In Larry Cohen’s radical 1976 film God Told Me To , NYPD Detective Peter J. Nicholas (Tony Lo Bianco) has to deal with some heavy shit when a series of ordinary New Yorkers go on senseless killing sprees, claiming that God told them to. His corrupt fellow cops are skeptical, but Nicholas, a shame-ridden closet Catholic who sneaks off to church every morning behind his girlfriend’s back, has a bad feeling that the violence is, in fact, divine in nature.
Who else but Larry Cohen could make a film that posits God as a murderous bastard who wreaks havoc on a turbulent New York City, and features a messiah of sorts with a stigmata-vagina on his side who talks about his “ancestahs”? God or whatever it is communicates through a cadre of twelve Wall Street types, suggesting that he’s learned a thing or two since the last time he came around to earth and got himself killed.
Sandy Dennis plays the wife that Nicholas feels too guilty to divorce, so she woefully haunts their former home in Hempstead or somewhere, making weighty observations as only Sandy Dennis can. Nicholas lives in sin with his girlfriend, also an intelligent woman, who at one point looks into his eyes and says, “It’s somebody else’s turn to play hero.” God Told Me To incorporates formal elements of the police procedural: a police commissioner gives a press conference and the mother of one of the killers is interviewed by a journalist. These documentary-esque perambulations provide a dose of realism which becomes absurd against the background of the extraordinary events taking place.
I won’t divulge the outrageous plot twists that await you, except to say that the film’s climax takes place in a burned-out Bronx tenement and involves a variation on sex between men that would make many a Catholic tremble with sacrilegious excitement.
Andy Kaufman makes his screen debut in God Told Me To as a baby-faced cop marching in the St. Patrick’s Day parade. He starts shooting innocent bystanders right after marching past St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and then he utters his only line in the film: “God Told Me To.”