Film Review: God Told Me To (1976)

God Told Me To is an interesting exploitation film. On the one hand, it’s a pretty clear-cut science fiction film on a lot of levels, but on another hand, it has some interesting concepts it plays with with societal paranoia and copycat crimes that gives it a bit of depth.

The film follows Peter Nicholas (Tony Lo Bianco), a NYPD Police detective who ends up investigating a series of seemingly unrelated spree shootings. The only tie between them is that the killers justification for their actions is that “God Told Them To”. Peter, being a devout Catholic, is deeply troubled by this, and his concerns push him to investigate further. As Nicholas investigates the murders, the killings escalate, and Nicholas finds his professional career threatened as well, ultimately discovering that a mysterious cult that includes various prominent members of New York society are responsible for the killings, a cult lead by a mysterious figure who has ties to Nicholas’ own past.

Unfortunately, the parts of the story that have ties to Nicholas’ past are the parts where the film gets weak, in part because they come up very late in the film, almost feeling like these plot points come out of nowhere. It’s not that the film has too many of these out-of-nowhere twists. Once we’re introduced to the head of the cult, the shift in the plot to figuring out the head’s origins makes sense.

Where the part with Nicholas’ past comes up is after this encounter with the head cultist. Nicholas is able to resist, to a degree, the cultists ability. Consequently, it feels like Larry Cohen (who wrote, directed, and produced the film) decided that there needed to be a big explanation for Nicholas’ being able to resist the cult leader’s power, making him a super-special snowflake at a near Chosen One level.

It’s frustrating in several respects. It’s like Cohen didn’t have confidence in the idea that if the cult leader couldn’t mind-whammy everyone he’d be threatening – when the fact that whether a person was vulnerable to control was arbitrary could be just as menacing (you might be safe, but what about your family members and friends). This is particularly an issue as around the periphery of the film there’s some great paranoia about these killings and whether they’re copycat crimes or actually related, which is aggravated after Nicholas’ confrontation with the cult leader, and he leaks some details about the crimes to the press to drive more information about the cult out.

The other frustrating element is Nicholas’ faith. I was raised Catholic, and while I’m not super-devout, I understand the mindset. Hearing someone claim that “God told them” to engage in the spree killing rocks Nicholas to his core – which doesn’t work for me as a Catholic. I know that Protestants exist and I know that there are other views on the bible and religion, I know that religious fanatics exist, and some fanatics can be incredibly violent. I know that some people who are very mentally ill or on hallucinogenic drugs can experience auditory hallucinations which they can interpret as being spoken to by a divine being. I also know from a theological standpoint that one of the titles for the Devil is “Prince of Lies.” So, encountering a spree killer or hearing of a spree killer who attributes divine instruction for their actions is not the kind of thing that would instantly doubt my faith, and in turn rather than shedding a light on Nicholas’ religious beliefs, makes me doubt the writer’s understanding of Catholicism, and makes me wonder that for a writer who made religious belief such a central part of their story, why they cared so little about that part of their story that they were unwilling to do the research.

All in all, the story is a fun thriller with some very well shot, very tense moments, it does make for a good evening’s viewing, but I don’t feel the compulsion to add it to my film library.

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