Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: To celebrate the return of Veronica Mars, we dig up some other unconventional detective stories.
God Told Me To (1976)
On a sunny afternoon in New York City, pedestrians begin dropping like flies, a hellfire of bullets striking them down from above. Before taking a suicidal plunge off his water-tower perch, the sniper calmly informs NYC detective Peter Nicholas (Tony Lo Bianco) of his motive for this senseless crime: “God told me to.” A guilty Catholic worthy of a Scorsese movie, Nicholas is shaken by the killer’s confession—especially when other seemingly ordinary, adjusted citizens start following suit, attributing their unrelated rampages to the same holy imperative.
B-movie maverick Larry Cohen (It’s Alive) spent much of the ’70s and ’80s blending elements of science fiction, horror, and the police procedural into idiosyncratic schlock. But God Told Me To may be his most bonkers creation, a crime thriller that gets more outlandish the deeper its hero gets into his investigation. Cult connoisseurs will be in heaven, but the film has more to offer than transgressive weirdness. Cohen, who writes more often than he directs these days, had a real knack for capturing the flavor of the city. This is a great New York film, full of seedy scenery and populated by a stable of eccentric bit players. (Andy Kaufman, in his first big-screen appearance, plays a cop who goes berserk during a parade.) Ambitious in scale despite its modest budget, God Told Me To also established Cohen’s talent for getting a lot of bang for his limited buck. As a film about faith, it’s pure hooey, but it’s hooey with a provocative edge. What could be scarier, Cohen asks, than the dawning realization that the voices in the heads of the deranged are all coming from the same divine source? And he’s a got a plan for you, too.
Availability: God Told Me To is available on DVD, which can be obtained through Netflix.