GOD TOLD ME TO (1976) Blu-ray
Director: Larry Cohen
Blue Underground

A unique film whose title may ward of the curious, Larry Cohen's chilling GOD TOLD ME TO blends horror, sci-fi and gritty scenes of big-city terrorism which look they could have been pulled from current news headlines. The New York-lensed film has developed more than a small cult following, and is now available on Blu-ray looking better than ever and featuring a number of exclusive bonus features to this release.

Tony LoBianco (THE HONEYMOON KILLERS) is Peter Nicholas, a grizzled New York City police detective and devoted Catholic cheating on his neurotic wife (Sandy Dennis, THE OUT OF TOWNERS) with a younger woman (Deborah Raffin, THE SENTINEL). He begins investigating a series of bizarre, apparently motiveless murders occurring all over the city, with all of the culprits muttering the same thing: "God told me to." He tracks down who may be responsible for this rash of homicides; a mysterious Bernard Phillips who was conceived in a virgin birth which might have been induced by an alien rape. What power does Phillips hold over these people and how is he connected to these atrocities? And how is Peter himself connected to these morbid events?

Opening with a positively horrifying sequence of oblivious New York City pedestrians being shot and killed by a hidden sniper on top of a water tower, the audience is jolted awake and made well aware GOD TOLD ME TO is not your run-of-the-mill horror film. And coming from Larry Cohen, responsible for the killer baby in IT'S ALIVE and the winged serpent in Q, this shouldn't come as a surprise. Only this time Cohen has written a tale of monsters we never see, creatures that may be responsible for religion as we know it and who have now created human forms of Good and Evil, who must battle it out by the finale. Several memorable horror sequences stick out, including the infamous St. Patrick's Day Parade shooting spree (starring none other than late comedian Andy Kaufman in his pre- “Taxi” years as the psycho policeman), an out-of-left-field attack in a dark hallway by the crazed mother of a suspect and LoBianco questioning an indifferent father who has just murdered his entire family with a shotgun. This last sequence is particularly unnerving.

Larry Cohen's subtle sense of humor is still on-hand, with lines such as "The Irish have been waiting all year for this day, you're not going to ruin it for them!" when the prospect of canceling the parade comes up. In the end, the movie takes a while to start making sense (if it ever eventually does), with plenty of intrigue to please those seeking something different. The characters and performances are not up to par with Cohen's other horror films, but the script is still wholly captivating, with more plot twists than a Dario Argento giallo. The developments of the religious angle are continuously surprising as are the secret alien inseminations, colliding into one singular plot that few horror films would attempt before or since. You will either be confused and upset by this film or you will wonder how a talent like Cohen still remains virtually unnoticed by the mainstream. The great supporting cast includes Mike Kellin (the camp owner in SLEEPAWAY CAMP) and the wonderful Sylvia Sidney, silver screen star of the 1930s who is better-known for her appearances as the chain-smoking caseworker Juno in BEETLEJUICE and wise-cracking grandma in MARS ATTACKS!. Also on hand is character actor Mason Adams (from the long-running “Lou Grant” series) as an obstetrician and the late, great Richard Lynch (THE SEVEN-UPS), who is properly creepy (and perfectly cast) as the otherworldly Bernard Phillips. The biggest surprise is George Patterson (the maniac Rollo in David Durston’s I DRINK YOUR BLOOD) as a knife-wielding pimp who stabs a crooked policeman to death and writes GOD on the wall in the dead man's blood!

As an upgrade to their decade-old DVD release, Blue Underground's new Blu-ray of GOD TOLD ME TO is transferred in 4K High Definition from the original uncensored negative (sporting the New World Pictures logo), and looks miles above its standard def predecessor. Presented in 1080p in the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, some interior scenes that were too dark on the DVD look much better now, with the overall image having extremely bright colors and an attractive appearance. Detail is consistently sharp, and when grain is on display, its never overbearing and gives the film a nice, natural filmic look especially during the documentary-like NYC crowd shot scenes (and it’s always a pleasure to get a glance of Manhattan circa 1975). Three audio options are present here: 7.1 DTS-HD, 5.1 Dolby Digital surround EX and DTS-HD mono. All are strong tracks, but since the film is a dialogue-driven piece, only a few sequences will benefit from the extra attention paid by the surround sound mix. The 7.1 track is a surprisingly effective and aggressive mix, particularly in the parade scene, with music and effects used nicely in all of the channels. Optional subtitles are provided in English SDH, French and Spanish.

The extras kick off with a Larry Cohen audio commentary (recorded in 2003 and carried over from the DVD release), moderated by BU head Bill Lustig. Cohen is a warm and engaging commentator, and rarely runs out of things to say. He still remains proud of the film, regarded as his least accessible, and tells some really great behind-the-scenes stories, including pointing out where stock footage occurs, working with the great cast, and fascinating tales of shooting on-location in New York City. Interestingly enough, Bernard Herrmann was to compose the musical score and saw GOD TOLD ME TO on the last night of his life before passing away, allowing Frank Cordell to take the reigns. It's another incredible commentary that is consistently fascinating, and Cohen has fast become one of the best audio commentators out there. All of the featurettes and interview segments are new to this Blu-ray release. “Heaven & Hell On Earth - Interview with Star Tony Lo Bianco” (11:27) has the actor talking about his role in the film and his feelings about the character, that he was also starring in a play at the same time he was making the film, and Cohen’s habit of “stealing shots” (shooting on location without permission). He has nice things to say about his late co-star Raffin, mentions that he loves having been in such a cult classic and he expresses his dislike of a distasteful orifice which showed up on the screen in close-up in this film. “Bloody Good Times - Interview with Special Effects Artist Steve Neill” (9:09) has Neill discussing his childhood ambition to be a monster maker, learning to do prosthetics, and eventually coming to Hollywood and meeting Rick Baker, who introduced him to Cohen. He talks about doing effects on this film, as well as THE PRIVATE FILES OF J, EDGAR HOOVER, FULL MOON HIGH, THE STUFF, IT’S ALIVE III: ISLAND OF THE ALIVES, RETURN TO SALEM’S LOT (all for Cohen), assuring that he always maintained a friendship with Cohen despite him sometimes being tough to work with, and that he would like to work with him again. Cohen himself is on for two videotaped Q & A sessions. “God Told Me To Bone” (21:14) has him in a recent session at the New Beverly Cinema in LA during a screening of GOLD TOLD ME TO, introducing the film with humorous anecdotes about filming it, and then taking questions from the enthusiastic audience afterwards (where he mentions Robert Forster was dismissed from the film early on and replaced with LoBianco). “Lincoln Center Q&A with Larry Cohen” (8:06) was recorded back in 2002, where Cohen had talked about the film in front of a New York audience before a showing of GOD TOLD ME TO. Under the title GOD TOLD ME TO, there’s a theatrical trailer and five TV spots, and under the alternate DEMON title, there’s a trailer and TV spots. The posters and stills gallery offers some nice surprises, including the original GOD TOLD ME TO one-sheet (making it look like a disaster movie!), the re-release poster under the title DEMON (which was the cover art for Anchor Bay's VHS), the original tie-in paperback novel, a slew of publicity stills and lobby cards, behind-the-scenes snapshots, pressbook ad mats, and video covers. (George R. Reis and Casey Scott)