HCF may be one of the newest voices on the web for all things Horror and Cult, and while our aim is to bring you our best opinion of all the new and strange that hits the market, we still can not forget about our old loves, the films that made us want to create the website to spread the word. So, now and again our official critics at the HCF headquarters have an urge to throw aside their new required copies of the week and dust down their old collection and bring them to the fore….our aim, to make sure that you may have not missed the films that should be stood proud in your collection. This week, Dr Lenera presents a rather strange and quirky monster movie from cult director Larry Cohen.
HCF REWIND NO.25. Q THE WINGED SERPENT
AVAILABLE on DVD and Blu Ray
RUNNING TIME:93 mins
REVIEWED BY:Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Whilst half way up a skyscraper, a window cleaner is decapitated by a barely seen flying monster. The police are busy investigating a series of ritual killings where the victims have been flayed alive, but when some more deaths occur from the sky, they wonder if there may be a connection. Meanwhile, two-bit hoodlum Jimmy Quinn is involved in an unsuccessful jewel heist and, fleeing the cops, escapes to the top of the Chrysler Building where he deduces something very terrible lives. How convenient a way to dispose of his pesky old partners would it be if he lured them there, and maybe he can make some money from knowing where this creature that has been terrorising the city is?……………..
Q The Winged Serpent is a rather unusual ‘B’ movie from writer/director Larry Cohen, the man responsible for many enjoyable genre flicks such as the It’s Alive series and The Stuff, not to mention becoming a ‘high-concept’ screenwriter in recent years with scripts for films like Phone Booth and Cellular, though sometimes I think that his greatest contribution was creating The Invaders TV series which scared me shitless when I was young! His films usually manage to be unashamedly and knowingly trashy with a streak of intelligence, something that perhaps sounds like a contradiction in terms but is definitely evident after watching some of them. Q is not really one of his better films, and I think if you expect a conventional monster outing you may be disappointed, but it does offer pleasures to the more discerning film viewer. It was supposedly inspired by Cohen looking up to the top of the Chrysler Building and thinking “that’ll be the coolest place to have a nest”. He had just been fired from the film I, The Jury, which he had written, and, determined not to waste the hotel room he had paid for, quickly wrote a script for filming on some of the same locations. Despite having a tiny budget, the film got a good cast, with Bruce Willis almost playing the role eventually played by David Carradine, but it was decided he wasn’t a big enough name then. Despite not getting a widespread release, the film made its money back and has become a cult favourite.
Opening with the very comical death of the window cleaner, it seems like this is going to be a conventional if slightly tongue-in-cheek monster movie. Then, it seems like it’s going to be more of a police procedural, more about the mysterious sacrificial flayings, but then it changes again and becomes more about petty crook and ex-junkie Jimmy and his quest to get one over on the city which has screwed him all his life. For some of the time it seems that the film really doesn’t know where it’s going, but I think the free-wheeling, laid-back vibe is intentional. The pace slows to a crawl and you almost forget there is a winged monster killing folk, but I rather like the almost improvisational feel. Jimmy is a jazz pianist and in one scene plays an atonal improvised jazz piece [which actor Micheal Moriarty, being a jazz composer, wrote himself], the somewhat random nature of which can be applied to the film itself. Cohen obviously didn’t have the money for extensive monster footage, so he decided to work around this problem and have some fun with it. The stop motion employed for Q isn’t exactly Ray Harryhausen, but it has a charm and I’ve seen far worse with today’s CGI. The actual design of the creature is very cool and there are some amusingly gory scenes when it flies around dispatching victims, especially when blood drips from above onto people walking in the street, though the final battle with the creature is really hampered by the minimal budget.
With a bit of flaying thrown in, the film doesn’t lack for blood, though there’s little attempt at fear or even suspense. The investigation into the flaying is incredibly rushed; one minute the police are at a crime scene, the next minute somebody mentions there is a suspect, and the next minute it’s made clear this suspect is the killer and that’s all there is to it! We are told that possibly the monster is Quetzalcoatl, the Aztec god resurrected, but are shown no evidence of this. This is the kind of film that would rather spend more time on a barbed ten minute dialogue scene between two of its characters than its plot, and as long as you are aware of this you may have quite a good time. There are some very funny lines [my favourite: “my God, with a wingspan like you’re talking about here that thing could fly miles into New York City every day. And it would do that of course, you know, because New York is famous for good eating”]. There is also a very interesting ‘hero’ in Jimmy, who is both likeable and dislikeable, has good and bad points; in short, he’s very human. He’s the kind of guy who usually has the best intentions, but just gets it wrong time after time. You want his mechanisms to work out, but he reveals a rather unpleasant streak when he gets some power.
With misspelt newspaper headlines and some random editing, Q certainly has a rushed feel, though at times Cohen’s direction is very neat. I love the way he has characters looking down from a great height, and, rather than just showing us one static shot of the view, moves the camera around in a dizzy manner, creating the sensation of vertigo. The acting in this movie is mostly very good. Opinion is divided on Moriarty’s performance, which chews the scenery and spits it out, but one thing is certain: you can’t take your eyes off him when he’s on screen. Carradine is wonderfully dry as Shepherd the cop, and his chemistry- filled scenes with Moriarty are great to watch, with the two conflicting acting styles working really well. Candy Clark is typically convincing as the long-suffering Joan, though it’s no wonder as she played so many long-suffering girlfriends, and exactly the same can be said for Richard Roundtree, playing…………you got it, a cop. In some respects this is a poor movie, extremely uneven and sometimes very sloppy, but it has a loose, ramshackle charm which I find quite appealing.
[pt-filmtitle]Q The Winged Serpent[/pt-filmtitle]