Oct. 16: Q: The Winged Serpent (1982):
Undeniably the best movie I'92ve ever seen in which the Aztec god Quetzalcoatl terrorizes New York City, director Larry Cohen'92s Q: The Winged Serpent is an outrageously fun flick, full of good writing and performances, that can'92t take itself seriously and invites the audience to have as much fun as the filmmakers did.
In the movie, an incarnation of Quetzalcoatl, the plumed serpent (here portrayed by a stop-motion dragon), is ravaging New York, eating rooftop sunbathers and biting the heads off window washers and construction workers. When blood and body parts begin to rain from the sky, people start to take notice (although why they hadn'92t already noticed the monster flying around in the daytime is beyond me).
The always underrated Cohen regular Michael Moriarty (who was later one of the original stars of Law and Order) stars as Jimmy Quinn, a piano-playing, scat-singing small-time hood who acts as getaway driver for tougher criminals. After a botched diamond heist, Quinn, hiding from the police, stumbles upon the monster'92s nest located inside the spire of the Chrysler Building.
Moriarty gives the film much of its off-kilter energy as he shambles through the movie giving an almost Method performance. Moriarty is remarkably nutty here, just this side of over the top, but somehow exactly right. After Quinn finds the nest of the god, he flips out, like most people would after finding a pile of human remains and a man-sized egg. Later, he realizes how valuable this knowledge is, saying he'92s the '93most important man in New York City,'94 though he turns into a rather big jerk when given any power, reveling in his newfound importance and trying to extort money from the police in exchange for showing them the nest.
The rest of the ensemble cast is terrific as well. David Carradine plays a sardonic police detective investigating the mayhem, who eventually accepts the idea of a giant, flying serpent picking people off rooftops. Richard Roundtree (Shaft) plays an angry detective investigating a string of ritual murders perhaps committed by a cult aiming to bring about the return of the monster.
Besides Moriarty, most of the reason the movie distinguishes itself from most low-budget exploitation crap is writer/director Cohen, sort of the Sam Fuller of his time, who made gritty, freewheeling genre pictures outside the studio system and always turned out something interesting. Cohen started out making blaxploitation films such as Black Caesar and Hell Up in Harlem before hitting it big in the horror genre in 1974 with It'92s Alive, the story of a couple that has a mutant, homicidal baby.
After that film was a success, Cohen made a string of quality horror films that always seemed to have something on their minds beside merely scaring you. There'92s the environmental message of It'92s Alive (pollution mutated the baby), the religious fanaticism of God Told Me To and the anti-consumerist message of The Stuff. But the movies never feel like they'92re hectoring you; far from it. Cohen usually takes wild premises, like Q'92s, and makes really fun flicks out of them. And even when his movies were mindless larks like this one, Cohen always wrote scripts that provided humor and realistic characters that set them apart from the pack.
Q: The Winged Serpent has it all. If you'92re yearning for a little exploitation-movie nonsense, some good acting or tongue-in-cheek humor, or maybe all of them at once, then check it out.
If you liked this, then check out:
'97'a0'a0'a0 It'92s Alive (1974): Larry Cohen'92s first horror film, it'92s got a mutant killer infant, the parents who don'92t know if they want to kill it or not, and a terrific score from Bernard Herrmann.
'97'a0'a0'a0 God Told Me To (1976): More from Cohen, this time a creepy little film about a police detective (Tony Lo Bianco) investigating a string of murders committed by seemingly normal people who, when asked why they did it, say, '93God told me to,'94 then kill themselves.
'97'a0'a0'a0 The Stuff (1985): Even more blatantly comedic than Q: The Winged Serpent, this Cohen film is about the gooey white dessert sensation known as the Stuff that'92s taking the country by storm. It tastes great, but when you eat it the Stuff takes over your brain. Only Michael Moriarty and a 10-year-old kid can stop it!