Q: The Winged Serpent
Directed by Larry Cohen
Starring David Carradine, Michael Moriarty, Candy Clark
Review by Jordan
Underrated and largely unknown by those that don’t venture too far into 70’s and 80’s cult Americana (and by the publicist who on the back of the recently released Australian blu-ray stated that he directed Maniac Cop… sorry Bill Lustig), Larry Cohen has proved to be a highly prolific writer of thrillers (Phone Booth, Captivity) but more importantly, a hugely capable director recently recognized as a Master of Horror in Mick Garris’ fantastic series.
Black Caesar (1973), It’s Alive (1974), God Told me To (1976) and The Stuff (1985) are all genre classics, with the chilling and oft-referenced It’s Alive, the tale of a baby with a murderous angry streak, perhaps his most iconic. While It’s Alive is his most renowned though, God Told me To stoicly stands as his most ambitious and challenging, and The Stuff is easily one of the most quotable and enjoyable B-movies of the 80’s; so where does that leave Q: The Winged Serpent? a monster movie in the mold of the most shoddy aspects of the Godzilla franchise? Well, somewhere in the middle…
Pitting a charming detective (the legendary David Carradine), a mousy, unintelligent petty-crook (Michael Morarty, not quite as legendary but immensely watchable) and a giant flying Aztec lizard called Quetzalcoatl (just call it Q, that’s all you’ll have time to say before it tears you apart! the tagline so subtly says), Q: The Winged Serpent was mentioned extensively in Kim Newman’s landmark horror book Nightmare Movies and earns kudos for being one of the only films of its type released at the time, but in hindsight can’t quite cover for its glaring structural deficiencies; despite Moriarty’s esteemed performance.
Any scene in which the stop-motion Q startlingly attacks unsuspecting New Yorkers is a shoddy joy to behold (we get decapitations and mutilations galore), but it’s the moments in between, in which an actual story needs to occur, where Cohen’s monster flick fails. It’s a tad hazy now, but from memory there is plot involving an ancient cult who are ritualistically killing citizens in order to resurrect our titular monster, or something like that, you can probably gather that this isn’t conveyed too cohesively. In fact, as a feature film Q makes very little narrative sense at all… but thankfully it’s authentic metropolitan locals and that almost awards worthy performance (seriously, if his character of Jimmy Quinn was in a Scorsese film he would’ve definitely earned critical praise) by Moriarty rescue it from the scrap-heap and place it in the collection of cult curiosities.
Ultimately, Q: The Winged Serpent’s plot is as hard to understand as Quetzalcoatl is to pronounce, but if you’re looking for some cheesy fun in which two great actors play off each-others strengths, then don’t let that put you off.