Q: The Winged Serpent, Serpent, The Winged Serpent
Youll just have time to scream... before it tears you apart!
Running Time: 93 minutes
US Certificate: R UK Certificate: 15
Country: United States
Police detective Shepard (David Carradine) and his partner Powell (Richard Roundtree) are investigating what appears to be a series of ritualistic human sacrifices, as well as some other, possibly related incidents – like the decapitation of a window cleaner and the disappearance of a rooftop sunbather. As blood and body parts start raining onto the streets, and there are reported sightings of a giant bird-like creature in the New York skyline, Shepard's inquiries lead him to believe that the creature worshipped by the Aztecs as Quetzalcoatl has reawakened and set up home somewhere in midtown Manhattan. Meanwhile Quinn (Michael Moriarty), ex-con, ex-junkie, small-time crim and full-time loser, stumbles upon the creature's nest in the topmost spire of the Chrysler building, and where others would see only terror, he sees an opportunity to make a bundle and become the kind of saviour that the corrupt, cynical metropolis deserves.
'Q: the Winged Serpent' is a creature feature with a cast to get lovers of exploitation cinema drooling – David Carradine (best known then as the star of TV's 'Kung Fu', and now as the titular target in Quentin Tarantino's 'Kill Bill' films), Richard Roundtree (the king of blaxploitation thanks to his leading rôle in the 'Shaft' trilogy), and Michael Moriarty (who became writer/director Larry Cohen's favourite actor, and would subsequently star in his 'The Stuff', 'It's Alive III: Island of the Alive' and 'A Return to Salem's Lot'). As if to complete the film's B-grade credentials, there is a patently preposterous plot, a low-budget (but effective) stop-motion beast, apocalyptic gore, and lots of memorably cultish lines (“New York is famous for good eating”, “I'm just asking for a Nixon-like pardon”, “fry up about 500 pounds of bacon, we're gonna have us some breakfast”, etc.).
Yet thanks to Cohen's taut direction, his vibrant dialogue, and the worldweary performances of his players, the film manages to soar high above its genre foundations, filling the many holes in its story with both surprisingly engaging character drama and a subtle allegory of the place of religion in a secular world. As the heights of civilisation come under threat from the most ancient of serpents, Carradine's Shepard, with his priestly-sounding name, his considerate manner and his ready faith, seems the right man to guide New York's flock through its ordeal – while Moriarty's Quinn (the other monster in the film whose name begins with Q) exhibits a sort of gritty complexity more commonly associated with the anti-heroes of film noir or seventies drama. His deep neediness, sense of emasculation, belief in nothing besides himself, and strong streak of megalomania, might make him difficult to like, but they also make him a mirror of twentieth century angst and alienation – and the perfect foil to the film's winged creature.
So if you want to see a monster on the rampage in New York but cannot wait till the Christmas release of Peter Jackson's 'King Kong' remake, 'Q: the Winged Serpent' is well worth hunting down – and seeing again now, post 9/11,the film's combination of high towers and (un)holy slayings in a New York setting brings a whole new layer of horror.
It's Got: Cheap but impressive special effects; some bone-dry humour; David Carradine as Shepard, cawing like a bird; the line "Eat em! Eat em! Crunch crunch"; New York cops who seem only slightly fazed by the reemergence of a prehistoric winged monster in the middle of their city; and a riveting performance by Michael Moriarty as sniveling, selfish anti-hero Quinn.
It Needs: To be avoided by bird lovers (especially the ending).
DVD Extras Scene selection; choice of 2.0 stereo/5.1/dts; optional English subtitles for the hard of hearing; full audio commentary by writer/director/producer Larry Cohen who describes the Chrysler building as both "the inspiration for the whole movie" and a dangerous place to film, sings the praises of Michael Moriarty and grudgingly concedes that "even Carradine was better than usual", tells hardluck anecdotes about almost discovering Bruce Willis and Eddie Murphy, and half-complains half-boasts about how the recent Godzilla remake shamelessly rips off ideas from Q; film notes (which state incorrectly that Quinn hides the stolen diamonds in the Chrysler building); bios of Cohen, as well as lead actors David Carradine, Michael Moriarty and Richard Roundtree; poster and stills gallery; original teaser trailer and revised teaser trailer; Q memorabilia (DVD-Rom content). Version reviewed: Q: The Winged Serpent (Anchor Bay) DVD Extras Rating: 7/10
Alternatives:Godzilla (1998), King Kong (any version)
It's a bird, it's a plane, it's… nope, it's a bird, in this talon-sharp exploitation flick.