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Category:    Home > Reviews > Horror > Thriller > Murder > Supernatural > Demonic Possession > Religion > Faith > New Age > God Told Me To (1976, aka Demon/Blue Underground Blu-ray)

God Told Me To (1976, aka Demon/Blue Underground Blu-ray)

Picture: B+ Sound: B Extras: B Film: B

The 1970s was such a great decade for horror films that several major gems have gotten lost in the shuffle and some great filmmakers with them. In the case of some great directors, auteurs like Scorsese, Coppola and Kubrick have become favored over some others who are also excellent filmmakers who were either also auteurs (Alain Resnais, Michael Cimino) or extremely brilliant journeymen whose influence (Bob Clark, John Frankenheimer, John Badham) has often been as strong. Larry Cohen is a great filmmaker who, at his best, has fallen between the two. His It's Alive trilogy is as daring, bold and challenging as Romero's original zombie trilogy and if Q - The Winged Serpent was not attacked for its visual effects as much as it was, people would realize it is one of the best giant monster movies ever made.

The original It's Alive was a huge, surprise hit, playing theaters almost as long a Jaws (though the first year was as a limited independent release that kept building a reputation and Cohen was already known for the great Sci-Fi/Horror TV series The Invaders) so it is no surprise he would try to come up with yet something seemingly familiar, yet totally creepy and original. It's Alive was far from being just another Rosemary's Baby rip-off and God Told Me To (1976, aka Demon) is the boldest entry in the cycle of horror films that included possible demonic possession and forces of supernatural evil quietly arriving to destroy us all. It could go more than a few rounds with The Exorcist and The Omen anytime, yet is long overdue for rediscovery, even with its loyal cult following and strong fan base.

The underrated Tony Lo Bianco is a police detective who becomes the primary investigator when a man starts shooting people from a water tower to death sniper-style for no good reason. The detective risks his life to try and help the man and find out why he has senselessly killed so many people all of the sudden, gets no real answer before he jumps to his death. When more (then) shocking, senseless murders happen, they share the one common denominator that the killers all say 'God told me to'. This especially rubs out Catholic detective the wrong way, who actually goes to church every day.

As he continues to investigate, he starts to realize it is not drugs, brainwashing, hypnotism or a cult, but a force so unique and disturbing that no one would otherwise believe it. However, he is suddenly onto the truth and the results are so sick, twisted and amazing that even you'll be surprised. I can say that even with the several films and TV shows that were at least partly inspired by this underrated masterwork, a remarkable film made on such a small budget that it would be impossible to get it made today at many times the price. Yet, it looks great and often throughout with real character, atmosphere and does partly imitate a documentary style that works to its advantage (Lo Bianco was in Friedkin's French Connection, so the intertextual use of actors starts with him and runs to many veterans, as noted by the late, great Robin Wood in his landmark film book Hollywood - From Vietnam To Reagan And Beyond (reviewed elsewhere on this site), yet the film is so much its own tale of terror in its own world with its own unique density that there is nothing else like it.

It was always oddly chilling and effective, then it turns out it has aged in odd, weird, strange ways that only have increased its power and sense of the bizarre. A then-unknown Andy Kaufmann has a wild turn you'll love, Sandy Dennis and Deborah Raffin (both who also deserve to be better-known) are solid here and the supporting cast that also includes Sylvia Sydney, Sam Levene, Richard Lynch and Mason Adams among others only adds to its atmosphere. I have more to say about this film than usual since I enjoy it so much and its time for serious rediscovery is long overdue, so I'll quit here as not to ruin any more surprises, but God Told Me To is at least a serious genre classic that even exceeds its genre and that is more than enough to put it on your must-see list, especially if you are a serious film fan.

The 1080p 1.85 X 1 digital High Definition image transfer can show the age of the materials used, particularly in the stock footage Cohen used to save money and was more common practice at the time, but is amazing about this transfer is (like Criterion's sadly out of print Man Who Fell To Earth from the same year) is that the larger a screen you see it on, the more detail you see and this deceptively exceptional transfer (the grain is accurate throughout) is as color rich as it is warm and fully realized like a mint film print that was forgotten in an attic and stayed fresh, stable and unfaded for about 40 years!

Director of Photography Paul Glickman, a soon-to-be Cohen veteran who also lensed the infamously bad 1971 Al Adamson howler Dracula Vs. Frankenstein and a few episodes of Roald Dahl's Tales Of the Unexpected, shoots his frames very big screen to make it involving while still managing to create a sense of claustrophobia where applicable. Only one dark shot was problematic, but this is a remarkable 4K scan from the original 35mm camera negative and is up there with the best Criterion, Twilight Time and Arrow UK transfers of late.

The film was a theatrical monophonic release, but the three soundtracks we get here are all upgrades of that sound. Best of the three is the sometimes surprisingly effective DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 7.1 lossless mix that shows off the Frank Cordell music score very well and has the least amount of harmonic distortion and compression ever for the film, making it the best way to hear it. Purists can choose a DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 2.0 lossless Mono mix that is also somewhat cleaned up, but actually masks some of the sounds in its mix. Finally we get a lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 EX mix from the old DVD that lacks the warmth of both DTS-MA versions and has more background noise due to being an older remaster, but some might like it, though it is no match for the DTS 7.1 mix, which is a fine act of sound restoration for an independent production.

Extras include a vintage feature length audio commentary track by Cohen and fellow filmmaker & collaborator William Lustig (they made the underrated Uncle Sam and Maniac Cop together, both reviewed elsewhere on this site as well), Original Theatrical Trailers, TV Spots, Poster & Still Gallery, two vintage interview clips with Cohen and a movie audience (God Told Me To Bone at the New Beverly Q&A and Lincoln Center Q&A) and two interview featurettes: Heaven & Hell On Earth with lead star Tony Lo Bianco and Bloody Good Times with the underrated make-up artist Steve Neill.

- Nicholas Sheffo


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