He has a vagina on his stomach. I repeat: he has a vagina on his stomach.
Troubled New York City police detective Tony Lo Bianco makes this unintentionally hilarious discovery near the end of God Told Me To, a bizarre, disjointed and sometimes incredibly silly affair with a bit more ambition than your typical 70s horror movie. Sadly, it is far from terrifying nor completely coherent. In fact, it’s an uneven, screwy mess.
When the movie begins, Lo Bianco is called to the roof of a water tower where a young 22-year-old man has been picking off unsuspecting citizens with a scope rifle causing a colossal panic. (Because it’s so poorly directed and filmed, there are more laughs than chills here, not to mention inconsistent blood effects). He kills 15 in all.
The remarkably calm Lo Bianco bravely climbs up a ladder to talk to the equally calm mass murderer to get some answers and hopefully convince him to surrender. When he asks him directly why he did it, the man simply says, “God told me to.” Then, the shooter jumps to his death much to Lo Bianco’s absolute horror.
Completely stymied by this, Lo Bianco just can’t let it go. (He visits another killer in the hospital who gives the same reason for his actions before he, too, breathes his last breath.) While at the police station, he gets a tip from a mysterious whistleblower. An unidentified police officer is going to start shooting people in the annual St. Patrick’s Day parade which is just about to start. There’s no time to delay it but after warning one of his initially skeptical superiors at the parade site, cops on the scene are advised to keep an eye out.
To no avail. Out of nowhere, Officer Andy Kaufman (in his first on-screen appearance) starts blasting away indiscriminately. Just before he croaks, when asked why he initiated this sudden frenzy of violence, he explains, “God told me to.” (Actually, writer/producer/director Larry Cohen says the line. It had to be dubbed because an unmiked Kaufman was only mouthing the words.)
Later on, Lo Bianco speaks with a man who has just murdered his wife and two young kids (a son & a daughter) in his own residence. He feels neither pity nor remorse. In fact, he expresses a perverse pleasure for his actions. He thinks he did a good thing. Incredibly, he could not be in a more zen state. Once again, when asked for his motives, he replies, “God told me to.” Deeper into this gentle in-home interrogation, however, the usually even-tempered Lo Bianco, in a rare moment of uncharacteristic anger, suddenly flips out on him before his fellow officers take the killer away in handcuffs. (Curiously, this particular shooter doesn’t die. In fact, we never see or hear about him again.)
Unable to convince his superiors that all of these sudden mass killings are the result of divine intervention, Lo Bianco seeks out a science journalist to report on the “God” connections to the crimes, a key detail the NYPD has kept hidden from the public, as he hopes for an important breakthrough. Once exposed, citizens start panicking in the streets (in a lame low-budget kind of way), the stock market starts to suffer and Lo Bianco is suspended from the force for breaking policy.
Eventually, he learns that “God” is some barefoot, late 60s Bowiesque, longhaired blonde guy with a golden glow, an uncommon ability to control people’s minds for malevolent purposes and yes, a vagina on his stomach. (Instead of striking fear into the audience in his first scene, I laughed at his ridiculous appearance and movement. The vagina deal is even funnier.) When we first meet him, he’s living in the boiler room of an abandoned, decrepit apartment building because he supposedly doesn’t like to be seen in public. (Not true, it turns out. A number of people tell Lo Bianco well before this that they’ve actually seen him around. They just didn’t get a clear view of his face, you know, because of his supposedly blinding complexion. So much for being low-key.)
At any event, Lo Bianco also has his own personal problems to deal with. A devout, true believing Catholic who has never gotten injured his entire life, he’s torn between two women: his long suffering, plain jane wife Sandy Dennis who’s had three miscarriages and still tolerates his occasional pop-in visits & Deborah Raffin, his pretty, exceedingly patient, live-in, bespectacled, substitute teacher girlfriend who wonders not unreasonably when he’s going to finally get a divorce already.
Meanwhile, one of his corrupt colleagues gets stabbed to death by a drug dealer pal he foolishly double crossed (he busted some of his employees because he needed to meet an arrest quota) who then cleverly tries to mislead the police into thinking “God” guided the blade of his knife. Lo Bianco, who stubbornly continues digging despite being temporarily off the force, is the only one who sees through the charade.
