Q – The Winged Serpent

4 out of 5

Directed by: Larry Cohen

It’s simply… entertaining! While director Larry Cohen could certainly have been considered something of a schlockmeister, and he absolutely delivered some drivel amidst his expansive film career, he also – rather often – succeeded in turning low budget cheese into flicks with surprising impact, or into confidently made pieces of entertainment. “Q” is very much the latter, and it’s also one of Cohen’s best offerings in that vein, getting some great performances from its primaries, and though not convincing anyone with its stop-motioned monster, shot with awareness of its limitations so that it remains fun throughout.

The plot is a garble of B-movieness, with Aztec god Quetzalcoatl (a flying lizard thingy) rousted from sleep by ritualized murders throughout New York; its nest – in the Chrysler building – discovered by low-rent thug Jimmy (Michael Moriarty), who uses that discovery for his own profits. The animation of “Q” most certainly purposefully calls to mind King Kong and Harryhausen, and Cohen gets some sleaze in there to fully qualify the flick as B with a rooftop naked bather, ogled by the camera before being snatched up by monstro, but the movie is otherwise a pretty effective, and quick moving thriller. Moriarty is great, playing Jimmy as a completely unlikeable, selfish, nervy goon, and cops Shepard and Powell are two amusing sides of the terse cop coin, perfectly played by David Carradine and Richard Roundtree, respectively. The way Jimmy oozes into his “find,” and then tries to slime his way into getting a paycheck from the government to tell them about it gives Cohen (and Moriarty) room to take some jabs at politics and fame, but more importantly takes us on a tour of some guerilla-style NY location shoots, and the amusing pitter-patter conversations had amongst these great actors and some recognizable Cohen players.

The story is structured such that things that would normally be used to fill screen time – build up to the monster; procedural stuff related to the killings – take place in the background, with Moriarty’s antics forefronted; this is a typical Cohen maneuver, which I’d generally think as a budget-conscious decision, but it works especially well here, allowing the pace to keep moving. However, this does result in plotlines clattering to a rather sloppy close, with a last minute tie-up added in like it was forgotten about and rushed in as an extra shot. There’s also the curiosity of Jimmy being casually abusive and racist, and yet the flick treats it like it ain’t no thang.

I tend to find I enjoy Cohen movies quite a bit when I set my standards to 0, but Q has always stood out as a very solid bit of entertainment, even with standards; a worthy 80s B-movie classic.