directed by Larry Cohen (1976)
Larry Cohen is best known for his campy horror romp The Stuff, but even with that blockbuster under his belt, he’s remained an elusive and under-appreciated filmmaker with a cult fan base only (Jim goes so far as to insist that he’s responsible for the only ‘bearable’ episode of Masters of Horrible). God Told Me To, a cheap low-grade horror movie, will not necessarily win over those of you not already a part of that fan base, but it’s a strangely interesting, audacious and compelling movie for anyone trawling the horror section for something a little off-kilter.
Like many of my favorite horror films, God Told Me To benefits from its small budget, even the grainy and worn out looking film transfer enhances the weird mood. From the opening scenes of a busy Manhattan street suddenly under attack from a rooftop sniper, the movie is propelled by a simple but incredibly effective terror premise: innocent, law abiding people are suddenly (and seemingly randomly) turning into homicidal maniacs. The phenomenon is spreading like a virus, and in the aftermath of the bloodbaths, all the people who have been affected claim that God told them to kill (their spouses, children, neighbors, etc).
It’s a fascinating story and one that with or without credit, I think highly influenced the excellent Japanese director Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s film Cure where a police officer uncovers the strange connection between seemingly normal people committing sudden random murders.
The police officer in this film is played by Tony Lo Bianco, who I was thrilled to see from Honeymoon Killers. Other familiar faces are here as well, including Sandy Dennis (from Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf), Andy Kaufman (against type as a police man and mass murderer), and Sylvia Sidney (who I recognized instantly as the old lady who blows smoke out of her open neck in Beetlejuice).
There’s a straightforwardness and lack of melodrama to the direction which can be refreshing but is just as frequently a flaw; the lack of accentuated drama can make the latter half of the film drag, and huge elements of the plot are simply skimmed over… and what a plot it is! Quite daringly, it’s ultimately a movie about an alien evil Jesus with Cronenbergian elements. Could this have been made into a better film? Probably, but I doubt many would dare to.