If you’ve had the experience of walking through a video store, Congratulations! You are an adult. Hopefully, despite your many years, you can recall the sensation of being surrounded by movies, ensconced in the possibility of exciting adventures, alien worlds, horrors beyond imagining and side-splitting comedy. Unfortunately these institutions are, for the most part, no more and children today only have the virtual version of this with their Netflix queue which doesn’t come close to the tangible experience. Yes, if only there were some sort of building children could go to that had walls collecting portals into other realms, divided into sections by genre, alphabetized or maybe some other sort of system of arrangement. Nope. No place like that.
But a specific phenomena that occurred in video stores across the country was the multitude of cover art you encountered. Talk to someone who remembers and bring up a movie, show them the poster for it, and you might hear, “Oh yeah, I’d see that all the time but I never picked it up.” You had the revelry, you had the picture in your head of what the film could be that might have been spoiled by actually watching it. I remember seeing the cover to Army of Darkness many many times thinking, “He’s got a chainsaw on his hand. I should see that sometime.” Sure enough I did but on TV, where thankfully I was entertained and the possibilities of a man traveling through time and eventually slipping on a chainsaw were fully lovingly realized.
The hesitation in judging a book by its cover, or VHS by it’s cover art, stemmed from this I think. You didn’t want to ruin it because you had had the experience of the cover art being a vicious lie. What would appear to be a movie so insane, so beyond the pale, capable of frying your brain inside your skull turned out to be a cheap bit of exploitation that made you feel worse for having seen it. A cash grab with a clever tag line.
What I’ve found in the cinema of Larry Cohen is the fulfillment of the promise of all those wonderful covers. It’s Alive is one of my favorite movies, its aesthetic, its grain, its every Sunday Afternoon horror movie I had ever seen growing up. It follows the Val Lewton principle of telling a story that could be told without the horror. And it has one of the best last lines in movie history, one that spins the movie out of the heartbreak of its final moments and turns it right back into B-movie horror land. Hyperbole aside it is the best killer baby movie ever made.
From Q:The Winged Serpent, to The Stuff, to God Told Me To, Cohen had insight into the thrills of a certain kind of horror movie, the kind that leaned more to the fantastical and away from the graphic. One where the concept sounds like the stuff of drive-ins but contains an actual honest to God movie. Specifically God Told Me To.
You should watch this movie. Without ruining it, the movie goes there. It spins out a ludicrous concept to what ends up being a fantastic but also logical conclusion. It fully embraces its bizarre concept and plays it out in a particular flashback that you could site as a precursor to more recent Flaming Lips music videos. You’ll know it when it happens.
B-Movie I use in only the most complimentary sense, essentially the films make something out of very little. The audacity of real guerrilla filmmaking is on display and what a joy it is to behold as you wonder, “How did they get away with staging a shooting at a parade?” Careful editing probably but I wouldn’t put it past this movie or the filmmaker to just run and gun and somehow avoid arrest.
The ironic thing is that the cover to God Told Me To is rather plain. My copy just has lead actor Tony LoBianco’s face on it, I’ve seen it with Andy Kaufman’s face (he’s briefly and unforgettably featured) and then there’s the bible cover with bullet holes. At least I think that’s what it is. Maybe some young artist will take up the challenge and create one of those lovely airbrushed collage style with all the characters in their respective poses, aliens, snipers, possibly the 2nd coming of Christ all dancing under a boldly rendered God Told Me To. I would if I had the means.
But no matter, the movie embodies all of that for me, all the dreams inspired by all those wonderful VHS boxes.