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Q - The Winged Serpent

A movie directed by Larry Cohen

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Needs more God-Beast

  • Aug 10, 2011
Look out from above! Awakened from its ageless slumber by some generous instances of human sacrifice, Aztec god Quetzalcoatl nests in the Chrysler Building and swoops over Manhattan, devouring the city's residents at random. Neat, eh? After an inept thief (Michael Moriarty, not too many years prior to his successes in Troll and Law & Order) discovers the god-beast in the aftermath of a botched heist, he decides to exploit the location of the menace, to the frustration of two detectives (David Carradine, Richard Roundtree) who are investigating its feeding habits.

Larry Cohen's homage to drive-in creature features is more a miraculous example of how far a filmmaker can stretch a $1M budget than a particularly good film. The movie's premise is novel and cleverly realized with the use of some terrific stop-motion animation and props. While much the cinematography is lackluster, there is some great, sweeping aerial photography from the perspective of the flying serpent. However, there's nowhere near enough carnage and too much of Moriarty (who struggles to make the best of a deeply irritating role) for this reviewer's taste; maybe Cohen should have requested more cash so that Q could have been afforded greater visibility at the expense of its far less interesting human co-stars. Not a single frame of this movie takes itself seriously, and it's fun...but hardly as much as it could be.

While Moriarty at least tries to make his obnoxious character interesting, Carradine is downright awful, as usual: wooden, dull, totally devoid of charm. Roundtree and Candy Clark fare much better in more likable roles, but they - like the monster - are granted far too little screen time.

It's clear that Cohen takes a lot of pride in shooting big films on shoestring budgets, and that's admirable - if more Hollywood directors were as creative and efficient as he is, major studios would produce much more interesting movies at far less cost. It seems as though his singular vision would be complimented by a greater degree of collaboration. If it had the benefit of a smarter, tighter script, more likable characters, a better cast and a higher budget, Q could have been a schlock classic.

I wasn't at all familiar with Blue Underground until I revisited Larry Cohen's early movies, but their DVDs are excellent, especially by the standards of an independent distributor. This disc's menus are blue-tinted and feature great artwork, screen stills and music from Robert Ragland's exciting score. Its visuals are fair: gritty and slightly fuzzy, just as they were presented for the movie's theatrical exhibition. Surprisingly, quite a few audio options are available: the slightly muddled original mono soundtrack, a marginally more pellucid Dolby Surround 2.0 track and a first-rate 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround alternative, expertly mixed and as clear as filtered water, which jumps right out of the speakers at you. A DTS-ES track is also included, but I haven't the equipment to evaluate it.

Larry Cohen's commentary track is certainly the best of the special features. Cohen's agreeable demeanor is pleasant to hear, his enthusiasm and drive inspiring. He has plenty of funny, remarkable and invariably interesting stories to tell here concerning the production of Q, and for disgruntled fans, an explanation of how this movie was shamelessly plagiarized by the screenwriters of Roland Emmerich's bloated, brain-dead Godzilla remake.

An effective, appropriately cheesy teaser trailer is included, as is the usual image gallery. Two of Q's theatrical posters feature striking artwork, and its promotional posters are amusing. One advertisement boasts of Q's impressive premiere box office gross. Another pre-release ad exploits a news media accident in order to publicize the movie under its working title, Serpent. Whilst shooting a crucial scene for which machine guns were discharged at the top of the Chrysler Building, some overzealous journalists mistook the gunfire for a terrorist attack on the United Nations Headquarters and rushed to the scene of the nonexistent incident! In response, the headline of Cohen's typically opportunistic advertisement reads, "DEAR NEW YORK, SORRY IF WE SCARED YOU!" Many of the stills are taken from the movie's press kit; Q is displayed in vibrant color, while its human co-stars are relegated to B&W publicity photos. The behind-the-scenes photos are nowhere near so interesting, and are of interest only to devoted Cohen fans.

A reasonably well-written career retrospective titled Larry Cohen - Low Budget Renaissance Man is the last of the special features, and while it has no surprises for Cohen's faithful, it's a good introduction to the uninitiated and benefits from numerous photographs, movie posters and interview excerpts.

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August 12, 2011
Good movie. Our rating differs somewhat but I really did enjoy reading your review. I wanted to rate this film higher but somehow felt it needed more scenes of Q. After all, it is a monster movie & that's what we pay the big bucks for. Aside from that complaint, I do think Larry Cohen did a bang up job on this particular film & I really need to research his archives on Blue Underground.
August 14, 2011
A good introduction to Cohen's work is Bone - possibly the best blaxploitation feature ever, and a fine introduction to Yaphet Kotto as a leading man. Another worth seeing is God Told Me To, an absolutely fearless, shameless Catholic perversion massacre starring perennial greaseball Tony Lo Bianco and Andy Kaufman in a very uncommon serious role. Both are great, and also available from BU.
August 16, 2011
I think the only other film I saw of his was The Stuff which was pretty abyssmal if you ask me. Well, it grows on you but it's not a great film by any means. Nowhere near as good as Q but I've grown to appreciate it more. I've heard of the other ones you mentioned and will check those out.
August 20, 2011
Last year, I detailed my joys and disappointments concerning The Stuff, which is no less an underdeveloped mess for being a fun mess!
September 03, 2011
I guess The Stuff has it's moments but just not enough of them for me. However, I can see how it is a bit of harmless fun/
More Q - The Winged Serpent reviews
review by . October 05, 2000
posted in Movie Hype
Pros: Damn thing is over     Cons: Damn thing started     aka Q   aka The Winged Serpent      Title Song: Let's fall apart together tonight      Written/Produced and Directed by Larry Cohen      I am sure you are all familiar with the scene of someone sitting and rubbing their hands together in anticipatory glee - that would be me right now as I delve into the unknown landscape of the monster …
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Robert Buchanan ()
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I'm a bibliophile, ailurophile, inveterate aggregator, dedicated middlebrow and anastrophizing syntax addict. My personality type is that of superlative INTJ.
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About this movie


Larry Cohen, widely regarded as a master of exploitation and cult horror, tackles the monster movie in Q - The Winged Serpent. Here, an ancient terror in the form of an Aztec dragon, Quetzlcoatl, perpetrates a series of bizarre slayings in New York City. The police at first believe the reports of sightings and deaths are the result of ordinary crank calls, and it's up to an ex-con piano player who knows the monster's lair -- the Chrysler Building -- to save the city!
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Director: Larry Cohen
Genre: Action, Fantasy
Release Date: 1982
MPAA Rating: R
Screen Writer: Larry Cohen
Runtime: 93 minutes
Studio: Arkoff International, Larco Productions
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