Sunday, May 16, 2010

Sunday Matinee: God Told Me To

Seeing as how we seem to be stuck in an endless tapeloop of the 1970s, today's feature presentation is more timely than ever. Larry Cohen's God Told Me To is one of the great grindhouse/drive-in classics that seems to know a lot more than it's saying out loud. His filmography is full of that kind of thing; Cohen made his name with the genetic engineering-themed horror opus, It's Alive.

On the face of it, God Told Me To is a satire on all of those bizarre religious cults of the 70s, many of which popped up out of nowhere, all very well-financed and strangely fully-formed. The sociologists tried to explain them all away as symptoms of a society in flux and of a confused young generation, but I'm not sure even they believed that stuff. Especially when a whole host of Fundamentalist groups sprung up soon after, equally well-financed and fully-formed, using the very same recruitment and indoctrination techniques only on a much larger scale.

But Cohen goes a lot deeper with it all, tapping into a lot of memes familiar to Secret Sun readers: alien identity, androgyny, St. Paddy's Day, Times Square, even ancient astronauts. At the center of it all is a mysterious board of power-brokers similar to the Syndicate in The X-Files. There's also some visual effects (such as they are) that might ring a bell if you've seen The Forgotten and more subtext than you can shake a stick at, if you pay close attention.

Quite a cast for a low-budget drive-in opus, too. Aside from convincing performances from the supporting cast, you have good work from Tony LoBianco, Sandy Dennis, Deborah Raffin and Sylvia Sidney (of Beetlejuice fame). This film also marks the debut of Andy Kaufman in a fascinating cameo role.

So, you have cults, aliens, and 70s-vintage urban malaise, all wrapped up in glorious grindhouse production values. How can you go wrong? Most importantly, I can't shake the feeling that Cohen was telling tales out of school with this one. See if you don't pick on up on that vibe yourself.

Watch the whole thing at Mystic Politics.

Cohen revisited the theme of death over Manhattan in 1982 with Q, short for Quetzalcoatl. Only this time Quetzalcoatl is a pterodactyl who's prayed back into existence. Q is the 17th letter of the alphabet.


  1. I remember those films, "Q" and "It's Alive", how could anyone forget the birthing sequence of "It's Alive", "Q's" setting of New York always reminded me of a homage to 30s "King Kong". I've never seen "God Told Me To", I'll have to look into it. As for the rest, I can't say that the same organizations are funding the same lunatic fringe groups, but nothing surprises me at this point. who knows.

  2. On another note, check out the occult related pins M. Albright wears:

  3. Reminds me a bit of Trancers (low budget, 80's action flick).

  4. A few tangential but possibly interesting connections with Trancers mentioned above. The story is essentially about Tim Thomerson's character, an LA (Angel City in the future) detective, dedicated to killing a cult leader, Whistler, with the psychic power to control other people turning them into zombie killer slaves.

    Trancers was part of an interesting period in science fiction filmmaking in the 80's. It's really not very good, but it definitely grew out of something going on in the creative imagination of the time. The best examples of this kind of film are Robocop, Total Recall, Terminator and The Hidden. Instead of cyberpunk, I'd call this genre of film cyberpulp. Noir and pulp adventures suped up with the 80's tech fetish.

    Thomerson's character, Jack Deth, has to track Whistler into the past (the audience's present, of course) since the cult leader used an experimental drug process to send his consciousness through his genetic bloodline somehow so he could possess an ancestor. Even though this is the first time I think that particular take on time travel is used in film, I think it owes a lot to the famous French SF short La Jetee. Lately, we've seen a version of it in the VG Assassin's Creed.

    Oddly enough, Oliver Stone was going to use the same technique in his remake of Planet of the Apes. In that eventually cancelled project, the human race is inflicted with a plague where children are being born dead. Not only dead, but Benjamin Button-like, they are born as if they aged an entire lifespan in the womb. Only they just die instead of start aging backward.

    Scientists discover that this plague was the result of something done to the human genome in the stone age and someone (Arnold Schwarzenegger was going to play this role) figures out a way to travel through time by transferring one's consciousness into an ancestor.

    There, they discover the world was dominated by a race of very advanced Vedic apes. Apparently these apes want to put an end to the competitive wild humans and devise the plague, but for some reason, it kills them before it affects humans. However, the time traveling (and ancestor possessing) scientists find a woman who is immune to the genetic change, this is "Eve," and save her so that her lineage survives and somehow cures the plague in the future.

    Kinda crazy and confused, but I have to admit that is more interesting that the Tim Burton remake.

    Currently, oddly, the same producer who was with Stone on that failed remake, has just taken over the project from Scott Frank who was essentially rewriting the movie, The Conquest of the Apes. This will be a story of Caesar and a group of genetic engineered servant apes who rise up against their human masters.

    I've always thought that was the best movie primed for a remake, actually. It's interesting to look back on the Planet of the Apes movies, especially Conquest, and see how overt the metaphor for a "Black Revolution" was in those films.

  5. Hi Chris,

    This is off-topic, i know, but i was wondering if you had noticed the mascots for the 2012 London Olympics? They were launched yesterday.

    How quaintly British...