Writer, producer, and director Larry Cohen is perhaps best known to mainstream audiences for his 1974 horror flick It’s Alive or for screenplays such as 2002’s Phone Booth or 2007’s Captivity. Hardcore horror fans know Cohen for his mix of police procedural with science fiction and horror. Favorite Cohen cult movies include 1985’s The Stuff, 1982’s Q, and 1976’s God Told Me To.
Also released under the titles Demon and God Told Me to Kill, God Told Me To is an effective mix of police procedural, science fiction horror, and philosophical fare. Written, produced, and directed by Cohen, God Told Me To is a very personal film, but one that many Cohen fans cite as a favorite simply because of its outlandish plot and straightforward and serious storytelling arc.
The story begins in New York City, where a young man with a mail-order small-caliber rifle systematically takes out more than a dozen pedestrians. Detective Peter Nichols (Tony LoBianco) takes it upon himself to climb the water tower and speak to the sniper. The poor man’s response for the mass murder: “God told me to.”
Nichols is stunned by the words, but before he can mount any sort of reply, the sniper jumps off the water tower and building to his doom. As the days progress, Nichols is drawn to various other murder cases, all of which have a similar modus operandi. Nichols’ tenacity at solving the case begins to affect his already troubled personal life. For example, Nichols has abandoned but not divorced his first wife, although he is now living with another woman. Moreover, the detective is haunted by bizarre dreams that somehow link him to the murderer.
The final reel of the movie ramps up the tension, as Nichols begins to unravel a complex plot of the person behind the murders. Nichols learns that the mastermind behind the murders is a religious cult leader known as Bernard Phillips (Richard Lynch). The detective also learns that Phillips was born of a virgin mother who claims that she was abducted by extraterrestrials to be artificially inseminated. At the film’s climax, Nichols learns that Phillips is not what he appears to be and that there is a sinister purpose for Nichols and Phillips to at last come together.
God Told Me To is a low-budget affair with few special effects. Indeed, the spacecraft used during the abduction sequence was borrowed from footage shot for the television series Space 1999. What the movie lacks in extravagant special effects it more than makes up for with earnest performances throughout, a solid script, and deft direction.
The story itself borders on the ridiculous. However, the way the tale unravels will keep even the most jaded viewer glued to the screen. Actor Tony LoBianco turns in a captivating performance as the detective with strong religious values. As these values begin to fall apart, the terror of the truth bubbles to the surface, shattering the poor detective’s psyche. The film’s final sequence is brilliant in its over-the-top but subtly played closing quip.
The concept about human beings having been created and manipulated by aliens is not a new concept. However, few filmmakers have ever tackled the concept like this. Cohen is not critical of religion—he simply sees it from a skewed view, much like writer-director David Cronenberg sees the human body in his movies. Another element common with Cronenberg in this film is Cohen’s exploration of sexuality and its true purpose—to create the ultimate species.
God Told Me To can be purchased as a standalone item or on anthologies, such as Classic Drive-In Series Horror, one the DVDs from the Let the Nightmare Begin Horror ultimate collectors edition (50 movies).