Reviewed by Patrick Cooper: You know what would be cool? A movie about a giant winged lizard that tears apart citizens of a major metropolitan city. It’s tough to tell from the promotional art, but Q the Winged Serpent is not that movie. Or at least, it’s much more juicy than it appears on the surface. Written and directed by prolific B-movie legend Larry Cohen, Q focuses on the rise and fall of a petty criminal believably portrayed by Michael Moriarty. And it’s about human sacrifice rites. There just happens to be a Mesoamerican serpent deity caught up in the mix.
This small time hood, Jimmy Quinn, is the only one in Manhattan who knows where the murderous serpent is nesting. He stumbles into its nest while fleeing a botched robbery. David Carradine and Shaft play the cops investigating a series of what appear to be human sacrifices – flayed skin, beheadings… the usual. They’re also taxed with the painful task of babysitting Quinn and getting him to squawk about the serpent’s location. It’s not so easy lassoing the man’s unearned ego.
Moriarty worked with Cohen a bunch of times and his portrayal of Quinn is easily their greatest creation. He’s a sweaty, self-serving ball of ambition that winds up too clever for his own good. As far as petty crooks go, he’s a pretty complex guy. He reminds me a lot of the classic noir anti-hero who’s consumed by the fast buck but is doomed by his own shortcomings. In Quinn’s case, it’s his ego that seals his fate. When journalists barrage him, he jumps in front of their flashbulbs like a real hero would a bullet. He’s also got an anxious, really nervous side that peeks out a lot. While he may come off as a goof, keep in mind he does manage to outwit his criminal cohorts and extort a million from the city of New York. That’s hard shit, man.
As Quinn burrows his way through the city, dodging the fuzz and a giant lizard, the two dicks Carradine and Shaft are on the human sacrifice case. This is the cool procedural aspect to Q that involves snooping around museums and questioning scholars. Turns out some manic clown is sacrificing poor saps to summon Q, who in turn is feasting on sunbathers and window washers. All of the plot points mentioned so far could fill up three movies, but Cohen gives it to us in one ambitious, gritty NYC movie mashup.
We don’t see a lot of the serpent until near the end of the film. Before that we see only his giant claws and mouth and hear his shrill call. For its meager 1982 budget, the special effects look decent 30 years later. Of course there are some glaring hiccups watching it on Blu-ray, especially during the end throwdown. But watching a dummy cop plummet off a blue screen building is still engaging no matter how cheap it looks.
Thanks to Moriarty’s kickass performance and actual shooting locations, the film doesn’t need a high body count or gratuitous nudity to entertain. I could’ve watched a movie just about Quinn and Carradine outwitting each other on the tough streets of NYC. That’s what helps separate Q from the classic creature features- the monster plays second fiddle to some truly memorable characters. It’s a badass second fiddle though. Check it out.
Q the Winged Serpent is presented in 1080p HD in 1.78:1 widescreen. There are a lot of soft colors up in here, so no visuals really pop. The definition and details are strong though. The lossless audio is fine – nothing to highlight, nothing to bitch about.
Audio Commentary with Larry Cohen: this is a newly recorded track and if you’re a fan of Q, then buckle up. Cohen delivers an entertaining and insightful track that digs deep into all aspects of the film. He kicks things off with a humorous and sorta sad anecdote about the film’s test screening. He also talks about firing off machine guns while unsuspecting New Yorkers moved about below and the passing of David Carradine. Cohen knows how to spin a yarn, making this track a must-listen for fans.