I ran across this little gem back in the old days of VHS tapes. It was at the bottom of a bargain bin at my local record store. The tagline read “The only man alive who can make the choice to help or destroy a mysterious force which has begun to unleash its dread power upon the earth!” A bold statement. Even back then I was lover of obscure films, so I snapped it up and about a week later popped it in (I love films, but also am rather lethargic). I loved it! Sure it had a low budget and was uneven at times, but overall it was a wild weird ride that has stuck with me over the years.
The film opens with a man on a water tower in New York City firing into the crowded streets below, eventually racking up a kill count of fifteen. The protagonist Peter, a devout Catholic NYPD detective, manages to approach to sniper and they talk. The gunman is perfectly calm and when asked why he’s shooting at people, states that Gold told him to, before jumping off of the tower.
|Tony Lo Bianco in God Told Me To|
After that the floodgates open and an entire slew of murders occur, all done by perfectly calm normal people, all claiming that God told them to. Eventually Peter discovers a link. Each of the people had contact with a bizarre underground cult leader by the name of Bernard Phillips.
Peter goes public with the God angle and the city goes into a panic mode, with even more copycat killings occurring. Some of the cult members contact Peter, and a brief meeting between the two occurs, where the detective discovers that the cult leader’s power does not affect him. He also uncovers that a similar set of events took place some 35 years prior.
Now here is where things get weird. His investigation eventually leads him to an old woman who is his birth mother, having found herself impregnated by a strange orb of light while walking home from the New York World’s Fair in 1941, and giving up the child for adoption. He confronts Bernard and discovers the truth - both he and Phillips are the result of "alien abduction/virgin birth by an extraterrestrial (This is beginning to sound more and more like Mormonism). Also here it is alluded to that Heyzeus himself was another such alien birth.
|Richard Lynch in God Told Me To|
Peter is the result of his human genes being dominant, which is why he is unaware of his true nature, while Bernard is more like their unseen progenitor. Bernard reveals himself to be a hermaphrodite and wishes to spawn a new species with his brother. He further states that all of Peter’s previous attempts at children had died because Peter subconsciously willed them to, but Bernard is strong enough to ward him off. Peter refuses and attacks Bernard, which results in Bernard using his powers to destroy the building and commit suicide. Peter is arrested for murder, and responds to a question as to why he committed the deed with "God told me to”.
|Andy Kaufman in God Told me To|
A few other things to mention here. This was the film debut of Andy Kaufman who plays a madman police officer who goes on a shooting spree during the St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Apparently during the filming, Kaufman, while dressed up in costume, began antagonizing and making insulting gestures to the crowd watching the production. He was so provocative that several of them tried to jump the barricades to beat up Kaufman and had to be held back by the director.
Additionally the music for the film was originally supposed to be scored by the legendary Bernard Herrman, who was also doing music for Taxi Driver at the time. Apparently Herrman saw the film without music and came up with a few ideas, but died later on that day. The film was dedicated to him. The director then approached another veteran movie composer Miklos Rozsa who refused, stating “God told me not to.”
|Alternate title and poster|
While I love this film, critical opinion is very divided on the idea. In fact Roger Ebert in his book I Hated Hated Hated this Movie only gave it one star. Stating, “there were times when I thought the projectionist was showing the reels in random order, as a quiet joke on the hapless audience. But, no apparently the movie was supposed to be put together in this way, as a sort of fifty-two-card pickup of cinema… As I left the theater, dazed, I saw a crowd across the street. A young man in a straightjacket… was preparing to be suspended in midair hundreds of inches above the ground, and to escape, Houdini style. At the moment he was still standing on the sidewalk- but, believe me, it was still a better show.”
My suggestion. Watch for yourself and make up your own mind. Caveat Emptor!
The entire film is here.