October Horrorshow: God Told Me To

God Told Me To movie posterDetective Peter Nicholas (Tony Lo Bianco) of the NYPD has himself a bear of a case. Massacres have been happening all over the city, all carried out by different people, and all at random. There’s only one thing each of these awful events has in common: each of the perpetrators has said that God told them to do it. How is he supposed to stop that?

God Told Me To comes to us via writer, director, and producer Larry Cohen. This isn’t Cohen’s first appearance in the Horrorshow, having helmed the execrable film The Stuff . Whereas that film felt rushed, this earlier effort, from 1976, feels much more meticulous.

As much cop flick as horror, the film follows Detective Nicholas as he tries to find the common thread, other than the bizarre pronouncements from the perpetrators, that connects such disparate killings. It turns out that these killers aren’t suffering from some hallucination. There really is someone telling them to kill. Why they become so convinced that this person is God is one of the mysteries that Nicholas must solve.

This case holds particular poignancy for Nicholas. He is a deeply religious Catholic — the kind that goes to mass and confession just about every single day. He has reason to, as he is living in sin with his mistress, Casey (Deborah Raffin). He and his wife, Martha (Sandy Dennis), haven’t been together for years, but Nicholas’s beliefs won’t allow him to divorce his wife. He’s carrying quite a lot of guilt over this, and it hangs over him as he investigates what could turn out to be true supernatural crimes.

There’s quite a twist when it is revealed what is behind the killings, and how it relates to Nicholas’s religious beliefs. I’m dying to spoil it, because it’s just such a great example of 1970s pseudoscientific nonsense, but I don’t want to ruin it for any potential viewers. I will write that it’s pretty wild. It’s one of those ideas that came out of a fog of pot smoke rolling through a Los Angeles canyon, and features Hollywood b-movie stalwart Richard Lynch playing an essential character.

The film has uneven quality. There are significant stretches where I felt as if I were watching something special. Then there are moments where the guy who directed The Stuff showed up.

There is some serious talent in the cast. Lo Bianco is a Tony nominee, while Dennis won two, and an Oscar. In addition, the film also features Tony Award winner Sammy Williams, and Oscar nominee Sylvia Sidney. For a film as low-budget as this, that’s a pretty good roster. For the most part, it shows. The professional talent did the professional job of which one would expect. But there are a fair amount of bit players that act like Cohen dragged them in off of the street. The performances from the pros show the value of having people in your film who are good at their jobs. It really is the acting that carries this movie.

This isn’t the type of horror film that is built around scares. It has plenty of disturbing moments, but these are in support of what is, at heart, a character study. Nicholas isn’t just a protagonist trying to stop all the madness. He is the focus of the film.

There were about a million different places Cohen could have taken the story once it became clear where the focus would lie. Without spoiling anything, again, Cohen chose to go weird. I support that. It made for an outrageous climax that, depending on one’s mood, either ruins the movie or makes it worth watching. There’s no other way to describe this denouement than as a sublime moment of shitty filmmaking. And it’s good shitty, not bad shitty. Still, it’s shitty. In a movie that otherwise would have stayed in the Empty Balcony, the end is enough to get it on the Shitty Movie Sundays desk. God Told Me To is a better movie than Alien: Resurrection.

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