October Horrorshow: Q — The Winged Serpent

Larry Cohen has had prolific involvement in cheap horror throughout his career. His credits include the screenplay for Maniac Cop and writing and directing credits for both The Stuff and It’s Alive. He was one of the directors featured in the anthology television series Masters of Horror. He also flew by the seat of his pants when it came to making movies. According to the internet, so it must be true, Cohen was fired from his job directing the Mike Hammer flick, I, the Jury, after one week of shooting because of cost overruns. Instead of sulking about losing the gig, Cohen put together a shooting script and a production for a new movie in six days. That movie, lord help us, was Q — The Winged Serpent.

From 1982, Q follows down-on-his-luck New York City crook Jimmy Quinn (Michael Moriarty). Jimmy is strictly a small-time hustler. He did a stretch upstate after, Jimmy claims, he was framed by a cop. Now he’s just scraping by — pulling jobs with mobsters who have little, if any, respect for him. After a jewelry store robbery goes wrong, Jimmy finds himself at the top of the Chrysler Building, of all places. There, he discovers the nest of a gigantic bird, lined with the bones of its victims. This is quite the development.

It turns out that Jimmy has stumbled upon the roost of a beast that is terrorizing New York. Already the creature has attacked and killed rooftop sunbathers and at least one window washer. Rumors swirl through the city about the monster, although for most of the film, no one seems to get a good look at it. That’s quite a feat in a metropolis like New York. A monster the size of a bus flying around the urban canyons would be hard to miss in real life. In movieland, its ability to remain inconspicuous is explained away by saying the monster always attacks with the sun behind it. Whatever. It’s a giant monster preying on New Yorkers. All the expository stuff doesn’t matter.

Meanwhile, some other folks are turning up dead in the city, the victims of ritual sacrifice. Detective Shepard of the NYPD (David Carradine) is investigating. He comes to the startling conclusion that a cult has resurrected the ancient Aztec god Quetzalcoatl, Q - The Winged Serpentand that is the creature plaguing the city. He has a hard time convincing his boss, Sgt. Powell (Richard Roundtree). But, after Jimmy is picked up for the jewelry heist, he spills about what he saw at the top of the Chrysler Building, setting up the final act.

This movie is much more enjoyable than The Stuff, which is the other Cohen film that came to my mind while watching Q. They have much the same feel. And that is all Cohen. In putting this film together so quickly, there wasn’t much of a screenplay. Many of the takes that made it into this film feel either improvisational or barely rehearsed. The Stuff suffered from the same problem. Carradine in particular seemed to be winging it, occasionally breaking out in a smile as he says his lines, as if he can’t believe he agreed to be in this flick.

Moriarty is the star of the show, however. I don’t know how he did it, but he channeled Bill Burr in his performance. Considering Burr was only thirteen or so when this flick was being filmed, and was not famous yet, one can only conclude that Moriarty has a time machine, and used it in the early ’80s to travel to the future and listen to the Monday Morning Podcast. It really is uncanny. The quality of that performance is hit and miss, depending on how much Jimmy annoys a viewer. The good news is that while Jimmy is the predominant personality in the film, there is still a good balance between all the characters.

As for that monster, it’s a piece of garbage. The monster is where this slapdash film falls apart. It’s just a lump of clay poorly superimposed on aerial shots of the city. It’s not inept enough to be hilarious, like in The Giant Claw. It’s just bad.

Still, this is a good shitty movie. It has a ridiculous premise and moves along swiftly. It has good talent slumming it, and as much New York City flavor as a Scorcese flick. This movie isn’t a total package when it comes to shitty movies, but it’s still put together well enough to be a better movie than Alien: Resurrection.