Sunday, November 1, 2009

376) God Told Me To (1976)

376) God Told Me To (1976) Dir: Larry Cohen Date Released: November 1976 Date Seen: October 31, 2009 Rating: 3.75/5

Tonally, it's impossible to tell where you stand while watching Larry Cohen's God Told Me To. The film is predominantly a theologically questionable police procedural: Dt. Peter Nicholas (Tony Lo Bianco) races around Manhattan to find clues as to why God is compelling certain locals to kill, baby, kill. Nicholas' initial skepticism is too brief to be worth dwelling on because he immediately throws himself into a hunt for hard evidence, assuming that regardless of whether or not the murderers' claims are true, that there is a pattern. What he finds is that the second coming has occurred and his long-lost brother Bernard Phillips (Richard Lynch) is the blond-haired alien messiah. Yes, that's right Jesus is back as a 20-something hippie immaculately conceived in a visiting UFO and then dumped in an orphanage.

That last bit probably sounds a little jokey but Cohen plays it straight to the hilt. His movies often revolve around that kind of provocation for provocation's sake, the kind that is more interested in developing the germ of an idea that in whether or not it makes any sense. The film plays out as it does because of a number of factors. Being literal-minded, Nicholas has to see God as human rather than a disembodied voice and to make Bernard Alien-God's ties to humanity more conflicting, he has to be related to the one man actively seeking him out. It's all part of a weird design, one that makes little sense in the long run but takes you on a thoroughly involving run thanks to Cohen's skill at making every scene feel portentous. Whether it's the episode where Nicholas confronts one of Bernard's messengers at 4th Street's A train platform or the scene where Bernard reveals his proto-Videodrome vagina scar, everything looks like it's leading to a point, no matter how far-flung that point that may be.

That latter scene is particularly meaningful in a puzzling kind of way. Bernard shows his wound, just as it looks like it's crowning, to Nicholas when he decides they should start a new race of humans together. By taking the idea of brotherly love that far, Cohen shows us why his rabid fans consider him to be part B-movie-maker God, part mad scientist.

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