Q: The Winged Serpent Blu-ray Review
Written and directed by Larry Cohen
1982, Region A, 93 minutes, Rated R
Blu-ray released on August 27th, 2013
Michael Moriarty as Jimmy Quinn
David Carradine as Shepard
Richard Roundtree as Powell
Candy Clark as Joan
Larry Pine as The Professor
Eddie Jones as The Watchman
New York City has suffered at the hands of many monsters over the last century both real and cinematic, including the likes of King Kong and Jason Voorhees, just to name a couple. Many of you may not know that the Chrysler Building was briefly the home for an ancient Aztec god named Quetzalcoatl. What's that? You don't recall the rash of giant bird attacks that terrorized the city in the summer of 1982? Well pull up a chair and prepare to be thrilled by a creature so fierce, you may only be able to call it “Q” before it tears you apart.
Jimmy Quinn is a worthless sap determined to make everyone around him miserable. He is a lousy musician and an even worse criminal forced to participate in a diamond heist. Our protagonist escapes the robbery with a sackful of loot, but gets hit by a cab and the bag slides into traffic. He could probably grab it, but instead runs away – that's Jimmy, quite the schmuck. He's not the sharpest tool in the shed, but he is most definitely a tool. His put-upon girlfriend Joan is not much of a joy to be around either, but she has to put up with his drunken ramblings, so I give her a temporary pass. When thugs show up to claim their missing diamonds, Jimmy leads them on a chase through Manhattan that leads to the Chrysler Building. Inside he discovers a nest with a giant egg and quite possibly the answer to all his problems.
Detectives Shepard and Powell are working a series of grisly murders where the corpses are turning up around the city, missing things like their hearts or skin. Shepard believes these are ritual murders and may have something to do with an ancient Aztec bird god. Soon, there are a series of reports about a giant bird snatching people off rooftops around the city, but nobody can get a good look at it. Powell believes his partner is losing it to think the two cases are connected and blames mass hysteria when it comes to the monster sightings. This theory is torpedoed when Jimmy arrives at the station claiming to know the location of the winged beast, but he has a few demands before giving up the intel.
Genre blending is nothing new, but writer/ director Larry Cohen (It's Alive) combines the classic monster movie with the contemporary police thriller and creates something highly entertaining with Q: The Winged Serpent. Each of the two plot lines are pretty solid, but come alive when combined. The schlocky elements mesh perfectly with the serious, thanks in large part to the strength of the cast. At first glance, David Carradine (Death Race 2000) walks through the role of Shepard, the macho hero, but his performance is surprisingly nuanced as he chases a giant dragon around New York. Richard Roundtree (Shaft) has little more to do as Detective Powell than appear frustrated with the proceedings.
The real star is Michael Moriarty (A Return to Salem's Lot), whose earnest portrayal of Jimmy, the opportunistic sad sack, is surprisingly sincere. His ability to make the character likeable is a testament to his skills as an actor, and the scene where Jimmy makes his demands of the city is particularly memorable. There isn't a lot of chemistry shared with Candy Clark (Blue Thunder) as Joan, the unfortunate girlfriend, but this may be a reflection of the crumbling relationship their characters endure. The rest of the cast is filled out with the familiar faces of several character actors.
Q is a fun throwback to an earlier style of moviemaking, unlike much of the other material being released in 1982. There is a nice nod to King Kong in the final set piece, but Cohen puts his own spin on the proceedings. The stop-motion monster effects and giant claw puppets are kind of silly, but completely welcome and appreciated. A fair amount of blood, a nice bit of nudity and lots of shots of screaming people running through the streets while pointing up at the sky are everything a good monster movie needs. With its surprisingly large number of locations and a generous amount of aerial photography, this low-budget picture puts every dollar on the screen and is definitely worth checking out.
Video and Audio:
Q: The Winged Serpent hasn't aged particularly well over the past three decades, but it isn't completely terrible either. Many of the problems stem from budgetary limitations and the original film elements. The picture is presented in the original aspect ratio, opened up slightly to 1.78:1, and looks better than all previous editions. Colors and flesh tones are natural and consistent with solid black levels. There are a few brief instances of minor print damage, but still a step up from the earlier DVD releases.
The only audio option is the original mono mix, presented here in a DTS-HD MA 2.0 track that is a bit thin at times. Dialogue is occasionally low and hard to understand and there are surprisingly no subtitles offered for the hearing impaired.
The main supplement here is a brand new commentary track with master storyteller Larry Cohen, recorded for this Blu-ray release. The director shares many anecdotes from the production and you will marvel at his resourcefulness when it comes to getting a shot. Godzilla (1998) and David Carradine feature prominently in my two favorite tales among the gold to be found here. This is not the same track found on the earlier DVD edition.
The only other special features include the original theatrical trailer and teaser campaign.