Some of that is likely owed to one’s first experiences with him. For example, I’d completely forgotten about his responsibilities in crafting the late 1960’s The Invaders for Science Fiction television. Instead, I remembered his name as the genius he delivered the great Horror franchise It’s Alive (1974) to mankind. Sure, it’s perhaps a bit imperfect – especially measured up against today’s rigorous standards where even blood itself gets rendered in post-production – but it’s still a creepy little masterpiece for those of us who appreciate its clawed potential.
I’d also know Cohen for his work in adapting the Mickey Spillane novel – “I, The Jury” – to screenplay for the early 1980’s film incarnation starring Armand Assante. I’d long been a fan of the Mike Hammer novels, so I welcomed the chance to see one up in the lights … even one that was a bit uneven. (I won’t debate the issue in this space – it’s not SciFi or Fantasy – suffice it to say that I never really bought Assante in the role.)
Of course, there are a few other highlights to Cohen’s resume – some that are probably far more memorable based on one’s personal tastes – and yet his God Told Me To (1976) somehow completely slipped by me. I’ve rectified that now, having enjoyed it in glorious 4K Ultra-HD – an all-new restoration, I might add – and I have a few words of praise along with a bit of indifference as to its finale.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last few paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
“A rooftop sniper guns down 14 pedestrians on the streets of New York City. A mild-mannered dad takes a shotgun and blows away his wife and children. A cop goes on a sudden shooting spree at the St. Patrick’s Day Parade. And each of these unlikely killers makes the same dying confession: “God told me to.’ Now a repressed Catholic NYPD detective must uncover a netherworld of deranged faith, alien insemination, and his own unholy connection to a homicidal messiah with a perverse plan for the soul of mankind.”
Again, folks: I’m not perfect. Far from it. But with the amount of reading and online research I’ve done regarding genre films, I am only occasionally surprised by a title. Usually it’s one that’s truly obscure – made on the fast and cheap, had no real distribution, or has no name credentials to its roll call – and every now and then it’s a flick I’m familiar with under an alternate title. And it’s not like I’m unfamiliar with the name Larry Cohen … so imagine my surprise when I finally sat down with this nifty little gem! Subversive religion? Alien insemination? Tortured lead performances? Why, this one was right up my alley? How did it escape my attention for so, so long?
Well, ultimately that doesn’t matter, because now that I’ve enjoyed God Told Me To I’m free to discuss it with some enthusiasm.
Writer/director Larry Cohen even posits in the audio commentary track to the picture that he suspects The X-Files creator Chris Carter (whom he erroneously calls ‘Chris Cooper’) may’ve seen his film and used it as an influence for the seminal SciFi/Fantasy TV show. Though I’ve no way of knowing the truth of that (though the truth is out there, I’m told), I wouldn’t be surprised. There are certain similarities – a voice of authority investigating the strange, a cabal of businessmen controlling information pertaining to a secret religious figure, the manipulation of history by forces unseen – but it’d be hard to assume anything further here as God Told Me To closes its case in 90 minutes while the beloved TV show had 11 seasons and two movies … and still proved little definitively. (Don’t blame me; blame Fox Mulder.)
Still, detective Nicholas’ chief quest was to get to the bottom of what looked to be a police cover-up, and Cohen’s script worked with solid efficiency up through about two-thirds of what appears to be a great procedural. Its last third?
This is one of those rare films that I sat through twice in order to try to come up with something to say not so much about ‘where’ the journey ended so much as the ‘how.’ Without spoiling too much (which regular readers know I don’t like to do), it all gets a bit “out there” with the good detective’s background, making it about as curious an ‘origins’ type motion picture as I’ve ever seen. Though what we learn certainly evolves naturally from the story as scripted, there’s always that element not uncommon to the works of Rod Serling or M. Night Shyamalan – once you know the twist, you might need to re-examine how it all got here. It’s ambitious. It’s symbolic. It’s understandably controversial. Still, it makes sense within the construct of this story. But it’s a revelation you’ll likely need to see all of your own in order to make of it what you will.
God Told Me To (1976) was produced by Larco Productions. DVD distribution (for this particular release) is being coordinated by the reliable Blue Underground. As for the technical specifications? Though I’m no video expert, I thought the sights and sounds of this 4K Ultra-HD release were very good from start-to-finish, especially for this somewhat dated mid-1970’s cult flick. As for the special features? This is a two-disc (Ultra-HD plus the Blu-ray) contains two separate commentary tracks; and both are available on each disc. However, the Blu-ray boasts far more material, including a series of special interviews with cast and crew, along with some trailers, TV spots, and production stills. Excellent collection for those of us who like spending time with such material.
To my surprise, this is a title tied to writer/director Cohen that had somehow escaped my notice over the years. Frankly, I hadn’t even heard of it – that I can recall – until I received some pre-release information from a distributor. That said, God Told Me To is still a bit of a mixed bag to some degree: having read a reasonable amount of what’s been written online lately regarding it, I’m seeing a somewhat different flick, one that’s far more about isolation than it is a statement on religion or (sigh) aliens. Tony Lo Bianco delivers a great lead performance as the man who confronts the feelings of his own broken identity only to uncover a truth greater than himself … and one he’ll likely take to his grave as a consequence. A welcome surprise.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Blue Underground provided me with a complimentary 4k Ultra-HD + Blu-ray set of God Told Me To by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review; and their contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.