The October Diaries: God Told Me To

Illustration by Max Brown
Blurbs by Sean & Christof

October 31st, 2014:
God Told Me To

Year: 1976
Director: Larry Cohen
Format: Unknown
From IMDB: A New York detective investigates a series of murders committed by random New Yorkers who claim that “God told them to.”
Don’t let it control you!
Conceived In A HELL Beyond Our GALAXY Destined To Rule Our World!
Was he a god – the Devil or something even more terrifying…

Christof’s Take:

I love Larry Cohen.

His horror movies offer a sort of Frank Henenlotter/Stuart Gordon flavor that still feels uniquely his own. Like Henenlotter, he’s another example of someone who came up in the exploitation scene, and with that kind of sensibility of making pictures move, you end up with a certain quality to the texture and shape of a film. That rare quality is something difficult to explain, but it’s the kind that is easy for people to scoff at, writing the movie off simply because it lacks the luster a bigger, more expensive production.

To continue a favorite metaphor of ours, we have become connoisseurs of this kind of 70’s and 80’s low-budget grind-house horror.

It was a trusted label (Larry Cohen) and a vintage (1976) that is currently peaking. Different ingredients can make a batch unpredictable, and I will say, I might prefer the 1982 Limited Reserve Winged-Serpent (Q) over God Told Me To. And probably prefer his Evil Baby Series-Batches from ’74, ’78, and ’87 (the It’s Alive trilogy) more than either. That’s not to say that I didn’t find this new discovery — a ’76 Divination/Possession Murder blend — palatable. I certainly found it to be a refreshing and appropriate way to wrap up the horror season. No spit bucket needed.

God Told Me To Title Card

Sean’s Take:

Larry Cohen brings us to the end of our trip into the October void. He is an apt usher to escort us out of the month. He’s another genre legend, having given us the It’s Alive trilogy as well The Stuff — a criminally underrated resident of the horror genre.

God Told Me To is from 1976 and it concerns a series of mass killings taking place across New York City. The perpetrators are a seemingly average smattering of citizenry who snap and go kill-crazy, taking out as many people as they can before they taken down. Each killer utters the phrase, “God told me to” before they die.

Religious fanaticism lends itself well to the horror genre because, to me at least, religious fanatics are more sinister than your garden variety shadow monster. Even in serial killer movies you occasionally see a flicker of guilt or uncertainty cross the eyes of the killer before he strikes. Religious fanatics don’t often show guilt. They swap it out for the super creepy serenity that accompanies true belief.

It’s the moments where our lead detective protagonist crosses paths with those citizens who have supposedly been touched by god or an entity meant to impersonate god (played by Richard Lynch — who would revisit culty creepy religious psychotics in an incredibly underrated one from the 1980’s called Bad Dreams) when the film really clicked into gear.

This one avoided narrative drag by never quite giving me enough information to crack what was going on. That sounds like a backhanded compliment, but I love nothing more than having to work hard as a viewer in an attempt to keep-up with a movie. Cohen toys with tension, as well as a seemingly-repetitious structure, by setting elaborate set-pieces for his death sprees to occur.

The most memorable one featured a cop going on a kill-spree during a parade. The scene was a standout because Cohen shot his violent massacre around an actual parade that was going on in the city. Try to duplicate the previous sentence in contemporary society and you will be shot to death by a swat team then your corpse would be tried and jailed.

The parade scene was also seared into my mind forever because the cop who goes on the kill-spree is played by Andy Kaufman, in a role somehow befitting the legendarily dark comic prankster. As he exhales one last time and utters his rendition of the titular ballad, “God told me to” we feel the cosmic joke Cohen is playing on us.

The film also manages to bring its themes to ultimate fruition and in the end and we get at least one moment I wouldn’t dare spoil that feels perfect (a fitting end to our 2014 October Diaries).

I intake so much horror largely as a way to feel the exhilaration that comes from embracing the dark finality each of us will face eventually. To balloon the spectacle of death to such absurd degrees, as horror films do, gives me a catharsis I can’t quite replicate anywhere else.

Why do I watch? Because god told me to.



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