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Friday, November 8, 2019

Q the Winged Serpent (1982)




With the passing of the great Larry Cohen I found myself in the mood to check out some of his movies. Q the Winged Serpent was always a personal favorite of mine, so I thought I’d start off with it. Not only is it an excellent example of Cohen’s style, but the cast is crazy good. 

The movie hits you right in the face with what you are about to watch. A window cleaner is working outside a woman’s office and leering at her in a semi creepy way. This goes on for a couple of minutes before he loses his head… literally! This is how we are introduced to a couple of New York City cops working that case, Shepard and Powell. They are played by David Carradine and Richard Roundtree. Caine from Kung Fu and freaking Shaft are our detectives! How great is that? Eventually they figure out there are two cases, one with a giant bird flying around killing people and another with a follower of the ancient Aztecs that is running around sacrificing people. Of course, they are related.

If those two cases weren’t enough story, we also get introduced to a sad sack smalltime criminal, Jimmy Quinn, played by Michael Moriarty. After a failed diamond heist, he finds himself running away and hiding, only to end up in the creature’s nest. He tries to parlay that knowledge into a big payday by holding the city hostage, sort of. He won’t tell them where to find it until he gets paid! The paths of our detectives and Jimmy all intersect and by the end credits everything works out, probably.

Best cops ever!
Cohen was a genius as both a writer and director. This could have been a mess of a movie with too many characters and stories vying for screen time. Instead we get a movie that is tossing action at you at a breakneck pace daring you to keep up. The narrative jumps between poor Jimmy trying to get something going for himself, to Shepard digging into the mysticism of the Aztecs to figure out what is eating the locals, to Powell being a no-nonsense cop tracking down a crazed murderer. Somehow the three are balanced in such a way that not only do they move along and resolve nicely, but they all connect for the audience by the time the end credits roll. I don’t know how he made this all work, but it does.

Since this is a monster movie, I have to talk a bit about the creature. They don’t shy away from showing it. It is brought to life on screen with a combination of stop motion animation and some rear projection. I’ve heard some people complaining that the monster looks cheesy, but I love the old school effects work and think it looks just fine. For as quickly as this was made and with the smallish budget, they did an awesome job. Plus, they shot the movie and then added the monster in later which is not how this is normally done and itself should have led to issues. Again, I have no idea how they managed to pull this off.

Love the creature effects work.
One last thing that I wanted to mention. Larry Cohen was famous for stealing shots, basically shooting in public without permission. Part of the fun of watching one of his movies is looking for those shots where random people on the streets react to what is going on. Cohen would hide the camera so hopefully no one would notice what they were doing which lead to these natural reactions. Here there are a couple bits where people are reacting to blood dripping on them from above as Q flies away with a victim. Watch the people around the actors and remember they aren’t in on the gag. It is awesome to watch.

Q the Winged Serpent is a great movie with an even better cast. If you dig monster movies, flicks shot in New York City in the seventies and eighties, or just want to check out a Larry Cohen movie this is the one for you. I highly recommend it.


© Copyright 2019 John Shatzer

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