Welcome to my column dedicated to the appreciation of physical media supplements called: Feature Presentations. The goal of this column is not to say whether a film is good or bad and worth picking up or not—I would like to highlight the discs that go the extra mile and provide film fans with enough tasty tidbits to satisfy even the hungriest of cinephiles. With all that out of the way, today’s article will focus on Blue Underground‘s release of God Told Me To.
Where to start with Larry Cohen? There was, and never will be, another writer or director quite like him. The man listened and understood how people talked—filling his quirky characters with dialogue unlike anyone else. And he wasn’t just a master of dialogue—no, sir, he was able to conjure film topics galore. Whether it’s a monster living in the Chrysler Building in Q: The Winged Serpent, consumerist satire with The Stuff, or killer babies on the loose with the It’s Alive trilogy, the man knew how to write a script.
One of his earliest efforts, a film I was aware of but had yet to check out, is the religious horror film God Told Me To. Overall, I like Larry Cohen’s films, and this is no exception, but there is a craziness in the plot structure that can rub people the wrong way. While it would take me many words and pages to describe the entirety of the movie, the basics revolve around people in New York City killing others; when confronted about their actions, their response is the film’s title. There’s a lot more to it than that. Part of the fun is watching where Larry Cohen takes the film, delving deeper and crazier into the kookiest areas of Cohen’s creative constructs.
What might have been a forgotten film from a legendary director gets the A-List treatment courtesy of Blue Underground. The package features two discs: a 4K UHD and a Blu-ray. As expected with Blue Underground, the Blu-ray looks great, while the 4K disc looks immaculate.
The bulk of the supplemental material resides on the Blu-ray disc. The first feature is a 12-minute interview from 2015 with star Tony Lo Bianco titled “Heaven & Hell On Earth.” Lo Bianco talks about enjoying Cohen’s “one-man-band-style” of filmmaking and how he met the writer/director. Lo Bianco recalls the unusual production style Cohen employs including bribery of the “local muscle” who ran Little Italy and the director’s understanding of bringing a film in on time and on budget. Lo Bianco speaks positively about his time in the film’s production sans a close-up of a woman’s vagina (it makes some sense within the context of the film).
The second interview, “Bloody Good Times,” is a nine-minute interview with Special Effects Artist Steve Neill. Neill talks about how he came to begin working in special effects, starting in Hollywood, and how he came to meet with Larry Cohen. While brief on his work with God Told Me To, Neill makes for an engaging interviewee as he talks about his productions with Larry Cohen outside the 1976 film.
“God Told Me To Bone” is a 21 minutes question and answer feature with Larry Cohen at the New Beverly. As always, Larry Cohen is quite the character, and this feature exemplifies what we already know about the director. “God Told Me To Bone” begins with Cohen introducing the film to a crowd of filmgoers—dispensing about working with Andy Kaufman and the trouble with filming the opening scene with a sniper.
Afterward, Cohen conducts a q&a with those in attendance. Cohen talks about the difficulty of shooting the St. Patrick’s Day sequence, firing Robert Forster over the actor’s gum-chewing habit, and discusses his history with composer Bernard Hermann. A line Cohen drops regarding Hermann and The Exorcist is a show-stopper. As Cohen is no longer with us, it’s always a treat to hear him speak, and “God Told Me To Bone” is a welcome addition.
Blue Underground includes a second, eight-minute question and answer at the Lincoln Center in 2002. The quality for this 20-year-old feature is not the best, but Cohen talks about the documentary-style aspect he added to the film, with every shot conducted via handheld cameras. Most of the information Cohen dispenses on God Told Me To is found elsewhere. Yet, having additional Cohen discussions is always welcome.
Blue Underground also includes marketing materials in an unusual fashion. When the film can out under God Told Me To, it flopped. A reissue of the film, under the title Demon, followed. The features on the disc break out the advertising under each title. Under the God Told Me To advertising, Blue Underground includes one theatrical trailer and five thirty-second TV spots. The Demon advertising has one theatrical trailer and two thirty-second television spots. The marketing features include a poster and still gallery including: posters under both titles, the press kit, behind-the-scenes photos, and publicity shots.
The disc also comes with two feature-length audio commentaries, one with Larry Cohen and a second with Steve Mitchell, director of King Cohen, and film historian Troy Howarth.
The audio commentary with Larry Cohen is an archival track from March 2003 and features William Lustig. Cohen talks about how the film came to be, including discussing how he was able to get complicated shots within New York City. The gum-chewing of Robert Forster reemerges before Cohen talks about how he and Forster put their differences aside and became friends afterward. Cohen talks about how a script of this ilk came to be—a spec script, written in the vein of a superhero idea similar to Superman, comparing God Told Me To with Unbreakable. Among other details Cohen offers is his time with Andy Kaufman, guerilla filmmaking, and using real heroin for a drug deal scene. Cohen is a character and engaging, which is a perfect way of describing this commentary.
The second commentary, recorded recently, covers some of the topics found elsewhere on the disc. As the participants recount tales of Larry Cohen and the film’s production, it’s entertaining to hear them audibly discuss the audacity at the lengths Cohen goes through to get production value on the film. Howarth and Mitchell delve into the lack of nudity and sexuality within his films—finding that while God Told Me To is one of the few movies that breaks that mold, though ascertaining that it’s not gratuitous. More topics include additional detail about Robert Forster, the mood Cohen places on the film, and recounting stories about composers Bernard Hermann and Elmer Bernstein.
Both commentaries do their job and offer plenty of information from the first to the last scene. Cohen’s track dives into the making of the film and the production, while the Howarth/Mitchell track leans a bit heavier towards Cohen, the person. Each is welcome, and they complement each other nicely, even if there is an overlap in information.
As mentioned, the Blu-ray holds the bulk of the bonus features, while the 4K disc contains the two commentary tracks and the trailers and TV spots.
And there you have it! If you enjoy the works of Larry Cohen, God Told Me To is a no-brainer of a pick-up. Those unfamiliar with the film or Cohen’s movies might be better off finding a cheaper alternative to check out the movie first to ensure this quirky film is something you want to add to your collection. If God Told Me To strikes your fancy, there is no better edition than the 4K release from Blue Underground.