God Told Me To (4K UHD Review)

  • Reviewed by: Tim Salmons
  • Review Date: Jul 12, 2022
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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God Told Me To (4K UHD Review)

Director

Larry Cohen

Release Date(s)

1976 (July 19, 2022)

Studio(s)

Larco Productions/New World Pictures (Blue Underground)
  • Film/Program Grade: B
  • Video Grade: A-
  • Audio Grade: A+
  • Extras Grade: A

God Told Me To (4K UHD)

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Review

After the success of It’s Alive, Larry Cohen was moving on to other types of nonconformist genre fare—meaning that the films he made within horror and sci-fi contained unorthodox elements but still managed to grab an audiences by the throat. In other words, the Larry Cohen style. Such was the case with God Told Me To, initially released by New World Pictures as Demon. Though the film didn’t do well, it’s been re-appraised by critics and film fans over the years as an overlooked gem. There’s certainly no film like it before or since, particularly because of its narrative turn. Like certain Val Lewton and Henri-Georges Clouzot films before it, you think you’re watching one story, but in reality, another is unfolding and you’re not totally aware of it. The setup gets you into the theater, but by the time the film is over, you’re walking out wondering what in the hell you just watched. Granted that’s a bit much for mainstream audiences, but with the advent of home video wherein the film can be seen multiple times, a complicated yet fascinating work is revealed.

New York City cop Lieutenant Nicholas (Tony Lo Bianco) is called to the scene when a madman with a sniper rifle climbs atop a water tower and fires at random civilians. Attempting to speak to him, the man tells Nicholas “God told me to”, which subsequently leaves him shaken. This information is kept from the public, yet subsequent killings around the city are attributed to the same deity. Meanwhile, Tony is dealing with problems between his girlfriend Casey (Deborah Raffin) and his ex-wife Martha (Sandy Dennis), navigating his feelings about a higher power, and following up on an older case of the possible rape of an elderly woman in her youth (Sylvia Sidney). Tony is eventually led to Bernard Phillips (Richard Lynch), purportedly the “God” in question, which makes him realize that there’s much more to this case than he thought.

God Told Me To is not an entirely smooth experience, at least at the outset. Due to its improvisational nature (with Larry Cohen literally stealing shots from around the city, including the infiltration of a policeman’s parade with a young Andy Kaufman dressed as a murderous cop), much of the film is choppy. Even the score is cut off during scene transitions. We don’t get a real sense of where the story’s going until the first meeting between Nicholas and Phillips. After that, all bets are off. The film evens out with more of a forward momentum, leading to an amazing and jaw-dropping second half. It more than makes up for it, and allows one to re-evaluate what they’ve already seen, which is partly why home video has been kind to the film. Many consider God Told Me To to be one of Larry Cohen’s most thought-provoking films, and with the revelations (no pun intended) that are disclosed during its conclusion, there’s certainly something to that.

God Told Me To was shot by cinematographer Paul Glickman on 35 mm film using Panavision Panaflex cameras and Panavision lenses, finished photochemically, and presented in the aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Blue Underground brings the film to Ultra HD for the first time from a new 4K scan and restoration of the original camera negative, which was finished as a 4K Digital Intermediate and graded for high dynamic range (HDR10 and Dolby Vision options are included). Blue Underground released the film on Blu-ray for the first time in 2015, which was a revelation at the time as the film was presented in much better quality than their previous DVD. By contrast, this 4K Ultra HD might not impress on first glance, but rest assured that this is a very fine upgrade in every category. Detail is sharper, with a fine sheen of well-attenuated grain, improving the finer aspects of clothing and various environments. Also improved is the film’s color palette. Temperatures from scene to scene were not exactly even on the previous Blu-ray. That’s certainly rectified here, with the added benefit of HDR wringing as much nuance out of the palette as possible. Flesh tones are more even and swatches of blue, red, and gold pop off the screen. Even with the additional clarity, the presentation still retains a filmic appearance. Minor and extremely subtle molding is still present if you look closely enough. It’s much more obvious against brighter backgrounds, and though it appears to have been irreparable, most viewers won’t even notice it. Everything is clean and stable with deep blacks, although there are a couple of moments that remain problematic. The scene in which Phillips’ mother attacks Nicholas in the stairwell is so dark that you can hardly make anything out. The subway scene, when Nicholas is nearly pushed over the edge, also appears a bit too dark. However, these scenes are inherently underlit, meaning that no amount of restoration could dramatically improve them. I personally will take a small amount of crush over the grey-ish and unnatural-looking shadows of the previous release (as well as the Blu-ray included with this release).

Audio is included in English Dolby Atmos (7.1 Dolby TrueHD compatible), English 5.1, and mono DTS-HD Master Audio, along with French 2.0 Dolby Digital. Subtitle options include English SDH, French, and Spanish. The Atmos track gives the height channels more to do, but also allows the hustle and bustle of the New York City streets plenty of opportunities for panning and ambient activity. The 5.1 and mono tracks are more compact, but it’s always good to have options. Dialogue exchanges are clear across the three tracks, and each track is clean with no issues.

