By C.K. Chandler (Ballantine; 1976)
Larry Cohen’s GOD TOLD ME TO is one of my favorite crazy movies, a thought-provoking exploration of religious mania filtered through a nutty sci-fi framework. The film is so fascinating I was moved to seek out this novelization, which given its source material simply cannot be uninteresting.
Interesting the book is, it turns out, even if it plays fast and loose with Cohen’s screenplay–it’s possible that author C.K. Chandler may have worked from an unused draft of the script, because much is different from the finished film.
If you’ve seen the flick you’ll recall it opens with an unforgettable sequence in which a man embarks on a shooting rampage atop a New York City tower. Chandler relates the event entirely through flashbacks experienced by Peter Nicholas, the detective who tries to talk the shooter down–only to have the nut plummet to his death after claiming that “God Told Me To.”
More inexplicable crimes plague the city, with the various perpetrators all giving those same four words as explanation. After much detective work on the part of Peter and his cohorts, the killings are traced to a mysterious figure who it seems was born a hermaphrodite–and to the figure’s mother, who claims to have been impregnated by aliens.
The individual in question is indeed a product of extraterrestrial insemination, and has powers equal to those of Christ himself. This particular messiah, however, is a monster who exhorts his followers to commit horrific acts of murder. But then again, isn’t that consistent with the god of the old testament, a jealous, vindictive figure who regularly struck down those he didn’t like and was responsible for all manner of catastrophe?
Such provocative queries preoccupy Larry Cohen’s film, and my biggest concern about this novelization was that it would ignore or sanitize them. I’m pleased then to report that C.K. Chandler tackles those queries head-on, along with many other potentially “difficult” elements–like for instance the narrative itself, which grows increasingly unhinged in its succession of loony twists. Peter, you see, eventually discovers that he’s related to the alien messiah, who, being a hermaphrodite, wants to mate with Peter using one of its sexual organs.
Let’s not forget, though, that this is a movie novelization, with all the problems that implies. There’s much crude writing engendered by a severely cramped schedule (I’ve heard the average timeline granted writers of novelizations is around five weeks). But the author clearly tried to lend as much depth as he could, with solid characterizations and a fair amount of research. The book as a result is above average for a novelization, although it can never hope to supplant the movie on which it was based.