CampBlood Reviews: Senseless Rants from a Picky Sissy


God Told Me To Larry Cohen 1976

God Told Me To... Zhuzh It!

Imagine, if you will, a fictional New York City where the idyll of a beautiful summer day is shattered by an outburst of unexpected violence. Imagine the citizens of New York living in fear of sniper attacks and sudden explosions, showers of bullets and rampages by seemingly innocent citizens. And imagine a Manhattan that is held sway under the apparently supernatural power of a fey blonde man whose very suggestions can lead entire groups of people to enact atrocities upon their fellow citizens or destroy themselves on cue.

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to New York City in the age of terror: the age of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.

Actually, what we're discussing here is the NYC of Larry Cohen's razor-sharp thriller/satire God Told Me To, a bitter little pill that was recently given the royal treatment by the increasingly fabulous Blue Underground DVD label. Whether or not you're a fan of seventies Manhattan films (I live for them), God Told Me To is fascinating, shocking, and very, very strange. And flares and sideburns aside (or pehaps not), Cohen's cautionary tale of religious devotion gone haywire is oddly appropriate today -- in fact, the cult of Manhattan in the film is alarmingly comparable to the cult of Manhattan that is enjoying its Sex-and-the-City-birthed renaissance today, carried mostly on the shoulders of 5 queens who scurry around in a black SUV cinching belts and waxing backs in the name of proper living. And although they're not overtly encouraging people to climb water towers and pick off pedestrians, who's to say what might happen to these "liberated" straight men when the camera crew leaves and they realize that their bachelor pads virtually have "George Michael Slept Here" spraypainted on the walls? Let's investigate further.

Ostensibly, God Told Me To is the story of Detective Peter Nicholas (Tony Lo Bianco of The Honeymoon Killers and The Ann Jillian Story), a religious New York cop whose life is upturned when he begins to investigate a series of odd murder-suicides in which the perpetrators kill dozens of strangers before muttering "God told me to" and offing themselves. As Peter gets pulled deeper and deeper into the mystery and more and more pedestrians get whacked (in comforting places like the St. Patrick's Day Parade and the corner grocery), he comes to realize that he has a special connection to the case, and begins to dig into his own past for answers. Meanwhile, Deborah Raffin, as his "mistress" (she wears glasses throughout the entire film just so she can remove them for dramatic effect in an especially tedious scene), and Sandy Dennis as his "wife" (she only appears in one room in the entire film, leading me to believe that she was either on house arrest for starring in Speilberg's made-for-TV Something Evil a few years before or too drunk to make it out of the house -- I know which I would have been) drive most of the "discovery" plot along, although it's the incomparable Sylvia Sidney (most know her from Beetlejuice and Mars Attacks), as his long-lost mother, who puts the final pieces in the puzzle. Peter faces off with his nemesis, a faceless blonde hippy-dippy cult leader who walks around Manhattan barefoot (this was the most horrifying part of the film for me -- I see people in flip-flops step in subway puddles and imagine disease-ridden stumps where their feet once were), who may be his long-lost brother, may be an alien, may be the Antichrist, and may be a woman. In short, it's Carson Kressley.

Now, I really don't mean to pick on Carson, Kyan, the little one, or the two I can't tell apart -- they are all very entertaining and seem to know their shit pretty well. But the phenomenon which they have spawned is seriously like something out of a mass-hysteria cult film. I was passing by an appearance of theirs at Virgin Megastore a few months ago, and literally hundreds of straight women and their beaus were lined up outside, just itching for Carson to insult them, or Kyan to zhuzh their hair just right, or Jai to scrunch up his face in the way that makes him so indespensible to the team. The rabid crowd of devoted yuppies was like something from an ad for Modern Worship music on Pax, only with cute, moisturized men on stage instead of "handsome" women with guitars. Is this the Jonestown of today? If Ted made the Kool-Aid with Splenda and fresh pomegranite, would you drink it?

It's weird when my aunt, a dental assistant in central Illinois, quotes Queer Eye to me at Christmas dinner (not to mention that the quote she used included the terms "hooker" and "New Jersey", neither of which I had ever heard her utter before). It's really tantamount to her climbing a belltower with a high-powered rifle and picking off midwesterners; actually, it's even stranger. Not that I can blame her, mind you -- as in God Told Me To, the draw of the Savior is strong. In the film, the messianic figure -- whose face no one can seem to remember but whose long, golden locks are mentioned more times than in your average Breck commercial -- is revealed to be the product of a virgin birth (hmmm. Virgin Megastore....) and was, upon his arrival into the world, of indeterminate gender. I won't stoop so low as to imply that Carson could be mistaken for a woman, but if the hooker boot fits....

So anyway, back to the movie: Peter is a mess (a religious mess, on top of it -- not a pretty picture), his mistress has bad eyesight, and his Mom, Juno the Caseworker, is holed up in a Long Island rest home. Sidney's scene is really the centerpiece of the film, for good reason: she reveals the crucial plot point that she, too, had a virgin birth, and that before her pregnancy she was abducted by aliens. Now, considering that this is coming out of the mouth of an elderly woman who probably has a favorite chair and thinks that Herbert Hoover speaks to her through her cat, one might take this information with a grain of salt. But Sidney is absolutely entrancing -- so entrancing that when the gleefully lo-fi flashback footage actually shows a prosthetic close-up of her puckering vagina being hypnotized by the alien aura, it's the cinematic equivalent of being slapped in the face with a cold side of beef. I recommend watching it at least 5 times for it really to sink in.

When Peter tracks down who has now been established as being the Anti- to Peter's Christ -- only an alien, of course -- they have a very tender moment of reconciliation when the blonde bombshell invites Peter to mate with his gaping piehole (conveniently located in his abdomen), which he has kept moisturized and supple (hmm. Moisturized...) for this very moment. Needless to say, Peter declines, and kills him instead. When Peter is questioned about why he murdered the man, he looks into the television camera, smiles sweetly, and replies "God told me to." Run credits and take-home tips on grooming, cooking, decorating, style, and... Jai, and end show.

God Told Me To is a very strange movie (even without all these hairbrained Queer Eye parallels), and it's one definitely worth watching. Great character actor appearances (Sidney, Dennis, Andy Kaufman, and others) keep things moving and interesting, and the plot is seriously so bizarre that you'll be more than occupied trying to figure out what the hell is going on. The almost exclusively hand-held photography is gritty and intrusive (the way I like it! Uh...) and some of the scenes are truly first-rate, including a creepy dialogue between Lo Bianco and a man who's just calmly killed his entire family in their pentouse apartment. Fashion and decor queens (if you're still reading) will be aghast at some of the mid-seventies styles, and honestly -- who can resist a film that boasts religious zealots, hermaphrodites, junkies, pimps, killer cops, virgin births, alien abductions, flashbacks, and sucking wounds? The queer element is strangely front and center (the first transgendered messiah, to my knowledge), and combined with smart writing and acting, makes this one worth lending a queer eye.

Rating (out of 5):