Success is often a matter of timing. Q The Winged Serpent should have been a major cult film. Unfortunately, Samuel Z. Arkoff had sold American International Pictures a few years before producing the movie. He would have been able to work this brilliant unholy fusion of a New York Cop flick with a monster movie into a sensation. It would have been bigger than The Incredible Melting Man. Instead, he had to rely on United Film Distribution Company to promote Q. The company previously had success with The Kentucky Fried Movie and Dawn of the Dead. But their marketing department couldn’t build up the box office for a film that had a great tagline: “It’s name is Quetzalcoatl… Just Call It “Q”… That’s all you’ll have time to say before it tears you apart.” Thankfully the film has developed its cult over the decades especially from exposure in the book Re/Search #10: Incredibly Strange Films. Now the cult of Q can flourish fully with the arrival of a Blu-ray that’s worship worthy.
The movie opens with sweeping views of the Manhattan skyline. This is not merely a director setting the location by renting a helicopter. Turns out it’s a POV shot from something flying above the skyscrapers. Inside one building a woman isn’t happy that the window washer has positioned himself outside her window once more. She’s got the cleanest glass in town thanks to this professional peeper. Her view gets messy when the windshield washer’s head comes off. The two NYPD detectives assigned to the case are Richard Roundtree and David Carradine. Shaft and Caine from Kung Fu are poking around looking for clues and a missing head. Before they can solve that case, they must investigate a homicide where the victim was completely skinned. Little do they know both strange cases are related. Across town crime being plotted will become a part of their mystery. Michael Moriarty (Pale Rider & The Stuff) is a small time crook that gets wrangled into a diamond heist. He merely wants to drive the getaway car, but the leader has bigger plans. Moriarty dreams of being a professional jazz pianist. He even gets his girlfriend Candy Clark (The Man Who Fell to Earth) to get him an audition at the bar she works at. He doesn’t nail the gig thus must turn to a life of crime.
The diamond heist turns out to be a disaster. Moriarty ends up hiding in the top of the Chrysler Building. This almost turns fatal as there’s a pile of human remains and a nest in the space. This solves the mystery of who is taking the heads off window washers. But creates a bigger question of what is this flying creature and why is it in Manhattan? Moriarty begins to use his knowledge of the creature to his own advantage with his old partners in crime and the cops. He’s out to finally make a score. But will anyone believe his story?
Q proves itself to be a proper cult treat that bends just the right way for the cop story to mash with the monster attacks. Roundtree and Carradine have the proper badass cop attitude when they aren’t looking for clues. Even with its low budget, the special effects of the Winged serpent are better than the CGI monsters thrust upon SyFy original movies. David Allen, Randall William Cook and Peter Kuran do their best Ray Harryhausen techniques to not make the monster a weak link. Moriarty is a delight with his natural edge in the midst of an unrealistic crisis. He goes beyond just being that character who stumbles across such a horrific flying lizard. When he botches his getaway from the robbery, it’s realistic to the character. Director Larry Cohen (Hell Up In Harlem and It’s Alive) creates an amazing film that brings together all the right elements to make all the divergent elements come together without seeming forced. Next time you consider watching a poorly made SyFy movie, get a copy of Q The Winged Serpent. You’ll learn what it’s like to feast on heady blend of monsters, rituals and cop drama.
The video is 1.78:1 anamorphic. The 1080p image maintains the gritty feel expected from anything shot on the streets of New York City. They didn’t exactly spend too much time lighting shots The audio is DTS-HD Master audio 2.0 that sounds better than if you had found a theater running Q back in 1982.
Audio Commentary with Larry Cohen explains how such a fine film was made in New York City. There’s a lot of stealing locations.
Trailer (2:32) appear to be lifted off a video source. It does a good job making it look like a serious Ray Harryhausen-style film.
Teaser (0:33) is a great teaser without any images from the film. The announcer gives the stinger: “Its name is Quetzalcoatl… just call it Q, that’s all you’ll have time to say before it tears you apart!” How did people not rush to the theaters?
Q The Winged Serpent deserves its cult classic status. The cast doesn’t get overshadowed by the flying serpent. A brilliant blend that could have become just gunk.
Scream Factory presents Q The Winged Serpent. Directed by: Larry Cohen. Screenplay by: Larry Cohen. Starring: Michael Moriarty, Candy Clark, David Carradine and Richard Roundtree. Running Time: 92 minutes. Released: August 27, 2013.
Tags: David Carradine, Death Race 2000, Kung Fu, Scream Factory