God Told Me To on 4K Ultra HD sits inside a black amaray case alongside a Blu-ray of the film in 1080p containing the same new restoration, as well as a double-sided insert featuring new artwork on the front and the original God Told Me To Charter Entertainment VHS and promotional poster artwork on the reverse. Everything is housed within a limited embossed slipcover featuring the same new artwork. The following extras are included on each disc:

DISC ONE: UHD

  • Audio Commentary with Larry Cohen and William Lustig
  • Audio Commentary with Steve Mitchell and Troy Howarth
  • God Told Me To Theatrical Trailer (HD – 1:04)
  • God Told Me To TV Spot #1 (HD – :32)
  • God Told Me To TV Spot #2 (HD – :32)
  • God Told Me To TV Spot #3 (HD – :32)
  • God Told Me To TV Spot #4 (HD – :32)
  • God Told Me To TV Spot #5 (HD – :31)
  • Demon Theatrical Trailer (HD – 1:06)
  • Demon TV Spot #1 (HD – :32)
  • Demon TV Spot #2 (HD – :32)

DISC TWO: BD

  • Audio Commentary with Larry Cohen and William Lustig
  • Audio Commentary with Steve Mitchell and Troy Howarth
  • Heaven & Hell on Earth with Tony Lo Bianco (HD – 11:31)
  • Bloody Good Times with Special Effects Artist Steve Neill (HD – 9:12)
  • God Told Me to Bone: New Beverly Q&A with Larry Cohen (SD – 21:21)
  • Lincoln Center Q&A with Larry Cohen (SD – 8:08)
  • God Told Me To Theatrical Trailer (HD – 1:04)
  • God Told Me To TV Spot #1 (HD – :33)
  • God Told Me To TV Spot #2 (HD – :33)
  • God Told Me To TV Spot #3 (HD – :33)
  • God Told Me To TV Spot #4 (HD – :33)
  • God Told Me To TV Spot #5 (HD – :33)
  • Demon Theatrical Trailer (HD – 1:06)
  • Demon TV Spot #1 (HD – :33)
  • Demon TV Spot #2 (HD – :33)
  • Poster & Still Gallery (HD – 55 in all)

First is an excellent audio commentary with Larry Cohen and William Lustig, which was originally included on Blue Underground’s 2003 DVD release. Larry Cohen is in the driver’s seat with William Lustig acting as a moderator and occasional contributor. They discuss Bernard Herrman’s involvement with the film before his untimely passing, shooting without permits, having to acquire a sniper rifle at the last minute, having problems with the original lead (Robert Forster), working with Tony Lo Bianco, almost working with Al Pacino, Andy Kaufman appearing in the film, having real cops as extras, Sylvia Sidney’s involvement, shooting in sepia, the film’s possible influence on The X-Files, using stock footage from Space: 1999, coming up with ideas for the film, possible connections to Unbreakable, getting the production underway cheaply, New World Pictures and distribution problems, difficulties during shooting, Tony Lo Bianco accidentally breaking another actor’s rib during a scene, filming on the fly, Richard Lynch, filming pick-ups, the longevity of films, shooting in the UK, some of Larry's other films involving babies, trying to do different things in traditional genre films, shooting one of the film’s scenes with real drugs, the influence of Val Lewton, Richard Lynch allowing his own scarred body to be the basis for a scene, and the jokingly unproduced “sequel.” The second audio commentary is a new addition, and features King Cohen director Steve Mitchell and author and film historian Troy Howarth. Mitchell does most of the talking for the majority of the film, praising Larry Cohen’s inventiveness as a filmmaker, while also discussing the contents of the film, the cinematography, and the cast and crew. It overlaps a bit with the previous commentary as some of the same information is doled out occasionally, but it makes up for it with Howarth’s and Mitchell’s personal takes on the film.

In Heaven & Hell on Earth, Tony Lo Bianco talks about The Honeymoon Killers, his relationship with Larry Cohen, doing a play while shooting the film, making a film on various locations without permission, his disagreements with Larry, and his final thoughts on the film. In Bloody Good Times, special effects artist Steve Neill speaks about his early influences and getting started in special effects make-up, coming to Hollywood, getting involved with the film thanks to Rick Baker’s recommendation, working on other projects with Larry Cohen, working for tough directors, and being exposed to people in the industry because of Larry Cohen. The two Q&As feature Larry Cohen speaking to audiences at New York’s Lincoln Center in 2002 and at L.A.’s New Beverly Cinema in the early 2010s, the latter before and after a screening of the film. Next are two sets of advertising materials for the initial release of the film with the title Demon and the subsequent re-release with the title God Told Me To, which includes two trailers and seven TV spots total (both trailers are HD re-creations). The Poster & Still Gallery contains 55 stills of posters, lobby cards, newspaper clippings, promotional photos, behind the scenes photos, and home video artwork.

Blue Underground continues their streak with top of the line 4K Ultra HD releases of their catalog, God Told Me To among them. The film has never looked as crisp or colorful on home video, making it an essential purchase for fans.

- Tim Salmons

(You can follow Tim on social media at these links: Twitter and Facebook. And be sure to subscribe to his YouTube channel here.)

 

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