The storyline of this movie involves a series of motiveless murders committed by various New York residents: a sniper shoots people from a water tower; a father murders his entire family; and a cop (Andy Kaufman) opens fire during a St. Patrick's Day parade. The only consistent pattern to the crimes involves the perpetrators calm admissions of guilt, explaining, "God told me to." While investigating the murders, catholic police detective Peter Nicholas (Tony Lo Bianco) is increasingly troubled by evidence of a Christ-like figure named Bernard Phillips (Richard Lynch) who appeared to each of the killers and can't seem to shake the feeling that his own fate is somewhat linked to this mysterious being. As he comes closer to the truth, his worst fears are confirmed.
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For all of the classic movies made in the 1970s, films like The Godfather (1972), Chinatown (1974) and Apocalypse Now (1979), which have since become staples in film classes everywhere, there were an equal amount of tacky, over-exploitive movies that have now been forgotten, and many for good reason. Some films, such as those in the kung fu and blaxploitation genres, were so over-the-top and downright silly that they could never have been taken seriously, while others like God Told Me To (1976) actually had intriguing premises that, unfortunately, were never able to live up to their potential.
God Told Me To begins with a string of senseless killings committed by seemingly normal people, including police officers and family men. All of the perpetrators have one thing in common… they all give the same motive for their crime: “God told me to.” Only one police officer, Peter Nicholas, played by Tony Lo Bianco, takes these excuses seriously and decides to look into what, if any, connections there are between all of these killings. As his investigation deepens, Peter comes to see that he actually might be personally connected to the killings himself, forcing him to confront demons from his own past. Peter is eventually confronted by a cult who worship a man named Bernard Phillips, though what Bernard’s true nature really is remains a mystery. We never learn much about him, except that an
After an intriguing and promising beginning, God Told Me To goes completely off the rails. It becomes obvious very quickly that Larry Cohen, who wrote and directed the film, does not really know what to do with the story after the initial premise was established. Once he set up the mystery, he never fully solved it. He seems to try anything he can to make something work, but by adding more and more twists to the story, it just becomes more confusing. The audience wants to know: Were these people really told by God to commit murder? And, if not, then who did? Cohen simply doesn’t have a coherent answer, and the film is never able to recover once that becomes clear.
God Told Me To was Larry Cohen’s fifth movie as a director and is one of the most memorable of his career. He had previously directed two noteworthy films, Black Caesar (1973) and It’s Alive (1974), but his most notable achievement thereafter was writing the script for Phone Booth (2002), starring Colin Farrell.
The only well known actor in God Told Me To is Sandy Dennis, who had won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966), but would never reach the same level of success again. The film is also noteworthy for the first film appearance of legendary comedian Andy Kaufman, who plays a small role as a police officer who opens fire on the St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
God Told Me To is the kind of movie that a certain segment of the population will love, despite, or perhaps because of, everything that makes it such a truly terrible movie. The acting is awful, the special effects are cheesy, and the story makes almost no sense. For some people the cheesiness of the film is what will make it so much fun to watch, but for everyone else, it will just make their heads hurt.