Tuesday, May 5, 2009


Larry Cohen's "God Told Me To" (1976) is a strange, low-budget masterpiece of a film. Larry Cohen may be a low budget director but his work does not fall within the trappings that many of these movies have. "God Tod Me To" has a tight, tough as nails plot and pacing, where no moment, no scene is wasted. You find yourself glued to the screen, dying to know what will happen next. The story is a very dense and fast paced psychologically intense mystery. This is a movie you must pay close attention to if you want to keep up with what is going on.

The movie opens on the busy streets of 1970's New York. Things are going as usual until shots begin to ring out. Pedestrians are being picked off one by one. This is a rather intense scene that lasts for several minutes. Cohen's camera, which stays in motion during this scene, perfectly captures the fear and mass hysteria of the crowds on the streets. Finally, the sniper is found to be on top of a water tower. He is cornered by the police. Top detective and star of the movie Peter Nicholas (played by Tony lo Bianco) climbs up the tower to try to talk him down. When he asks the killer what his motivation was he replies "God Told Me To". These types of killings continue, with each killer having the same motive. There is someone mysteriously notifying the authorities before some of these murders occur. There is one chilling scene in particular at a Saint. Patrick's Day parade where one of the policemen marching in the parade suddenly snaps and begins firing on his fellow officers and into the crowd. Again, Cohen uses his sweeping, dizzying camera work to capture the hysteria of the scene.

Most of these killers have one thing in common. They have been seen with or speak of a hippie-ish man with shoulder length hair, a messiah that is convincing them that it is God's will for them to kill. Our detective Peter Nicholas vows to track down this man. He finds the man's mother in a darkly lit , creepy apartment building. She lunges at Peter with a knife. God told her to. He finds in medical records that the mother was a virgin, and her child was androgynous. So we have a virgin birth. Could this person really be a Messiah? Peter soon learns that the mother was abducted and raped by space aliens back in 1950. That explains the virgin birth, right? This flashback scene is told in black and white and is particularly harrowing.

Are you keeping up so far? The movie gets even stranger from here. It seems that there is a secret society that this messiah controls. They do his psychic bidding and protect and keep him hidden. The messiah wants to meet Peter. There is something different about him, so the society finds Peter and takes him to the chosen one. This meeting shakes Peter to no end. The messiah will not harm Peter, even though Peter is out to destroy him. Peter, a devout Catholic, begins to research his own beginnings. He was a orphan and he wants to find out who his mother and father were. It turns out that his mother is also a virgin, and that she was abducted by aliens and impregnated during the first World's Fair. This flashback scene is very impressive and frighteningly beautiful.

Is Peter also a chosen one? And what is his purpose here? Besides the bizarre nature of the plot, Peter's story is the prime focus of this movie. He has an estranged wife and a mistress. After finding out about his origins, his struggles with his personal problems begin to come sharply into focus. Why has he never had any children? And what are his powers and why are these abductions occurring? What will he do about our murderous messiah? I can't reveal anymore about the plot, but the last part of this movie is completely breathtaking.

I cannot recommend "God Told Me To" enough. Yes it's low budget, but Cohen has several tricks up his sleeves. I've already mentioned his sweeping, motion filled camera work. Cohen also uses street scenes, crowds, background noises, and music in the street to his advantage. What would be annoying background noise to some directors Cohen turns into atmosphere. This is an element that serves to make his scenes more intense and realistic. Also, the pacing of the story is impeccable. Never a dull moment, and no matter how bizarre the story gets, you are still holding on by the edge of your seat. All of this is tied together by Peter Nicholas' strong characterization and deep seated quest for identity.

If you liked Black Caesar, which I have reviewed here before, you will love "God Told Me To". There are several Larry Cohen movies I have yet to see, but after watching this one, I have to see them all.

No comments: