You know, one of my life’s ambitions, before i get too old and decrepit to do anything about it, is to visit New York. I´ve several friends who either live, or are from there and it´s always struck me as one of THE places to go and see/live. Just the sights, the sounds, the pace and the atmosphere just seems so inviting and like nothing else anywhere on Earth. Another reason why I would so love to go there, is the way that NTC has been portrayed in movies from Ghostbusters to Cloverfield and Manhattan. Of all the cities in the world New York is like no other in the way it acts as a muse to many top directors. Woody Allen and Martin Scorcese, to Spike Lee and Abel Ferrara use the city as their playground/plaything, for inspiration and setting for many of their films.
But one director in particular, more so than the ones mentioned above, has managed to capture the true feeling of NYC so spectacularly and with a minimum of the fanfare. And that guy is LARRY COHEN. Allen may have the bourgeois of Manhattan’s chattering classes, Scorcese has alienated loners and wise guys, while Ferrara has the tweaking schizos of the new wave art scene, but Larry Cohen, under the genre guise of horror/thriller/action movies, goes much further in portraying a truer picture of the city and inhabitants, a city of low life regular schlubs, weirdos and the great unwashed, too normal to be truly crazy or dangerous, too regular to be seen as junkie outsider artists or gangland hoods.
A prolific producer, director and scriptwriter, his movies are prime top choice low-budget genre schlockbusters. He’s best known for films such as Q: The Winged Serpent, It´s Alive, Maniac Cop, and The Stuff, as well as being the scriptwriter to Phone Booth, starring Colin Farrell and Forrest Whittaker. Even though he’s still active today, it’s his films from the 1970s that people have the most fondness for. Often showing shaky handheld, vertigo inducing camera angles and movement, really noisy untreated sound recordings, or with outdoor scenes shot on the fly and without permits, incorporating actual street events and parades, or roping in bystanders on the day to act as extras.
Tonight’s film is perhaps one of his weirdest, yet most ambitious stories, GOD TOLD ME TOO. The film starts in breathtaking style when a sniper on a rooftop goes on a killing spree, killing 15 people. A police detective, Peter Nicholas (Tony LoBianco), tries to talk him down, only for the killer to say “God told me too,” before throwing himself off the roof. As Nicholas starts investigating the killer, he finds a whole host of bizarre killings (A man running amok in a store with a knife, a married man gunning his entire family down) where the only thing in common is that they all say the same thing – that “God told me too.”
As the detective, who is a practicing catholic, tried to piece the connections together, it seems that the killings have been inspired by the leader of a powerful religious cult. It also seems that he in some way may be connected to this cult, but how? And why? At this point it would be wise not to reveal much more as it would contain spoilers and ruin the fun, but the film takes a very weird turn and starts to move from being a police procedural thriller to a religious horror/sci film.
In terms of the ideas at play, this is definitely an ambitious film that tried to punch well above its station that seems to take a bit from a whole host of genres – Sci Fi, Horror, Police action thriller. Despite some of the clunky storytelling, the plot is definitely out there, and seems to be heavily influenced by the new age, pseudo-scientific books such as Chariots Of The Gods, that were popular at the time. Ancient alien astronauts coming to earth to make babies with the cavemen and give them the pyramids – that sort of thing. It also has a fairly troubled production run. LoBianco was cast in the role of the detective at the last minute as a replacement for Robert Forster, who was sacked after two days filming and a personality clash with Cohen. Bernard Hermann, the legendary musician who had just completed the score to Taxi Driver, was set to create the score but died before he could complete it.
As befits a low-budget film, some of the scenes are shaky as hell and the some of the camerawork and editing is appalling. Some of the films scenes and subplots make you go “WTF? What just happened there?” such as why his girlfriend felt the need to visit Nicholas’ ex-wife, or the whole sub plot of the corrupt policeman and the street hustler. It all feels cobbled together haphazardly with no real thought into how the narrative of the scene goes with the rest of the movie.
But some of the scenes do work brilliantly, using NYC to its fullest. The opening scene with the sniper is really well done and put together, while the scene with a killer cop (played by Andy Kaufman!) that uses an actual St Patrick’s Day parade to full effect. Both of these scenes create a real sense of panic, mostly because they use the actual street public in the proceedings, creating a feel of grimy authenticity. Oh and the final scene is a true WTF moment in cult cinema!
Also the acting of the main character are definitely of a proper caliber, LoBianco gives a very strong performance, giving the detective character a sense of battered weariness as he slowly starts to lose it from the pressure of the case and the implications of what he is investigating. There are other good acting turns as well, such as Sandy Dennis as the ex-wife, who despite only having two scenes in the film, manages to portray a woman who is hurt and slightly bitter, but forgiving and sympathetic.
GOD TOLD ME TO isn’t for everyone. But if you wanna see a 70’s movie that’s weird, odd, terrifying and complex (or if you’re a fan of Larry Cohen), then get your laptop charged and settle down to watch a piece of real Noo Yoik cinema .