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God Told Me To

Directed by Larry Cohen, 1976.

By Tom BakerPublished 24 days ago Updated 23 days ago 3 min read
5

A maniac with a rifle climbs to the top of an inner city water tower and opens fire on unsuspecting citizens below. Reminiscent of the crimes of Texas University shooter Charles Whitman, this scenario, while unusual in 1976, is all too common today. A brave, lonely cop climbs up to try and talk him down. Right before the shooter falls to his death, he tells the astonished cop that the reason he did it was because, "God told me to."

God Told Me To (1976) is one of the weirdest crime thriller/horror flicks you'll ever see. Directed by Larry "It's Alive" Cohen, the film follows a cop, Peter Nicholas, (Tony Lo Bianco) as he delves into the world of a strange, hermaphroditic cult leader who seems to have the psychic ability to cause ordinary individuals to commit mass murder (the film opens, as previously noted, with Nicholas climbing a water tower to talk down a sniper). Each of the mass murderers only offers the cryptic suggestion that they acted because "God told me to." God, in this instance, being Richard Lynch ("Bernard Phillips") .

The film is cleverly plotted but does combine unusual aspects, cross-pollinating genres like the mutant alien hybridization that is the lynchpin (forgive the pun on the co-star's name) of the entire picture. At first, seeming like your typical, albeit somewhat strange, Dirty Harry-esque mid-seventies crime thriller, it quickly becomes a psychologically gripping look at what motivates random violence (in this case, alien psychic powers).

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Peter Nicholas quickly happens upon a Rosemary's Baby-type looney toon group of eccentric rich weirdoes, one of whom, according to Wikipedia, decapitates himself via elevator (although I don't remember this scene), and then introduces us to Messiah Phillips, who is genuinely frightening as a white-robed, two-sexed phantom who lives in a fiery furnace room, sort of skitters sideways when he (also she) is introduced to the viewer, talks with his (his?) hands in a strange, delicate manner, and seems to be presented in an orangish yellow, a flame-like glow that suggests he or she is actually a projection from the supernatural world. Later,Phillips shows us inside his/her abdomen. Something is crawling around in there.

As far as horror, there is genuinely disturbing stuff here. Cohen throws in alien abduction on top of crime thriller and blaxploitation (this is a 1976 movie with Bad Brothers in loud, pimpish fashions, doing bad things, and no, none of what is portrayed is a negative stereotype at all). The abductee scenes are grim and nightmarish; stark SF. The scene of a woman being pulled up into a UFO lurking overhead has a particularly absurd, dreamlike aspect to it.

Larry Cohen, who died in 2019, directed blaxploitation and horror films his entire career, most notably Maniac Cop, It's Alive, and The Stuff. God Told Me To is no departure, really, from his usual fair, except that the plotline is so unusual, such a narrative mutation. Cohen seems to have had a rare fascination for the idea of birth, as evidenced by the It's Alive films, which used the concept of mutant monster babies (reminds me of a line from a Misfits song) as a comment on various aspects of society, from environmental contamination, political and corporate corruption, to the horror of "throwaway children" and the morality of abortion. Here, his fantasy horror feature belies a subtext about the power of faith, deception, and the willingness to commit acts of violence simply because "God told me to." The undercurrent of racist stereotypes was probably unintentional but underscores the prevailing attitudes of the era. On the whole, the film is a unique, bizarre, and unsettling movie experience.

Generally panned when it was first released (the year, incidentally, I was born) God Told Me To has since developed a cult following, and horror aficionados as well as critics have since gained an appreciation of the film's seriously troubling aspects and uncommon, unnerving mixture of modern urban anxiety, violence, spiritual horror, and science fiction mutation. I suppose that, given the subject matter of the film, it is appropriate that this review was written today of all days, on Easter Sunday. I wrote it because this film is the last great piece of live-action cinema I have lately seen; not, you know, because, God told me to.

God Told Me To (1976) | Science Fiction Horror Movie | Tony Lo Bianco, Deborah Raffin

psychologicalvintagesupernaturalmovie review
5

About the Creator

Tom Baker

Author of Haunted Indianapolis, Indiana Ghost Folklore, Midwest Maniacs, Midwest UFOs and Beyond, Scary Urban Legends, 50 Famous Fables and Folk Tales, and Notorious Crimes of the Upper Midwest.: http://tombakerbooks.weebly.com

Reader insights

Nice work

Very well written. Keep up the good work!

Top insight

  1. Heartfelt and relatable

    The story invoked strong personal emotions

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Comments (2)

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  • Randy Wayne Jellison-Knock23 days ago

    Sounds like another I'll have to return to watch once I'm caught up. Intriguing review, Tom.

  • Kendall Defoe 24 days ago

    I know the director, not the film. Added to my list!

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