Thursday, May 22, 2008

Q - The Winged Serpent (1982)

As a director, Larry Cohen is a heck of a writer. That isn't to discount the quality of the films he's made throughout his career. In fact, from his early blaxploitation efforts (Black Caesar, Hell Up In Harlem) to his eccentric horror films like The Stuff and God Told Me To Cohen has continued to take interesting ideas and churn out some very solid films. Q - The Winged Serpent came at a high point of Cohen's creativity (and was Roger Corman-like in its ability to come together quickly and overcome a low budget), and some shaky direction and special effects doesn't take away from the film's charm.

After a series of strange rooftop deaths, a police detective (David Carradine) starts to suspect a giant flying creature (brought to life by odd ritual murders) might be responsible. While first scoffed at (particularly by Sergeant Powell, played by Richard Roundtree), evidence of the creature begins to increase, as does it's number of victims. Scummy ex-con Jimmy Quinn (Michael Moriarty) is the only one in the city who knows the location of the serpent's nest, and he tries to use this knowledge to his benefit before the film climaxes with a shootout atop the Chrysler Building.

While the film succeeds because of its snappy script, it also has another secret weapon: Michael Moriarty. Moriarty is absolutely amazing in the film, giving one of the best performances of his distinguished (and sometimes erratic) career as Quinn. He owns the screen whenever he's on it, and his performance gives the film a quirky, fun centre. The scene where Quinn makes his demands to the police commissioner, including a request for a "nixon-like" pardon, is incredible fun and likely the best scene of the film.

The film could use a few more scenes like that, since the side story of the cult skinning willing victims to resurrect the creature drags during the film's second half. David Carradine and Richard Roundtree are fine, but a little bland as combative police officers. Candy Clark has a nice role as Quinn's girlfriend, but this is Moriarty's film through and through.

The special effects are definitely weak, and Cohen admits in the commentary that they were done nearly completely in post production, but they add to the fun nature of the film as a whole. The late stop motion animator Dave Allen (The Howling, Ghostbusters II) worked on the creature's look, and the look is charmingly dated. The gore in the film (which is surprisingly plentiful) looks decent, with a few nasty scenes where a body is skinned being the highlight.

The Blue Underground DVD presents the film in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, and the image quality is certainly a lot better than the muddy VHS I watched as a teenager. This is obviously a low budget film, but the aerial scenes of New York still look wonderful. The score for the film is awesomely melodramatic, with the main theme (which plays on the DVD's main menu) certainly standing out.

The most significant special feature is a feature length commentary from Larry Cohen, moderated by Maniac director William Lustig. The commentary is a treat, with Cohen charmingly recollecting being fired off of the film I, The Jury and moving right into Q with almost no pre-production. His maverick film making style, shooting on the streets of New York without permits, is fascinating and inspiring, and he remembers a lot of detail about the production as a whole. Here's hoping for more Cohen commentaries in the future. Also included are a very fun teaser trailer for the film (Q! IS COMING!), a Larry Cohen bio, and a still/poster gallery. There are also some worthy DVD-ROM features for those interested.

A worthwhile monster film with an amazing central performance, Q is certainly worth a watch to anyone who would consider watching a film called Q - The Winged Serpent in the first place. Some choppy editing and weak special effects can't hold back what is some tremendous entertainment.


Colin said...

This is a movie I've been wavering on seeing for a while now. I love monster flicks, but my only exposure to Cohen's work (God Told Me To) left me lukewarm. Perhaps its due to what you said about Cohen's directing, as I felt the underlying part of the movie was interesting; but the film itself was a confusing mess.

Manos99 said...

I like God Told Me To, but I agree with your criticism completely. Cohen's style means that he shoots incredibly quickly, which can sometimes mean that his plots get a bit convoluted. But, where Q succeeds is that it gives us a central performance to dig our teeth into, and since that plot thread is entertaining and relatively easy to follow (and is separate from the monster itself), it makes the whole film run a lot smoother.
I'd recommend it over God Told Me To, and I think it compares favorably to other monster movie tributes like Tremors.