Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB
USA, 1976. Larco Productions. Screenplay by Larry Cohen. Cinematography by Paul Glickman. Produced by Larry Cohen. Music by Frank Cordell. Costume Design by Halston. Film Editing by Michael D. Corey, Arthur Mandelberg, William J. Waters.
Larry Cohen’s follow-up to his cult classic It’s Alive starts with a magnificent opening and an intriguing premise. The police try to stop a mad man who is randomly shooting people from high atop a tower with an assault rifle, and detective Tony Lo Bianco is sent in to negotiate. It ends badly, but not before the killer tells him that he committed this act because the man above instructed him to do it. Lo Bianco is haunted by nightmares about the incident while dealing with his girlfriend Deborah Raffin’s frustration with their living situation, she believes he won’t marry her because his estranged wife (Sandy Dennis) won’t give him a divorce but it’s actually because he’s secretly obsessed with his Catholic faith and is spending all his free time in church. When more mass murders begin to occur around New York and they all end with the culprits also saying that they were commanded by God, Lo Bianco starts looking into the cases and discovers that each killer was friends with a mysterious man described as having long blond hair and a very persuasive manner. The search he goes on takes him into a magnificently bold realm of virgin births and alien inseminations, at one point involving a very memorable interview with Sylvia Sidney, and eventually our protagonist inadvertently begins looking into his own mysterious history and origins. What started out as a creepy, crafty detective story that combines elements of Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist loses a lot of its steam by the time it becomes obsessed with the personal details of Lo Bianco’s own biography, which instead of answering questions feels like it’s covering up for other unanswered details that were set up at the beginning (like who the evil force actually is, what their purpose is in promoting violence, and why they have a cabal of businessmen working for them). Beautifully shot, though, and the cast is terrific.