A sniper picks off random passers-by on the crowded streets of New York City. A father shoots his wife and child after breakfast. A police officer opens fire on the Mayor at the St. Patrick's Day parade. The only thing the crimes share in common are the dying words of their perpetrators.
"God told me to."
Larry Cohen's controversial tale of religiously motivated murders has long been a favorite of mine. Along with Cohen's classic monster movie Q: The Winged Serpent, God Told Me To stands as one of the finer examples of quality filmmaking on a skeletal budget.
Peter Nicholas (LoBianco) is a homicide detective whose suddenly thrown into an urban nightmare in which seemingly passive people suddenly turn into killing machines. As Peter digs deeper and sees the common thread that ties all of these crimes together, his faith, as well as his sanity, are stretched to the limits. Peter finds himself torn between the demands of his superiors, his own instincts, and the gnawing sensation that he, too, is somehow being manipulated by this powerful presence that has taken over his city.
God Told Me To is a very dark and somewhat disturbing drama that tackles a pretty taboo subject, yet still manages to do so without feeling exploitative or calculated. While it'd be easy to take a subject like God's wraith and turn it into a grade-Z Exorcist rip-off, Cohen avoids this with a very well written screenplay that's rich in character development and actually quite thought provoking. As with the excellent Q, Cohen's screenplay puts the main players up front and center, and let's them act out against the relatively subdued "horror" subtext, which makes God Told Me To more of a New York story than a traditional horror film. LoBianco is very effective as the conflicted Nicholas, and as the film thunders along toward it's somewhat dubious conclusion, the strength of LoBianco's performance and Cohen's script keep things from slipping into the realms of existential farce. The film's only weakness is it's pacing around three quarters of the way in, where there's a revelation of sorts for Nicholas that slows the film to a crawl.
Blue Underground releases God Told Me To as part of a trio of Cohen films (the aforementioned Q, and the little seen Bone round out the group). The DVD features a solid widescreen transfer that retains the gritty look of Cohen's manic filming style, but is quite clean and low on grain. The audio options include 6.0 DTS , 5.1 DDS, 2.0 Dolby, and the original mono, as well as a commentary track featuring Cohen. The set also features a theatrical trailer, several television spots, a fairly extensive stills gallery, and a Cohen bio.
God Told Me To is an edgy horror/drama that excels due to its creator's unconventional approach to the genre, as well as his intimacy with the film's setting. Gritty, documentary style looks and authentic characters and dialogue are hallmarks of Cohen's oeuvre' and God Told Me So is another fine example of this b-movie maverick's winning formula.