Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Q: The Winged Serpent (1982) Review

Q: The Winged Serpent poster illustrated by Boris Vallejo
Director: Larry Cohen
Stars: Michael Moriarty, David Carradine
Genre: Giant Monster, Horror

Q, starring Michael Moriarty and David Carradine, directed by Larry Cohen, is a Giant Monster movie for the 1980s. It takes the classic city-destroying monster and updates it to a time of AIDS, Sony Walkmans, and MTV.

The story is a bit different than your average monster movie. It involves a small time crook, played brilliantly by Moriarty, who accidentally discovers the nest of a giant bird which has been terrorizing the city atop of the Chrysler Building. He then, of course, tries to use his knowledge to get rich, etc. Meanwhile a police officer (Carradine) is discovering the connections between the giant bird monster and the recent sacrificial killings to the Aztec god Quetzalcoatl (from which the film takes its name) that have been going on.

The story is not so much about a giant monster as it is about a petty criminal who is given knowledge of a giant monster's hiding place and must decide what to do with said knowledge. Does he tell the police immediately before the monster has a chance to kill again, or does he wait and use the knowledge for his own gain? It doesn't take him long to decide, but perhaps afterwards he realized the consequences of his actions; as his girlfriend later remarks: "I saw you when you thought you had some power, and it wasn't pretty."

Michael Moriarty's performance is one of the most interesting performances I've ever seen. Whether it's a good or bad performance is certainly debatable, but it's enjoyable nonetheless. In my opinion it's a good performance that sometimes blurs the line between good and bad, but all in all is actually quite masterful. At times it feels as if he's improvising every single line. It's a memorable performance that creates a memorable character, so I'd call it a success. David Carradine (whom many modern audiences may know as Bill from Kill Bill) definitely takes a backseat to Moriarty here, but his performance is charming, even if a little sloppy, nonetheless. Carradine becomes a bit of an action hero in the film's latter half, which was sort of odd.

Michael Moriarty in Q: The Winged Serpent

On to what is, for many, the most important part of a monster movie: the monster. This is where the film runs into some problems. The monster has a cool design and the stop-motion is fantastic to watch, but the monster effects look extremely dated, even for its time (though the gore effects are pretty cool). King Kong from 50 years earlier had better effects; or at least better implemented them. The effects definitely don't blend with the rest of the film. Not only that, but they don't show enough of the monster. For most of the film we only see a glimpse of the monster every ten minutes or so, whether it be a shadow or a claw. It isn't until the very end that we get to see the entire monster; but even then it is extremely underwhelming. 

Q The Winged Serpent Quetzalcoatl bloody

The cult aspect is an interesting twist but the monster isn't memorable for a number of reasons: it has no personality, we don't see much of it, and it doesn't do anything memorable, all it does is kill a few pedestrians. And the ending (some spoilers here) is terribly unsatisfying. The monster was destroyed far too easily, so much so that it was anticlimactic. I mean seriously, what sort of giant monster can be killed by a few gun shots?

Luckily the film doesn't take itself too seriously (after all, how could a completely serious film come from the guy who directed The Stuff?). There's plenty of humor in the film which actually works pretty well and Moriarty's bizarre performance is almost funny to watch. The film also has a self-conscious tongue-in-cheek quality to it.

If you love the style of the 80s than this film should be enjoyable. The soundtrack is really awesome too.

Q The Winged Serpent cult sacrifice

Q: The Winged Serpent is a must watch film for fans of the genre. It missed a lot of potential, I think, but still did many things right. Go check it out!

3/5 stars

Purchase Q: The Winged Serpent on Amazon: Blu-Ray - DVD - VHS

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