Monday, September 28, 2009

Movie Monday - God Told Me To

So Saturday night, I was visiting friends, and we had a bad movie night. Watched "Night of the Lepus," the only horror movie ever made (as far as I know) that featured giant carnivorous rabbits as the Monster Du Jour. And when we were discussing bad movies to watch on a future night, I remembered "God Told Me To." Nobody else had heard of it, nor were they very enthusiastic, so I decided to inflict it on you here, instead. I would warn you that it's spoileriffic, but the movie is over thirty years old. It's already spoiled.

"God Told Me To" was made in 1975 by Larry Cohen, the...unique auteur behind such films as "Q" (featuring a giant pterodactyl-type monster terrorizing a city) "The Stuff" (featuring killer yogurt), and "It's Alive" (featuring a killer baby).

The opening credits make you think this is a TV movie, with their low-budget graphics, plus crediting Deborah Raffin as "Guest Star." I mean, I understand the concept of Guest Star in a TV show, where you have the regular cast and some celebrity who gets pulled in for one episode is a "guest," but in a theatrical feature, what does Guest Star even mean, other than "this person wanted special billing and we couldn't figure out anything better?" So later on when it becomes really obvious that this was not made for TV, it's a bit of a shock.

The movie opens with a sniper perched on a water tower atop a building in downtown Manhattan. As he shoots, we see several people engaged in the Bullet Ballet...

Heroic Cop Tony Lo Bianco climbs up the tower to try to talk the sniper down. He asks why the guy shot all those people, and the guy says, "God told me to" before jumping off the tower and falling to his death.

This is very disturbing to Our Hero, because he's a very devout Catholic. I mean, devout enough to go to Mass every day and devout enough to refuse to divorce his wife (played by freakshow Sandy Dennis, who shows her affection by checking the temperature of his chin), but not devout enough to keep from shacking up with Guest Star Deborah Raffin.

Lo Bianco takes a moment to pray at the Church of the Almighty Dollar--okay, it's not exactly a dollar sign, but it looks close enough to one that it made me do a double take--then heads off to interview other people who have committed random murders. They all tell him that God told them to, right before they die.

And then, the police station receives an anonymous tip that there will be a random shooting during the St. Patrick's Day Parade, and that the shooter will be a cop. "He has willed it," says the tipster.

Then starts the parade, and guess who's in it?

That's right, Andy Kaufman in his first screen appearance. Notice the cop on the left mugging the camera. Apparently Cohen and his crew crashed the real parade for some guerrilla filmmaking. You see lots of mugging during this scene, and ironically, it's the cops doing it.

Lo Bianco runs to the parade route to try to stop the shooting, even though there are, you know, hundreds of cops there already. Unfortunately, his big wall of hair creates so much wind resistance, he can't get there in time. So it's left to one of LoBianco's co-stars to do what so many of us wished we could do later, during the girl wrestling days--shoot Andy Kaufman.

As Lo Bianco continues to investigate, it turns out that each of the murderers was seen with a mysterious someone, a blond hippie with no face (that is, no one can remember his face). At least, I think that's what's going on. There are several scenes where the music drowns out the conversations between characters, so it's hard to follow at times. Lo Bianco tracks the hippie down, but is attacked by woman with a knife. Turns out, she's the hippie's mother. And she was a virgin when she gave birth. Because she claims she became pregnant after being abducted by aliens (wha?). At least, that's what Doctor Atom Man says.

Mason Adams was the voice of the Atom Man in the Superman radio episodes I posted previously. And now the city starts going a little crazy. People are demonstrating in the streets. A pimp murders a dirty cop and writes "God" on the wall in his blood to throw off the investigation. And a mysterious Jedi Council holds a meeting; they are apparently disciples of the Hippie With No Face. They decide something must be done about Lo Bianco.

And here we have another shot of street life. This jumped out at me for a few reasons. Number one, down in the lower left, the green letters are the sign for a place called Weinerwald. I ate at the chain's restaurants in Europe in the summer of 1980. I'd never known they had opened any in the U.S., but they were apparently here briefly in the late '70s to early '80s. Lower center is an ad for Bulova Accutron watches. My dad sold those; they were electric watches which used a tuning fork to keep time; this was before the prevalence of quartz watches. At the bottom is a Flagg Bros. shoe store.

Up top, drink a refreshing Champale sparkling malt liquor. Or as this ad that came out at about the same time as the film says (see more Champale ads here)...


Lo Bianco finally meets the mysterious God-Hippie, who seems to think he's Jesus, what with the way he was born of a virgin and glows and has disciples and long hair and everything. But Lo Bianco meets him in a furnace room underground, which makes it seem as if the God-Hippie comes from a different place altogether.

And yes, just when you think it can't get weirder, it does. Lo Bianco tracks down his birth mother (he was adopted as a kid), and she turns out to be Sylvia Sidney, although she doesn't smoke through her throat in this movie.

Mom tells Lo Bianco how she was abducted by a spaceship that took her to the moon (just before it was blown out of orbit) where she was impregnated by a golden light. Okay, she doesn't say the bit about the moon; it's just that the movie uses footage from Space 1999 for the UFO.

And now the movie becomes a solid wall of discomfort as Mommy curses Lo Bianco for ever being born, and then the wife and mistress get together for a chat, and then Lo Bianco uses his newfound God-Hippie powers to make a pimp kill himself, culminating in a visit to the Slum of God for a final confrontation with the God-Hippie himself, who lifts his shirt to reveal his WHAT THE FUCK???!!!

Something happened after that, where Lo Bianco or his stuntman does this spastic crazy-leg wiggle down a hallway to simulate an earthquake or something, but who cares after that image?
And no, I won't tell you what it is.

It's not a good movie, necessarily, but it's certainly an unforgettable one, in some ways at least. It's memorably weird.

There is a special edition DVD out there with commentaries and stuff, but the movie is in public domain, so you should be able to find it pretty cheap or even free, if you're interested.

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