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.
3 (out of 4) Q’s.