. Then things get really weird. Nicholas tracks down a woman who tells him a story he would rather not hear, complete with on screen flashbacks, about an alien abduction that took place years ago. Again, this type of stuff is par for the course in New York City, but you wouldn't know it by watching Detective Peter Nicholas's reaction. He races out of the building on a quest to track down the enigmatic Bernard Phillips, with good reason. The very future of the human race could well depend on our hero putting a stop to the supernatural shenanigans going on in his beloved city. Wow!
I'm not quite sure what to make of "God Told Me To." The film doesn't fit in any single cinematic genre, so I'm not sure it would appeal to fans of pure cop dramas, or pure science fiction, or pure apocalyptic films. You sort of need to transcend boundaries with this movie or you'll only end up liking chunks of it. I do think that Tony Lo Bianco did a wonderful job as the conflicted and tormented Detective Peter Nicholas. As proof of this assertion, I ask that you view closely the scene where he listens to the father talk about butchering his family. The rage slowly building in every fiber of Lo Bianco's being as he digests this string of spoken atrocities appears so genuine that I thought he was really going to deck that guy when he finally blows. So I guess you can say the acting isn't too bad. The special effects, on the other hand, ain't that great. You get a cheesy showdown between Phillips and Nicholas at the end involving a lot of camera shaking, collapsing walls, and flashing lights--hardly the stuff of big budget effects teams working with state of the art equipment. But ultimately, "God Told Me To" is entertaining because it's creepy and offbeat.
Cohen's films are seeing a big resurgence on DVD thanks in large part to Blue Underground. Included as extras on the disc are a commentary with Cohen, a poster and stills gallery, a trailer, a Cohen biography, and seven television spots. I learned by watching these extras that "God Told Me To" also went by the name of "Demon," which often means that the movie tanked under its original title so the distribution company slapped a new moniker on it in order to release it somewhere else. If you want to explore the Larry Cohen canon, this picture is a great place to start.