TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: Q: THE WINGED SERPENT (1982)

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Q: THE WINGED SERPENT (1982)

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Q: The Winged Serpent is a fun and very self-aware…long before term even existed…movie about a winged Aztec god named Quetzalcoatl who nests in the Chrysler Building and begins to snack on NYC residents. The film follows both a series of ritual killings, where victims are skinned alive and a series of disappearances and murders that are rumored to be caused by some large bird stalking the NYC skyline. Detective Shepard (David Carradine) seems convinced they are related and his investigation proves true as it appears the skinnings where part of an Aztec ritual to summon Quetzalcoatl from it’s centuries long slumber. Enter petty crook and getaway driver Jimmy Quinn (Michael Moriarty) who stumbles upon the creature’s nest when hiding from police after a botched robbery. Jimmy sees not an opportunity to become a hero, but an opportunity to become rich, famous and be pardoned for all his criminal activity. So, the third rate crook holds the city hostage as the winged serpent continues to feed on it’s citizens and Shepard continues to try to convince his superiors that there is a centuries old Aztec god slaughtering the people of New York City.

What makes Q fun is that writer/director Larry (It’s Alive, The Stuff) Cohen knows this is a silly movie with a silly concept, but takes it and runs with it. He has his cast play it straight and yet with a wink and it works far better than it should. The film has a very Roger Corman feel as characters spout some very silly dialog, but with complete earnest and we smile with delight as FX masters Randall Cook and David Allen bring our monster to life with some charming old-fashioned stop motion animation. Cohen fills his movie with some very gory moments, earning it an R-Rating and throws in some breasts to go along with the blood. Cohen got his start working for Corman’s New World Pictures and making blaxploitation flicks for AIP and his exploitation roots are on perfect display here. He knows just how serious to take his monster movie, but also knows enough to let audiences in on the fun. The film isn’t perfect. The pace is a bit slow, but this is the early 80s. There is some very cheesy dialog…though that is probably on purpose if you are familiar with Cohen’s films…and the monster effects look cheesy at this point, but the clay critter adds to the charm in my book. There are a lot of witty touches to look out for as Cohen builds up to his fun King Kong-esque finale with momma Q…where there is a nest, there are eggs…battling it out with a heavily armed squad of NYC cops in and around the spire of one of NYC’s oldest landmarks. Sure the film is very dated, but the 80s nostalgia and wonderful shots of 80s era New York City only add to the enjoyment of this flick and I think I actually did enjoy it far more now than when I first saw it years ago.

The cast are obviously having a good time, especially Moriarty as he chews up the scenery with a furious passion as low level crook Jimmy. He really gives Jimmy that thick New York street punk swagger and accent and it adds a lot of flavor when contrasted with Carradine’s aloof, tough-guy cop. Carradine recites his dialog about Aztec sacrifice and giant monster birds with a seriousness and a smirk as if to let us know that this is ridiculous, but he’s going to go with it. This helps the audience to relax and go with it, too. We also get movie legend Richard (Shaft) Roundtree as another hard-nosed cop on the case and 70s-80s movie regular Candy (American Graffiti) Clark as Jimmy’s fed-up girlfriend. The cast all take things serious enough and never make a joke out of it, but also seem to be having fun chasing a monster around New York City. A good example of a director and cast on the same page as to how to treat the material.

While I will admit, I wasn’t exactly thrilled with this when I first saw it. I think I expected something a bit more serious and was a bit taken back by the more Roger Corman-ish approach, but I have really come to appreciate it over the years especially with all the great nostalgia involved and you know how much I love Roger Corman flicks. It’s a delightfully cheesy and fun monster movie that takes a very ridiculous premise and runs with it. There is some wonderful nostalgia and there is a lot of charming fun watching the old-style animated monster wreak havoc on the the rooftops of New York. A fun monster flick that is both charmingly old-fashioned and delightfully Corman-esque.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 (out of 4) Q’s.

