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God Told Me To (1976)

Blue Underground
Blu-ray Disc Released: 2/24/2015

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Review by Mike Long, Posted on 2/27/2015

Outside of horror aficionados, Larry Cohen is not a household name, although he has been working in the entertainment industry since 1958. The question is, whose fault is this? Cohenís closest brush with breaking-out came in 1974 with his modest hit film Itís Alive, which was followed by a sort-of quickie sequel, It Lives Again in 1978. Cohen wrote for TV for decades and then started his directorial career with Blaxploitation films. From there, he worked on one odd horror movie after another, with the only reprieve coming in the early part of the new millennium when his scripts for Cellular and Phone Booth were adapted. Even with all of his rebellious movies, one of Cohenís oddest moves came on the heels of Itís Alive in the form of God Told Me To.

As God Told Me To opens, a sniper randomly shoots pedestrians in Manhattan. Police Detective Peter Nicholas (Tony Lo Bianco) bravely scales the water tower to confront the shooter and when he asks why, the killer replies ďGo told me to.Ē before leaping to his death. Then, a cop (played by a young Andy Kaufman) opens fire during the St. Patrickís Day parade. His excuse for his actions echoes that of the sniper. Nicholas begins to investigate and learns that these two men, along with a man who kills his family, had been in contact with a young man who is described as having flowing blonde hair. This clue gets linked to a story of a woman who was found wandering alone on a country road wearing no clothes. As Nicholas pieces the story together, his superiors tell him to let it go. None of them can suspect just how strange the truth is.

The 1970s were a very wacky time for movies, especially horror and science fiction films. Sure, there had been plenty of movies in the past which had pushed the envelope -- Psycho, Rosemary's Baby -- but then The Exorcist came along in 1973 and told the world, "The gloves are off." This was followed by The Texas Chainsaw Massacre in 1974 which said, "No, seriously, the gloves are off." Cohen had certainly pushed new boundaries in It's Alive which featured a killer mutant baby. Suddenly, filmmakers felt free to show things which hadn't been seen in films before, and if they were following in the footsteps of The Exorcist, question/exploit religious beliefs as well. Cohen seems to be doing all of this in God Told Me To.

The funny thing about the film is that, despite all of his quirks and weird ideas, Cohen is very much a traditionalist. So, what we have with God Told Me To is a basic police detective investigation drama...which just happens to go off of the rails every few minutes. If you showed someone the first half of the film and asked them to guess what happened in the second half, they may guess that drugs were involved, or giving the time that the film was made, perhaps a cult. I don't think that many would foresee the strange ideas which creep up in the second half. (I really hate that I read about the film's secrets long before I ever saw it. Damn you Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film!)

The problem with God Told Me To is that it has trouble gelling. Cohen has created a very intriguing opening with the sniper's ominous "God told me to." This draws the viewer in. Then we are treated to scenes of Peter spending time with his girlfriend or with his ex-wife. This is supposed to be character development, but it's rather dull. Then, we are treated to scenes of Nicholas investigating the crimes -- again, not incredibly exciting during the first half of the film. But, then the film has the set-pieces which have made it infamous -- the parade shooting, the flashback, and, of course, the finale. This may sound like an odd statement, but the finale is almost too over the top. This scene contains a moment which made me think, "I didn't know that movies showed stuff like that in 1976." When a movie which is nearly 40 years old can make you sit up and take notice, you know that it's doing something weird, but it essentially make you forget the rest of the movie.

But, that's what a Larry Cohen movie is like. He's all about big ideas and making the most out of a low-budget property. Following the success of It's Alive, I'm sure that those involved with backing God Told Me To hoped that it would be a hit as well. However, it's easy to see why it wouldn't connect with a major audience. (The movie was also released under the name "Demon" which is totally inaccurate and was probably meant to capitalize on the popularity of movies like The Exorcist and The Omen.) Still, if you are a purveyor of cutting edge cinema, then you need to check out God Told Me To. Trust me, it may seem pretty tame for a while, but once it gets weird, it gets real weird and that final scene will stick with you forever.

God Told Me To harkens back to a time when women in huge glasses were sexy on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Blue Underground. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 30 Mbps. As usual, Bill Lustig and his crew have clearly done whatever they could to deliver a satisfying transfer. The image is sharp and clear, showing only very mild grain and no obvious defects from the source materials. The colors look good and are rarely washed out. (I wasn't crazy about the urine-tinted finale, but it looked fine.) The picture is never overly dark or bright. The level of detail is good and unlike many older films, this one never looks flat. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.0 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The gunshots can easily be heard through the rear channels in the opening scenes, and we also get some traffic noise from the rear. The finale certainly delivers notable audio effects, including a nice subwoofer hum. Otherwise, a lot of the sound comes from the front and rear channels.

The God Told Me To Blu-ray Disc contains a number of extras. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Writer/Director/Producer Larry Cohen. "Heaven & Hell on Earth" (12 minutes) is a modern-day interview with star Tony Lo Bianco, who reminisces about the making of the film and the character. "Bloody Good Times" (9 minutes) allows Special Effects Artists Steve Neill to talk about how he got started in effects and how he get to know Cohen. He would then go on to work on many other Cohen movies. "God Told Me To Bone" (21 minutes) is a Q&A with Cohen which was recorded after a screening of the film at the Beverly theater. "Lincoln Center Q&A with Larry Cohen" (8 minutes) has video from a screening of the film in 2002 in which Cohen is interviewed. "God Told Me To Advertising" contains a THEATRICAL TRAILER and five TV SPOTS. "Demon Advertising" offers a TRAILER and two TV SPOTS. The final extra is a POSTER & STILL GALLERY.

Review Copyright 2015 by Mike Long