Studio: New World Pictures
Director: Larry Cohen
Writer: Larry Cohen
Producer: Larry Cohen
Stars: Tony Lo Bianco, Deborah Raffin, Sandy Dennis, Sylvia Sidney, Richard Lynch
A New York City police lieutenant questions his faith, and confronts a mysterious force, when a series of random killings are all committed by people who claim, “God told me to.”
“God Told Me To” is best viewed with as little foreknowledge as possible. All I knew about this film when I started watching was that Larry Cohen (“It’s Alive,” “The Stuff,” “Q – The Winged Serpent”) made it and the story involved spree murders committed by people who believed they were fulfilling the word of God.
The film stock, photography, wardrobe, and production design are all very firmly rooted in 1976. That is a good thing in this instance. The opening scene of a sniper inciting panic by targeting random pedestrians immediately reminded me of Dirty Harry’s Scorpio. And when a police lieutenant arrived on scene to establish himself as the protagonist, my initial thought was that I was in for a similar type of urban crime drama in that Clint Eastwood or Charles Bronson vein.
That was definitely not the case. So much is packed into 90 minutes that there is not even time to realize just how dense and tight the story is until the end credits have already rolled. I wish I could rattle off a few nouns to highlight the most surprising inclusions and describe the story, but even single words could be potential spoilers. And certain plot elements are not the only bizarre things to be found. Look for the first film appearance of comedian Andy Kaufman as a possessed cop in the St. Patrick’s Day parade scene.
The storyline is unpredictable, engaging, and entertaining. There may be unintended laughs at some of the more extraordinary scenes, but they come with a realization that this movie could have easily turned into camp had it been produced by far less capable hands. Effects are dated, and there is some content that has not aged well. Still, everything is played straight and the acting is sincere. This sincerity is what prevents the most unexpected story turns from being outright ludicrous.
It is not uncommon for a second viewing to be required just to be sure the movie was fully understood (if such a thing is possible). The sequence order can be confusing with the way it includes scenes with ultimately little significance (the police interviewing Peter’s girlfriend), or jumps over offscreen events entirely (Peter’s suspension from the force). The subplot with the pimp even borders on unnecessary. There is also no shortage of characters introduced and then promptly discarded along the way, simply to advance the plot. This sometimes disjointed narrative is more responsible for any confusion caused rather than complexities with the overall plot.
I cannot think of another film quite like it. Another script edit prior to filming or one more pass in the cutting room might have solved some of the structural issues. Yet those who can forgive the erratic scene arrangement will find a unique thriller with tinges of those distinct 1970’s film feelings one normally only finds in exploitation or grindhouse cinema.
NOTE: "God Told Me To" has also been released under the titles “Demon” and “God Told Me to Kill.”