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: DEATHSPORT (1978)

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DEATHSPORT (1978)

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Anyone who’s been coming here for a while knows I love Roger Corman’s productions and am certainly guilty of having my guilty pleasures. But, Deathsport, a movie I actually saw in a theater in 1978 is not one of them. Sometimes bad is just bad and based on the fact that both Corman and Allan (Rock ‘N’ Roll High School) Arkush both tried to save this turkey and failed, is proof of that.

Made as a loose follow-up to Death Race 2000, the film takes place far in the future where the world has been ravaged by war and people either live in walled cities or wander the wasteland led and guarded by the Jedi-like Range Guides and their crystal swords called Whistlers. When the city of Helix plans to go to war against the neighboring city of Tritan, their leader Lord Zirpola (David McLean) plans to sway the populace to his cause by staging gladiatorial games pitting captured Range Guides against their new weapon, the Death Machines which are merely motorcycles covered in aluminum siding and fitted with laser canons. He and his head thug, ex-Guide Ankar Moor (legendary movie bad guy Richard Lynch) make the mistake of picking Guides Kaz Oshay (David Carradine) and the sexy Deneer (Playboy Playmate Claudia Jennings) as fodder for the games. A daring escape, boring chases and endless explosions ensue. And did I mention that Ankar Moor killed Kaz’s mother years earlier?

Initially directed and co-written (with Donald E. Stewart) by Nicholas Niciphor, the film is a mess and even the intervention of Corman and Arkush couldn’t save it with the reported addition of numerous explosions and nudity. For starters, the film has a completely convoluted and silly story filled with large plot holes and lapses of logic, even for an exploitation sci-fi flick. It’s also dreadfully slow paced, for an 80+ minute movie and that’s even with it’s second half being one long chase sequence. The action is badly staged, fights badly choreographed, the FX are terrible, the sets and the costumes look cheap and bad, even for a lesser Roger Corman production and there is very little blood or gore to at least satisfy on an exploitation violence level. It could have used Death Race 2000’s over the top gore and sense of humor, or at least acknowledged it’s badness and had some fun with it. But director Niciphor takes this nonsense deathly serious and it makes his incompetent handling of it, all the more obvious. It’s basically a mess and not in a good way. And to add insult to injury, the film’s score by musician Andy Stein apparently featured guitar work by the legendary Jerry Garcia…not sure how Garcia got involved in this train-wreck!

Star David Carradine, who made quite a living in films like this, looks like he would rather be elsewhere. Jennings is certainly pretty and has a nice body, that gets shown off frequently, but she is no actress and it’s only Richard Lynch who somehow retains his dignity by giving the role his all and adding weight to his extremely silly dialog. A sign of a true pro and an under-appreciated actor. Frequent Corman actor Jesse Vint also looks embarrassed in a minor role and the rest of the supporting cast go from barely adequate to awful.

So, what else is there to say. There is very little to recommend here except for some Claudia Jennings’ nudity and watching a pro like Lynch giving it his all in a terrible movie. If endless explosions are enough to satisfy, you might get some extra mileage out of it, but it’s basically just a bad movie that is even too bad to enjoy as ‘so bad, it’s good.’ Check it out if you are curious, but even with the nostalgia of having actually seen this in a theater in 1978, I can’t bring myself to cut it much slack…No surprise, Corman still made a little money on it, with it’s “If you liked Star Wars, you’ll love Deathsport” tag line, which just goes to show you what a genius the man is.

PERSONAL TRIVIA: I saw this flick at an interesting little venue called The Galaxy Theater in North Bergen N.J. Interesting as it was a tiny movie theater built into an apartment complex called the Galaxy Apartments. As a teen I though the concept of an apartment building with it’s own movie theater was really cool, but it never caught on. While the Galaxy apartments are still there, the theater closed long ago.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 2 (out of 4) actors trying not to look silly. Epic fail.

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