A series of motiveless murders are committed by various New York residents: a sniper shoots people from a water tower; a father murders his entire family; and a cop 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 is increasingly troubled by evidence of a Christ-like figure named Bernard Phillips 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.
Directed by: Larry Cohen
. Starring: Tony Lo Bianco
, Deborah Raffin
, Sandy Dennis
, Sylvia Sidney
, Sam Levene
, Robert Drivas
, Mike Kellin
, Richard Lynch
, Sammy Williams
, Jo Flores Chase
, William Roerick
, Lester Rawlins
, Harry Bellaver
. Music by: Frank Cordell
I watched GOD TOLD ME TO last week. Soon afterwards, I had to re-watch it again in order to make sure I got every detail right. After watching it a second time, I came to the conclusion that the Larry Cohen film is muddled beyond repair. The film itself ain't bad. There are a lot of good things to say about it but the script and direction are so unfocused that huge story lines remain unresolved or are confusing by the time the film ends.
For instance, the whole story-line about Peter (played by Tony Lo Bianco) deciding to look for his natural mother. You see Peter was adopted but there is almost no indication in the entire movie which tells us that Peter was adopted as a kid. There's a bizarre scene where his girlfriend tells Peter's family history to some sort of members of a board but even that scene is mostly confusing and lacking in details (who asked her to do this? Did she mention it to Peter?, how did Peter react to the idea of this meeting?, etc) Anyway, so almost 34s into the movie, Peter decides to look for his birth mother. How does the movie show this?
1) we see the outside of a school (I think) 2) It shows Peter talking to a nun in the corner of a room. He asks the nun a couple of question. The nun says that the files are kept in another building (we have no idea which building this exchange is taking place). 3) We then see a stock footage shot of another building (at night!!) and 4) we then see the same nun who "finds" the file on Peter and tells him the name of his mother.
This scene exemplifies everything that is muddled and confusing about GOD TOLD ME TO. There's no sense of time or location or reason for the entire scene. What happened? Did Peter go back later and the nun had the file? Did the two go to the other building to find the file? At night? And why does the room look exactly like the office where Peter first met the nun? What's really bad about that scene is how EASY Peter got the information of his mother. If it was so easy, why didn't Peter do this earlier in his life (he's 40 years old in the movie)??? GOD TOLD ME TO is riddled with these really lazily directed moments. Cohen should have filmed a scene with Peter walking in and out of the building or something instead of static headshots of him and the nun, intercut by stock footage of anonymous buildings. He should have also shown a moment with Peter talking to his girlfriend about the whole idea of looking for his birth mother. This would have made it a bit clearer and would have given us a bit more insight into Peter and his relationship with her. The first time I saw GTMT, I thought the whole bit with the nun had to do with Bernard Philips, the mystery man Peter is looking for, not about Peter himself.
The direction (and screenplay) is needlessly confusing. Scenes like at the beginning when the sniper kills people. I only noticed, during the second viewing, that Peter's girlfriend, played by Deborah Raffin, was there when the killings occurred. I didn't notice it during the first viewing because when we see Peter and his girlfriend after the sniper scene, the girlfriend NEVER mentions that she was there. During the sniper scene, Raffin is wearing a scarf over her hair. When we see Raffin with Lo Bianco after the sniper scene, Raffin is not wearing the scarf, which hid most of her blonde hair. The only thing that told me she was the same person is the fact that Peter's girlfriend and the woman during the sniper scene had the same big groovy glasses!!!
There are so many muddled moments in GTMT that it's almost impossible to enumerate all of them. Scenes like when Peter meets the man in the red room, who seems to be the leader of the cult that venerates Bernard Philips (played by the eternally creepy Richard Lynch). No indication what that was all about. The confusing flashback sequences that recount the story of two women being abducted. The first flashback scene is shot in sepia tinted B&W, which tells us what we're watching took place in the past. But then when the great Sylvia Sidney tells her story of alien abduction, the sequence is in color. Or the whole bit when Peter goes to see Bernard Philips' mother. I had to rewind the video to really understand who she was. And the sub-plot about the black police officer getting killed by the black criminal is lacking in details and seems totally pointless. My biggest complaint about the extreme muddledness of GTMT is when Peter realizes who he is: he's a bastard child of aliens, who like Bernard Philips, has supernatural powers. When he gains these powers, Peter goes to the pool hall and forces the black criminal to kill other people there. Well, if Peter has the same exact powers as Bernard Philips, why doesn't Peter uses these powers to kill Bernard Philips? Or to sway the officials around him that he was not involved in the whole destructive incident at the end that, as we see in the very last scene of the movie, got him arrested? Why doesn't he use his powers to put the blame elsewhere? Why does Bernard Philips have a "vagina" on him and not Peter? There's almost NO detail about anything in GTMT.
And to make things even more confusing, the film is filled with an amazing number of continuity errors. The Saint Patrick's Parade moment is a great example. The story itself takes place in the summer. But we all know that St-Patty's day happens in March. Cohen shot scenes during the real parade in March and more scenes with Lo Bianco during the summer. The whole thing suddenly looks like PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE: in one shot, people are wearing heavy coats and the trees have no leaves. Then in another shot, people are wearing t-shirts and the trees are green and full. The St Patrick's Day parade scene is embarrassingly bad. Cohen should have at least tried to avoid filming those big barren trees when he shot the parade in March. And then there are the stock footage special effects which are, of all things, taken from SPACE 1999! The "wispy" effects during the opening credits are from the "Space Brain" episode and during Sylvia Sidney's flashback sequence, we see a shot of an eagle landing and the inside of Moonbase Alpha's travel tube. As a big SPACE 1999 fan, I have to say that those scenes are pretty bizarre to watch, in an already bizarre flick.
GOD TOLD ME TO is not an all out disaster. It has its heart in the right place and there is a certain brazenness to it that makes it fun to watch but the direction and the kooky screenplay, which is basically an amalgamation of incongruous genre themes (possession, UFOs, abductions, demons, religion themes, drama, etc) are hopelessly muddled and, in the end, the film doesn't really work.
Review by Maciste_Brother from the Internet Movie Database.