The more Lo Bianco uncovers about the origins of “God”, the more insane this story gets. In a flashback, we learn how he was conceived 24 years earlier. It involves a kidnapping, no actual sex, a floating naked woman, a mysterious light, a surprising vagina close-up and a spaceship. It makes for a laughable visual used more than once.
Also peculiar are “God’s” disciples, a bunch of suit-and-tie types who work in some undisclosed high rise doing who knows what. Honestly, what purpose do they actually serve beyond getting a head’s up from “God” himself when another mass shooting will take place? What exactly do they get out of this deal? Immunity? (Guess that doesn’t apply to the old sweaty guy.)
Lo Bianco starts to embrace who he really is (there’s a very good reason he has lived a pain-free existence) while meeting with Sylvia Sidney, an old virgin in a senior’s house who really, really doesn’t like to be touched and is an important figure in his past.
But back to the stomach vagina. What is the deal with that? “God” was raised as a boy but the doctor who delivered him reports that the child wasn’t really born male or female. When his mother referred to him as her son, he just went along with it. So when did the vagina on his stomach first surface, then? And where the hell’s his dong? On his butt, maybe?
Speaking of “God’s” elusive matriarch, there’s a badly executed sequence where Lo Bianco pays her a visit and instead of having the opportunity to ask her some questions about her son, she comes out of nowhere to attack him with a knife. The apartment stairwell is so poorly lit that the jump scare fails to raise much of anything out of you. (And yes, in case you were wondering, “God told her to”, even though all she manages to get out is “Gah!”)
In the end, “God’s” credibility as an invincible guy with bad intentions and a stomach vagina pretty much falls by the wayside once he gets slapped in the face. His girlish scream just slays me.
This is a truly strange picture not only because it contains more than a few cheesy moments in a wacked out, convoluted, overly mysterious story, but also because it features some surprisingly good acting when you least expect it.
Lo Bianco is instantly likeable as the smart, romantically conflicted (just dump the wife already) & dogged policeman. No matter who he talks to, he is almost always exceedingly professional, never sarcastic nor judgmental. His curiosity about the dark side of human nature makes sense considering his eventual purpose. The only genuine scare in God Told Me To is his final reaction in the very last shot of the film. That is one creepy, penetrating stare.
As for the love triangle plot, it’s harder to accept Deborah Raffin’s attraction and loyalty to the schlubby Lo Bianco than his stubborn refusal to leave Sandy Dennis which is clearly motivated more by guilt than devotion. (It’s clear he doesn’t choose between them because he doesn’t want to hurt anybody, even if only he truly benefits from this awkward arrangement.) Regarding his situation with Raffin, it’s just not a believable relationship to begin with. That said, whenever Raffin and Dennis appear on screen, I didn’t laugh. (Both do what they can in their more straightforward dramatic scenes with Dennis giving the stronger performance.) Then again, they don’t encounter any stomach vaginas which eliminates the potential for unplanned hilarity.
Sylvia Sidney only has one scene but she’s good, too, as the long tormented virgin who has never been the same since being abducted at the 1941 World’s Fair. (The flashback scene, however, is just plain goofy.)
Mike Kellin, who was hilariously awful in Sleepaway Camp, is better here in an otherwise thankless role as Lo Bianco’s boss even though the character is honestly not that swift in the few scenes he appears. His hostility to Lo Bianco’s investigation of the “God” murders is too clichéd to take seriously.
God Told Me To is a real head scratcher. Unlike the far superior Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, it views aliens as hostile god-like beings with purely murderous motives and intellects so superior no human mind can resist their invasive cranial manipulations. And yet, it’s not clear beyond screwing with vulnerable men what their overall goals are. What is the role of the disciples beyond covering up “God’s” criminal acts? Why does he want to cause gun massacres exactly? What is hiding in a shitty apartment supposed to achieve? What’s with all the glowing?
And why the fuck does he have a vagina on his stomach?
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, December 13, 2015