God Told Me To (1976) (a.k.a. Demon)

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God Told Me To (1976) (a.k.a. Demon)

Post  BoG on Mon Sep 29, 2014 7:49 pm

I recommend seeing this one before you know anything about it. Once you've seen it, come on back and beware MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD.

Every critic I've read considers this a tense tightly-crafted B-movie that rises above its low budget and cheap thrills to become a genuinely thought-provoking work of cinematic art. Although I found it somewhat anticlimactic, I concur. The base concept is not wholly original; I think, for example, of classic pulp sci-fi stories where ancient Gods turn out to be aliens, or "A New Beginning" in Weird Science 22 (1953) where two ancient aliens turn out to be Adam and Eve. But up until the X-Files TV series, God Told Me To was the most sustained and serious treatment of it. The murders at first appear to be the work of religious fanatics, but we slowly realize that there is a supernatural power at work, and that this power may have come here from another world. Besides influencing X-Files, the movie seems an obvious influence on Angel Heart (1987).

Cohen is known for his improvisational directorial style and his willingness to revise the script to fit the conditions at the time of shooting. But he seems uncommonly focused in this film. Effective use is made of overhead shots, worm's eye views, glowing colors, and off-kilter shots at unexpected moments. Throughout, there is a very slight shaky-cam effect that adds realism and puts us into the action beside the characters. Many viewers enjoy the images of New York in the 70s - the midtown streets, the checkered cabs, the Harlem pool hall, Broadway at night. The protagonist's girlfriend sports one of the few 70s fashions that still looks good decades later: large thin-rimmed aviator eyeglasses.

Tony Lo Bianca was never a star (see The French Connection for his only other well-known role), but what a wonderful performance here. He is brave and unwavering, serious and honest; and ultimately lapses into rage and disbelief before his mixed triumph at the conclusion. Viewers might wonder why he says what he says at the end. Perhaps he wants to give those who hear him a little healthy fear of God. Or perhaps, in a sense, he means it literally?

Getting the most out of this film means thinking seriously about the questions it raises. Would aliens not appear godlike to us? Would God not appear alien to us? How should God communicate with us if he wanted us to behave ourselves or obey him? Is violence more effective than kindness? Are killings justified if they are religious sacrifices? Should we care about the death of the body if we believe the soul will live on? I was particularly intrigued by the idea that God's most effective way of reaching mankind has been through fear. Indeed, while atheists often make fun of the "comfort" that religion gives us, most religions do in fact involve a lot of fear. The possibility of hell? It's frightening. And just as many religious people are uncomfortable with the idea that God might not exist, so too do atheists fear the possibility that God does exist.

Goldweber, David Elroy (2012-06-14). Claws & Saucers: Science Fiction, Horror, and Fantasy Film: A Complete Guide: 1902-1982 (Kindle Locations 31075-31116). David E. Goldweber. Kindle Edition.
Trivia Told Me:
Wikipedia wrote:Andy Kaufman appears as a possessed policeman who goes on a shooting rampage at the Saint Patrick's Day parade — it was Kaufman's first role in any film, and the same footage was later used for the finale of a documentary called The Passion of Andy Kaufman, in a segment called "Thus Spake Zarathustra", with music by Eumir Deodato. Sylvia Sidney appears as the detective's traumatized mother.
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