How do I keep forgetting that a movie as awesome as Q: The Winged Serpent exists. It’s this Larry Cohen movie where David Carradine and Richard Roundtree are cops out to catch a dragon (or rather a winged serpent but that’s the same thing) whose going around Manhattan biting off people’s heads. They are assisted in this victory by a wacky recovering junkie named Jimmy Quinn (Michael Moriarty). There’s also all this stuff about Aztecs running around and committing human sacrifices at the same time. This movie is insane.
Larry Cohen is a screenwriter/director that has made some interesting movies. For awhile I kept thinking the guy was black because of films like Black Ceasar, Hell Up in Harlem and the sudden blaxploitation moment in God Told Me to. He’s not though – Larry Cohen is just an old white guy that likes blaxploitation and since I’m a white fan of blaxploitation as well I really can’t call this a fault in him. God Told Me To is my personal favorite of Cohen’s work (after the mind-fuckingly awesome Q: The Winged Serpent) because it’s a movie all about the WTF twist ending. Cohen also gave us the series of killer baby movies It’s Alive as well as the 1985 cult film The Stuff. As a writer he gave us the Maniac Cop series of movies, and that 2008 movie Phone Booth (you know, the Schumacher film with Colin Feral and Keifer Sutherland). Though I will also consider his greatest achievement to be Q: The Winged Serpent because it’s a movie about cops fighting a dragon in New York City – I mean, who comes up with that kind of thing? And gets others to fund it? And manages to pull it off to make a great movie.
Q: The Winged Serpent successfully combines a film noir crime story with a giant monster movie. Imagine some noir classic like The Big Sleep combined with Godzilla. That’s not a very easy thing to imagine, some character from a Dashill Hammett or Mickey Spillane story doing battle with a mythical beast – but Cohen thought of it and it worked. The Q is in reference to the monster’s name – Quetzalcoatl (the Aztec God). The tagline for the movie was “Its name is Quetzalcoatl…. just call it Q, that’s all you’ll have time to say before it tears you apart.”
Telling cult and exploitation fans that this is a movie where David Carradine and Richard Roundtree fight a dragon is a great way to build interest and they do a great job in this movie. The shining force in this movie, however, is not Carradine or Roundtree or even the winged serpent – it’s this amazing method performance by Michael Moriarity that comes out of nowhere. Jimmy Quinn is a recovering junkie, still wacky and paranoid, that aspires to be a jazz pianist (even though he sucks at it). He takes part in a botched diamond heist that leads him to discover the creature’s lair at the top of a building. The event terrifies him but that doesn’t stop him from feeding this beast the mobsters from the diamond heist he screwed up. Later, he extorts money from the city of New York in exchange for information about Quetzalcoatl.
This has been a brief write-up of the movie because I don’t have a lot to say about Q: The Winged Serpent other than it is goddamned awesome. I feel it’s Larry Cohen’s best but other people are really attached to The Stuff or It’s Alive. You know, I should watch The Stuff again and analyze why it’s so well loved and such a cult film. Everyone talks about The Stuff and not enough people talk about Q: The Winged Serpent.