A quirkier-than-average monster mash from writer/producer/director Larry Cohen, one of the genre’s most singular talents. With its endearingly nutty story—about a giant flying critter nesting in NYC’s Chrysler building—and endearingly tacky special effects, this is a monster movie in the classic American International Pictures mold (and no surprise, as AIP co-founder Sam Arkoff was one of the film’s backers) but graced with a gritty depiction of NYC lowlife. It’s MEAN STREETS meets THE GIANT CLAW!
Although his filmography is wildly uneven, Larry Cohen remains one of the industry’s most vital and interesting filmmakers. Since his feature debut with 1972’s black comedy BONE, Cohen has made horror movies (IT’S ALIVE), historical dramas (THE PRIVATE FILES OF J. EDGAR HOOVER), crime flicks (BLACK CAESAR) and at least one movie that encompasses all the above (GOD TOLD ME TO, his finest work IMHO). Q—THE WINGED SERPENT was, like nearly all his work, burdened with an extremely low budget. The year was 1982 and Cohen had just been fired as director of I, THE JURY; in true Larry Cohen fashion, Q was conceived and put into production in just one week (Cohen: “The more preparation there was, the more went wrong”), with quite a few stolen locations and an impressive cast that included David Carradine, Michael Moriarty, Candy Clark and Richard Roundtree.
Another talent of note was the late Samuel Arkoff, who supplied a portion of Q’s budget and certainly must have had some say in its production and (especially) distribution. The movie’s irresistibly hyperbolic tagline “Just call it Q…that’s all you’ll be able to say before it tears you apart!” sounds like pure Samuel Arkoff to me. But let’s hear what Arkoff himself said about the picture in a conversation with critic Rex Reed, who reportedly singled out “that great method performance by Michael Moriarty, right in the middle of all that dreck!” “Why thank you,” Arkoff is said to have replied, “the dreck was my idea!”
Something is terrorizing the skies of New York City , ripping unsuspecting people’s limbs off and dropping ‘em in the streets. This clearly has something to do with a series of sacrificial killings plaguing the city, investigated by the dogged Detective Shepard. There’s also Jimmy Quinn, a petty crook looking to rob a jewelry store; on the run from his criminal comrades, Jimmy climbs to the top of the Chrysler Building where he discovers a giant nest. Ever opportunistic, Jimmy Q. lures his “friends” to the area so they can get chomped by the hungry flying critter, who is in fact the Aztec God Quetzalcoatl (though actually a garden variety flying serpent summoned by the ritual killings). Jimmy blackmails city officials into giving him a pardon (“Didn’t Ford pardon Nixon?” he asks) and a ton of money in exchange for leading them to the monster. With the indomitable Shepard in command, the cops manage to machine gun “Q” out of the sky, but the creature has laid a giant egg elsewhere that’s about to crack…
Larry Cohen was always a better screenwriter than he was a director, and that’s definitely the case here. While Cohen’s script is witty and imaginative, and cleverly imparts quite a few intriguing ideas about religion and exploitation, his filmmaking is erratically paced and cluttered. As par the above Rex Reed quote, Michael Moriarty is quite impressive in the lead role, but with his jittery mannerisms and obviously improvised chatter he seems to be acting in a John Cassavettes film rather than the B-movie inhabited by the rest of the cast.
Cohen’s direction also suffers from his extremely low budget, which is evident throughout, particularly in the special effects. Then again, cheesy special effects are par the course for most monster movies—most good ones, anyway. Call me a snob, but I’ll take Q—THE WINGED SERPENT over Roland Emmerich’s GODZILLA (which FYI blatantly rips off Q’s final shot) or VAN HELSING any day.
Q-THE WINGED SERPENT
Director/Producer/Screenplay: Larry Cohen
Cinematography: Fred Murphy
Editing: Armond Lebowitz
Cast: Michael Moriarty, David Carradine, Richard Roundtree, Candy Clarke, James Dixon, Malachy McCourt, Fred J. Scollay, Peter Hock, Ron Cey, Mary Louise Weller, Bruce Carradine, John Capodice, Tony Page, Larkin Ford, Larry Pine