Quite possibly the strangest movie that Larry Cohen ever made—which is saying a lot, seeing as how Cohen’s filmography includes the 1974 killer-baby epic It’s Alive—this offbeat horror/sci-fi hybrid starts out like a lurid crime story, then evolves into something very different. Set in New York City, the picture begins when a crazed shooter named Harold (Sammy Williams) takes a perch on a water tower and then shoots more than a dozen strangers walking on the streets far below. Among police officers responding to the incident is Detective Peter Nicholas (Tony Lo Bianco), who climbs onto the water tower and tries to reason with the killer. When Peter asks why Harold started shooting, Harold says, “God told me to,” then jumps to his death. Peter is traumatized by the incident, partially because he’s a devout Catholic, and his aguish deepens when several other people go on killing sprees, all claiming that “God told me to.” (One of the murderers is played by future Taxi star Andy Kaufman.)
Eventually, Peter’s investigation broadens to include inquiries into his own past, because Peter is an orphan who knows nothing about his biological parents. Concurrently, Peter angers higher-ups in the NYPD by going public with the “God told me to” angle; this revelation leads to riots among warring religious forces. Even after Peter gets suspended, he continues his investigation in an unofficial capacity, and he learns that “God,” in this particular case, might be a single messianic individual who compels followers to kill. Yet just when it seems writer-producer-director Cohen is headed down the road of exposing a Manson-type cult leader, God Told Me To takes a left turn into trippy territory. Peter meets “God,” an asexual vagrant who glows so brightly that his features can’t be discerned the first time he’s shown.
This meeting leads Peter to find Elizabeth Mullin (Silva Sidney), who may or may not be “God’s” mother. Now living in a senior home, she recalls a horrific incident from the past, when she was taken aboard an alien spaceship and artificially inseminated. She gave up the resulting child, who grew up to be “God,” otherwise known as super-powered alien/human hermaphrodite Bernard Phillips (Richard Lynch). Yes, hermaphrodite. To hammer this particular point home, Cohen provides a loving closeup of Bernard’s matched sex organs, which protrude from the side of his torso.
None of this makes much sense, but it’s a fun ride, after a fashion, because it’s wild to see how far Cohen goes down the rabbit hole of his own imagination. What other film includes an alien abduction, a crazed sniper, an immaculate conception, an obsessed Catholic, a religious controversy, and a sex mutant? Plus, even if the deranged God Told Me To doesn’t “work” in any conventional fashion, the bizarre movie has vibe to spare thanks to a fantastically ominous musical score by Frank Cordell. Legendary film composer Bernard Herrmann scored Cohen’s previous film (the aforementioned It’s Alive), but Hermann died before working on Gold Told Me To. Cohen clearly guided Cordell toward mimicry, and, in fact, Cohen dedicated the picture to Herrmann. Emulating Herrmann’s propulsive musical style was a genius move, because Cordell’s dark and dense score lends Cohen’s phantasmagorical narrative a degree of macabre grandeur.
God Told Me To: FREAKY