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God Told Me To (a.k.a. Demon)
Director: Larry Cohen
Screenplay: Larry Cohen
Stars: Tony Lo Bianco (Peter Nicholas), Deborah Raffin (Casey Forster), Sandy Dennis (Martha Nicholas), Sylvia Sidney (Elizabeth Mullin), Sam Levene (Everett Lukas), Robert Drivas (David Morten), Mike Kellin (Deputy Commissioner)
MPAA Rating: R
Year of Release: 1977
Country: USA
B-movie monster auteur Larry Cohen was really on a roll when he wrote, produced, and directed his 1977 fanatic-religion-meets-alien-abduction thriller "God Told Me To." Cohen, who openly embraces the low-rent traditions of cheapie horror flicks and sleazy exposés, has made some of the clumsiest and most entertaining schlock of the last twenty years.

A television screenwriter who graduated to the motion picture director's chair during the blaxploitation era of the early seventies, Cohen first made himself known with "It's Alive," the classic 1974 cult horror film about man-eating babies. Since then, he has polished his technique and raised his production levels, but subsequent efforts, including two "It's Alive" sequels, "Q" (1982), "The Stuff" (1985), and his screenplay for "Maniac Cop" (1988), are all schlocky drive-in movie material at heart.

"God Told Me To" is certainly one of his most ambitious movies because it takes to task the very existence of God, as well as the nature of religion and deification in the modern world. The movie can be seen as cynical at best, and sacrilegious at worst, considering that the explanation of the particular God in this film would fit nicely in an episode of "The X-Files." However, only those who are intensely religious will be offended; the rest of us can just smile at the film's simple and entertaining absurdity.

The movie opens with a series of randomly violent incidents in New York City -- a sniper perched on a water tower shoots and kills fourteen people; a police officer (an early role for Andy Kaufman of TV's "Taxi" fame) walking in a St. Patrick's Day parade suddenly opens fire on the crowd; a man in a supermarket begins attacking people with a knife and so on. When police detective Peter Nicholas (Tony Lo Bianco) begins investigating the incidents, he quickly discovers a link connecting all the violence: whenever asked what made them do it, the attackers, in calm rational voices, always respond, "God told me to."

This deeply affects Nicholas because of his own strong religious background. He never misses confession and he won't divorce his wife Martha (Sandy Dennis) even though they haven't slept in the same house for four years and he is actively courting another girlfriend (Deborah Raffin). Nicholas is convinced that there is someone or something controlling the actions of these people, all of whom have no criminal histories to suggest they are capable of violence.

Why else would they be so serene and collected after their atrocious killing sprees, especially a husband who sits in his own living room , gentling explaining how he massacred his entire family, all because God told him to. "He's done so much for us," the husband says. "I just thought it was time I did something for Him." There is little doubt that something supernatural is at work. For instance, the sniper, a 22-year-old man who had never held a gun before, managed to shoot with deadly perfect aim, even though his gun was old, cheap, and calibrated incorrectly.

Nicholas's pursuit of the case takes a turn when he finds out that a young man with long blond hair was seen talking to each of the men before they erupted in unexplained violence. As he tracks down this man, Nicholas begins to learn things about himself while answering questions he never thought to ask. The case involves many people who are somehow connected, including several women who gave mysterious "virgin" births.

As kooky and confusing as the movie is, "God Told Me To" can actually be quite entertaining and even absorbing. Cohen elicits good performances from all his actors, especially tough character actor Tony Lo Bianco in the lead role and Sylvia Sidney, who plays a mysterious old woman who holds an important key to Nicholas' past.

As the explanation of the film's strange events begins to take shape, the action becomes more and more incoherent, until it climaxes in an other-worldly fist-fight bathed in visceral golden light. This ending, with all its hyperkinetic violence, is something of a let-down, despite Cohen's success at setting up an interesting mystery worthy of attention. The limited special effects are often distracting, although they seem to fit nicely into the ridiculous overall tone of the film.

Like many of Cohen's films, "God Told Me To" is cemented in an interesting idea, but the final product seems more like a hastily thrown-together mosaic of scenes, rather than a satisfying whole. Cohen seems to have the right ideas, but he lacks the patience and drive to bring it all together. Other directors, including Paul Morrissey ("Flesh For Frankenstein") and David Cronenberg ("The Fly"), have shown that well-worn and admittedly cheap horror conventions can be successfully reworked to explore deeper issues. Although Cohen strives for the same territory, he never quite manages to get there.

Overall Rating: (2.5)

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