The search for God is humanity’s onus. There’s nothing easy about accepting that we’re here as a people for no other reason than to live, suffer, and die; in some cases, it causes people to reach out to find signs that might not actually be there. It also becomes a fiery topic of conversation and belief, at the expense of recognizing others with differing views. God Told Me To is Larry Cohen’s science fiction/horror address to religion and cults, an movie experience more than anything else; it’s something that, more than anything else, washes over the viewer in a wave, alternating between cop drama and sci-fi to tell a story about one man’s obsession with tracking down the truth behind a rash of murders where each person explains, “God told me to.”
That man is Peter Nicholas (Tony Lo Bianco), an NYC cop first pulled into the fray because of a sniper picking people off from a water tower. The admission that God was the one behind the motive is haunting to Peter, the kind of thing that makes him wake up in a cold sweat; it’s no surprise, then, that it becomes a driving force for him, since every avenue leads him to another crazy person attempting to murder because of God’s word.
The first half of God Told Me To is Cohen evincing his blaxploitation/action roots; it’s got shades of Dirty Harry and other crime films of the ’70s, with Peter attempting to find the common thread between the killers. It’s done rather well, too; Frank Cordell’s soundtrack is decidedly orchestral, swelling into feverish fervor as Peter uncovers more and more of the spooky connections.
Somewhere along the way – most probably when Peter interrogates a man claiming to have met a woman abducted and impregnated by aliens – God Told Me To completely morphs into something different. It’s at first jarring, and part of that is due to Cohen’s script, which is somewhat messy and often lacks explanation for all of Peter’s actions. But it’s also strangely entertaining as well, the kind of shift that viewers of science fiction welcome with open arms.
It’s the introduction of the cult worshiping Bernard Phillips (Richard Lynch) that really changes things. Peter gets sucked into this explanation, especially after he sees a man choke to death for no apparent reason, and it fuels his fire to find Bernard. In the process, he realizes – perhaps somewhat innately – that he’s also been born of extraterrestrial origin in much the same way as Bernard, eerily able to control people’s actions with his telepathic thoughts.
This is a complete change for Peter, and God Told Me To explains away this seemingly alternative character; in a pivotal scene, Peter’s girlfriend Casey (Deborah Raffin) meets with his wife Martha (Sandy Dennis) to get answers about his increasingly odd behavior, only to find out that it’s not the first time he’s had a meltdown. In fact, when they were married, Martha often felt he wished his unborn babies death, and a miscarriage inevitably followed every time.
Cohen draws the tension out of these scenes, again with Cordell’s score but also with the atmosphere of each setting. Often, figures of Jesus or crosses can be seen in the background, especially in the aforementioned moment; it forces the viewer to recognize that that Higher Power, whether it’s the alien force of Bernard or Peter himself, is omnipresent.
Cohen, then, reinterprets the idea of God and morphs it into something monstrous. God Told Me To doesn’t actually embrace the concept of God or a Devil as a truth of reality, but it does emphasize there could be something, and that something has the possibility to be good or evil. It draws interesting parallels to religion while refraining from explicitly commenting on its organization.
With that said, God Told Me To often gets sloppy in its exposition toward the latter part of the film, and some viewers (those not really into the science fiction aspect) might have a difficult time accepting Cohen’s transition. It’s not a perfect film by any respects, and Cohen often conveniently jumps over Peter’s motivations.
Ultimately, though, overlooking those problems leaves a film that is wonderfully different. Cohen also gets the last laugh, incorporating a final chilling scene that asks the viewer to wonder whether Peter really encountered all of the events we see, or if he’s simply an unreliable nut; there’s no answers offered, and that’s probably the way it should be. In the end, no one can determine one way or the other whether a God talks to these people – that’s how beliefs are formed, and God Told Me To asks that the viewer question those beliefs.
God Told Me To gets a nice restoration from Blue Underground with 7.1 DTS HD. It sounds and looks good, barring a couple of scenes with some prominent noise that’s fairly unavoidable. Subtitles are also present and perfect.
A commentary from Larry Cohen is included for the film, which is recommended for the die-hard fan. If you want the truncated version, there are two Q&A sessions included on the disc; “God Told Me To Bone” is the better of the two, a 21-minute session where Cohen is in top form. The other one, a Lincoln Center Q&A, has some rough camerawork from someone’s camera and poor audio.
Also included are two featurettes, one with Tony Lo Bianco discussing his work on God Told Me To as well as The Honeymoon Killers, and the other with special effects artist Steve Neill talking not only God Told Me To but also The Stuff and Full Moon High.
Finally, theatrical trailers and a still gallery is included to round this package out.