God Told Me To Upgrade

You might've noticed I'm a bit of a Larry Cohen fan by now, and once I read that Blue Underground had created a bunch of new features for their blu-ray of one of Cohen's most out-there features, I was already on board. I've owned the old Charter VHS tape of God Told Me To, upgraded to Blue Underground's 2003 DVD, and as of yesterday morning, I've upgraded to their new blu-ray edition. An HD upgrade would be pretty sweet for such an off the beaten path flick as this already, but I wasn't expecting to flip the case over and read "brand-new 4k High-Definition transfer from the original uncensored negative." 4k, what is this, Ghostbusters? I know they did it for the Maniac Cop sequels, which were incredible releases; but I figured sure, for Lustig's own films... but now here it is, a brand new 4k scan of God Told Me To!

Update 2/28/15 - 7/21/22: Since BU started upgrading their catalog to UHD, and they'd already restored the film from the OCN in 4k, we knew it was only a matter of time before a third edition landed.  But that's a good thing, 'cause I love this film.  So today we take a look at their brand new 4k Ultra HD/ 1080p BD combo pack.
God Told Me To is one weird film... It may not be Cohen's weirdest - I think that title still goes to The Stuff - but that film was more of a silly romp. This is equally weird, but also pretty grim and disturbing. Tony Lo Bianco is a New York police detective who finds himself investigating a series of heartless murders seemingly commuted at random by disparate, everyday people. A man with a sniper rifle starts shooting people on the street from a rooftop, another man murders his wife and small children in their apartment - all played in a straight-forward, realistic manner. The only connection between the killers is that they all claim "God told me to."

Well, I'm not going to give away what turns out to be behind the killings, but I guarantee you'd never guess where this film is going unless someone spoiled it for you. It goes in some wild, creative directions, that just barely hold together by the strength of Cohen's writing. Some great supporting actors really help bolster the proceedings too, including the instantly memorable Richard Lynch, a harrowing turn by Who's Afraid of Virgina Woolf's Sandy Dennis, Cohen stalwart James Dixon and a small, surprisingly non-comic role by Andy Kaufman. I'd put this right alongside the very best of Cohen's work, but if you're expecting a light-hearted thriller along the lines of The Ambulance or Devil's Advocate, let alone a screwball comedy like Full Moon High, prepare yourself for a very different experience.
1) 2003 DVD; 2) 2015 BD; 3) 2022 BD; 4) 2022 UHD.
It's interesting going from Blue Underground to Blue Underground to Blue Underground.  Their DVD was already an excellent release, but the movie really feels alive now. The framing is pretty identical, just expanding ever so slightly from 1.83 (the DVD) to 1.85:1 (all the rest).  And while the colors are vivid in all versions, they do shift, looking a little more natural on the 2015 blu than the yellower DVD or the greener 2022 versions. Oh yes, I have to point out that the 1080p BD included with the UHD also includes the new 4k restoration, which is different than the 2015 4k restoration.  That includes not only the re-timed colors, but the framing has shifted ever so slightly, down and to the left.  And of course the real benefit of the 2022 version is all about the boost in resolution.
ltr: 2003 DVD; 2015 BD; 2022 BD; 2022 UHD.
The old blu already looked pretty sweet.  Grain was strong and untouched, and it's all so much clearer and free of digital artifacting compared to the DVD.  But the encode and grain capture is even stronger on the new blu, really zeroing in on final detail and giving it an even less digital look (look at the line of his jacket against his white collar, for instance).  And of course it's even tighter and the most photo realistic of all on the UHD, with finer curves and more nuance in the shading.  Check out the bridge of his nose or the edges of his collar.  Of course, it's a lot less obvious just watching it on your television without zooming in like this, but you do feel how much more vivid and lifelike the image is. 

Now, the 2015 blu gives us three choices in the audio department: 7.1 DTS HD, 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround EX and the original mono track in DTS-HD for us purists. There are also optional English, French and Spanish subtitles. The DVD was already pretty rich with audio options (four, not counting the commentary), but the subtitle options were brand new. The UHD is the same as the blu except the 7.1 is now Dolby Atmos and they've added a French dub (DTS-HD, mono).
And how about those new extras? The original DVD had an excellent commentary with Larry Cohen and William Lustig, where they had a great back and forth yet imparted a lot of info, and that's been ported over here. Hidden as an Easter egg was also a brief Q&A with Larry Cohen at a NY film festival, which has been carried over and unhidden. The DVD was already pretty loaded with trailers. It had the original theatrical trailer, plus seven TV spots, including two which sell the film under the alternative title of Demon. But the blu goes even a bit further, including all seven spots, the trailer, plus another full theatrical trailer which uses the Demon title. Both discs also share a poster and stills gallery.  But that's about all the DVD had. Loved the commentary, and the Easter egg was a nice touch; but it still didn't quite feel like a special edition. Well, they fixed that with the blu-ray. First there's an all new, and very charming 20+ minute Q&A sessions with Larry Cohen, where he's full of great anecdotes. There's also a new interview with special effects artist Steve Neill who got his start on this film and wound up working with Larry for a whole bunch of films, and he talks about all of them. Finally, there's another interview with the star, Tony Lo Bianco, who shows a real appreciation for this bizarre entry in his resume, except for one particular scene.

And the new UHD hangs onto all of that.  It also adds a new expert audio commentary by Troy Howarth and Steve Mitchell, director of King Cohen.  And it's... fine.  They spend a lot of time repeating Cohen's commentary practically verbatim, especially at the start.  In both commentaries they introduce themselves, talk about how they NY exterior shots were stolen, comment on the impressive falls taken by non-stuntmen, tell the very long and involved story of how a PA lost the rifle for the big water tower scene and how the unlikely way they replaced it (right down the specific quotations in their on-set exchange), then point out the helicopter and how Bianco was scared of heights and didn't want to be on that ladder.  For the first fifteen or twenty minutes, I was just sitting there thinking, "doesn't anybody involved with this give a shit at all?"  Even if the two hosts were just like, "hey, you pay us to come in and talk about a movie, we come in and talk.  It's not our worry if you already have all this on the other track," you'd think the folks at BU who commissioned it would've said something.  ...But, further into the film, Howarth starts interviewing Mitchell as a Cohen expert, getting him to open up about his personal experiences with Cohen and give a little analysis.  They still point out all the same character actors and read out all their same IMDB credits as the other commentary, but there's a decent chunk of new content in the mix.

The new UHD also includes reversible artwork and comes in a slipcover.
This is a terrific, underrated little movie, and it's living out a best case scenario on home video.  There's no question the UHD is now the definitive top-of-the-line release, but if you're living with a small or mid-sized screen, the 2015 BD may've been awesome enough.  It takes a good set-up to really get the value out of the jump to Ultra HD, and while it was kinda nice to get the new commentary, it's definitely not worth triple-dipping just for that.  But if you're really built for 4k, the 2022 is undeniably the way to go.

No comments:

Post a Comment