God Told Me To (1976)

A woman is levitated towards a spacecraft...
A woman is levitated towards a spacecraft…

Directed and written by Larry Cohen, starring Tony Lo Bianco, Deborah Raffin, Sandy Dennis, Sylvia Sidney, Sam Levene, Robert Drivas, Richard Lynch and David Morten.

Poster
Poster

Peter J. Nicholas (Lo Bianco), a devoutly religious police detective, deals with several cases of mass murder, including a New York sniper attack. He discovers that each perpetrator utters the same excuse to explain their killing sprees: “God told me to”.

the sniper
The sniper
Detective Peter J. Nicholas is a devout catholic
Detective Peter J. Nicholas is a devout catholic

Digging deeper, Nicholas eventually finds out that an androgynous, glowing, christ-like being, identified as Bernard Phillips (Lynch), has influenced all these murderers… and this dude is actually a product of alien artificial insemination! Nicholas realises that he, too, is one of these hybrid beings, though his human genes overpowered his alien genes just enough to enable him to pass for ‘normal’ for most of his life, but now it is time for him to confront Phillips…

Richard Lynch as the glowing, messiah-like product of alien insemination of human women
Richard Lynch as the glowing, messiah-like product of the alien insemination of a human female

Larry Cohen, as usual, throws lots of ideas into the pot. We have a horror-sci-fi-police-procedural plot encompassing mass killings, religious overtones, UFO abductions, psychic powers and throbbing alien vaginas! Cohen doesn’t quite pull it all off, unfortunately, and you’re left wondering what Phillips was hoping to achieve with his psychically-induced mass killings, what was the story behind the cabal of businessmen that believe Phillips is the new messiah, and whether the unseen, meddling aliens actually had an objective.

Chaos after a policeman starts shooting folks during New York's St. Patrick's Day Parade
Chaos after a policeman starts shooting folks during New York’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade

That said, there’s a lot of memorable moments here. There’s the horribly compelling scene where one of the killers, a family man (Morten), describes to Nicholas, in an easygoing manner, how he systematically murdered his own wife and children. Plus there’s the opening sequence, where members of the public are picked off by a gunman standing atop a water tower.

Cover for the Blue Underground Blu-ray release
Cover for the Blue Underground Blu-ray release

Cohen includes the alien abduction plot thread in an interesting fashion, never over-focusing on it, inserting these details as flashbacks and reminiscences. It’s here that we first get a glimpse of an unexpected close-up of a palpitating vagina (!), as a naked woman victim is levitated into a space vessel (actually footage of an Eagle spacecraft from the Gerry Anderson TV show SPACE: 1999). I remain utterly surprised that such up-close anatomical shots of a very vagina-like sex organ managed to make it into the movie!

Alien abduction flashback
Alien abduction flashback

Later, during the climactic showdown, Phillips pulls up his smock to reveal that he has a large alien vagina throbbing away on his torso! Phillips suggests that he and Nicholas should mate, to produce more progeny. Nicholas isn’t a fan of this idea, however, and decides to attack Phillips instead, leading to the glowing hybrid dude’s death and the destruction of a building.

This dude has got a torso-vagina
This dude has got a torso-vagina
Nicholas finally unleashes his own psychic powers
Nicholas finally unleashes his own psychic powers

GOD TOLD ME TO, also known as DEMON, is shot in Cohen’s typical style, meaning that it’s not overly well-lit or particularly glossy, it seems very choppy, editing-wise, but it is filmed with a no-nonsense verve and immediacy, with a lot of handheld location footage, that keeps the story’s momentum from flagging too much, even in the slower third act, which discards the mass killings plot line to concentrate on Nicholas’ unearthing of his own forgotten past. Cohen, as usual, gets his lead actor to deliver a compelling performance, in this case Tony Lo Bianco, who is a driven, earnest presence throughout the film.

UK VHS sleeve
UK VHS sleeve
Another shot from the alien abduction flashback
Another shot from the alien abduction flashback

Some posters for the movie…

US poster
US poster
French poster
French poster
Also known as DEMON
Also known as DEMON

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