Shout! Factory // 1982 // 92 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // July 29th, 2013
It's name is Quetzalcoatl...just call it "Q"...that's all you'll have time to say before it tears you apart!
To quote a tagline from another horror movie, "New York has a new problem." A dragon-like beast named Quetzalcoatl (an ancient Aztec God) has taken up residence in the New York City Chrysler building, erecting a nest where it can hatch its little Q-lings. Once in a while the flying monstrosity swoops down and chomps the head of a poor unsuspecting bystander, and this gets a couple of policemen (Kill Bill's David Carradine and Shaft's Richard Roundtree) involved in the manhunt...er, beast-hunt. Also involved is shifty Jimmy Quinn (It's Alive's Michael Moriarty), a small time crook who is a few burgers short of a Happy Meal. Quinn attempts an extortion plot against the city in exchange for the whereabouts of Q's nest. Once the authorities do find out the location of the beast's nest, it's going to be an all out war to take down the aerial demon before he wipes out the entire city of New York!
Good ol' Larry Cohen. We need more guys like him working in Hollywood. Cohen has been the creative force behind both high budget (Phone Booth) and low, low budget (Wicked Stepmother) flicks, each one often filled to the brim with interesting ideas. Now, don't get me wrong -- just because the films had interesting ideas doesn't mean they were necessarily executed well. Cohen has mostly toiled in B-movie schlock; he's the mind behind the killer baby movie It's Alive (how can you hate a movie about homicidal infants?), the killer yogurt movie The Stuff (murderous dessert? Yes, please), and the killer zombie cop flick Maniac Cop.
Cohen's Q: The Winged Serpent is a monster movie about a ancient, giant flying beast that has taken up residence in New York's Chrysler building and spends its time swooping down biting the heads off window washers and construction workers. Shockingly, that's not the weirdest thing about Cohen's film. The odder component is actor Michael Moriarty's bizarre performance as a small time thief who acts like Forrest Gump's only slightly smarter older brother. It's a performance that seems almost out of place in a movie that deals with a huge rubber monster that chomps on anything with a heartbeat. It's as if Moriarty forgot he was shooting a B-grade horror flick and instead was aiming for an Oscar nomination. It's a performance that has to be seen to be believed.
As for the rest of the cast, they are all around to play what are essentially stock characters that either A.) get gobbled up or B.) arrive at the scene after someone has been gobbled up. Tough-as-nails Richard Roundtree and the late David Carradine play detectives trying to figure out what's going on with all the New York City deaths from above. Both actors have been seen in better movies, though their presence here certainly gives Q: The Winged Serpent a bit of a lift in terms of talent and (early '80s) star power. Candy Clark (the 1988 remake of The Blob) is rather adorable as the love interest and as for the rest of the cast...well, they're just around to end up as delectable serpent bait.
As for Q, the title monster...well, let's just say that the Blu-ray cover's portrayal of the monstrous beast is a bit of a cheat. The awesomely awesome artwork (by fantasy artist Boris Vallejo) shows a horribly nasty creature that appears to have flown right out of your nightmares. The film's version of Q is not quite as impressive; this is clearly a stop motion, rubberized creation that has tinges of Ray Harryhausen's best effects work. Some of the F/X work is surprisingly effective (the bodies they find are icky and gross) while other effects look rather amateurish by comparison (the close up decapitations are almost laughable). Cohen's screenplay sometimes feels problematic and schizophrenic; half of the time it wants to be a probing police procedural and at other times it just wants to be an out-and-out horror movie (clearly it was made as a sort of homage to old time monster movies).
Q: The Winged Serpent is presented in 1.78:1 widescreen in 1080p high definition. Shout Factory has been one of the best Blu-ray companies in recent memory for cult classic horror; they've essentially picked up where Anchor Bay left off with DVD. Unfortunately, this transfer is rather hit or miss; there are moments when it looks heads and shoulders above a standard DVD, then there are times when the low budget origins betray the viewer and things just look murky. While I think this print is worth the upgrade, it's certainly not as impressive as some other Shout Factory titles. The soundtrack is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Surround in English. This mix is mostly front heavy with some sporadic directional effects work. It's a decent 5.1 mix, but nothing special. No alternate soundtracks or subtitles are included on this disc.
Bonus features include a commentary track by writer/director Larry Cohen and a theatrical trailer for the film.
Q: The Winged Serpent's failings lie not with the filmmakers -- though the script could have been tighter -- but with the time period. The story is desperate for some glossy high-end action sequences and impressive special effects. Had the script been produced in 2013 (remake, anyone?), this could be a rip roaring time at the movies.
Michael Moriarty is guilty of overacting.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Shout! Factory
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
Running Time: 92 Minutes
Release Year: 1982
MPAA Rating: Rated R