Sunday, 1 March 2015

March Monsters: Q: The Winged Serpent (1982)

Q: The Winged Serpent (1982)
Director: Larry Cohen
Starring: David Carradine, Michael Moriarty, and Candy Clark

Running Time: 93 min

  Ever since I saw "The Stuff" when I was a kid, I became a big fan of writer/director Larry Cohen.  He's directed some of the best sploitation & horror films from the 70's, like "Black Caesar", "Hell Up in Harlem" and the unforgettable "It's Alive!" trilogy, so this man knows how to make a B-movie.  I'm actually a little sad that I haven't seen this film up until now but here goes nothing.  

  Detective Shepard and Powell are investigating two cases right now for the NYPD.  One is series of murders and mutilations, where people are being skinned alive or having organs removed from them and the other is a weird case of people either being decapitated from high atop the buildings or disappearing from the roof tops all together.  The two detectives are baffled by these strange deaths, until some people start reporting that a giant winged lizard has been scene during these attacks.  So, Shepard goes to the university to find out if there are any mythical creatures that resemble this description, so they can stop at least one of the cases.
  Meanwhile former junkie and ex-con, Jimmy Quin is back on the streets and looking for work.  After getting his horrible piano playing & singing dissed and thrown out of a bar, Kimmy decides to go back into crime and become a wheel man for a group of thugs.  He does it on one condition, he just drives and he doesn't have to carry a gun.  So everything is good, until they get to the jewelery store and the gang forces him to help with the stick-up.  Like most robberies, everything goes wrong and Jimmy is the only guy to get out alive and with the jewels, cash, beanie babies, whatever.  Anyway, Jimmy's luck gets worse and he loses the briefcase with the dough and runs a through the streets of New York like a maniac.  He gets to an apartment building and goes all the way to the top floor to hide out and regroup, but when he gets up there he discovers a number of human carcasses and a giant egg.  Not knowing what is happening up there, Jimmy ducks out of there before he becomes a meal for whatever laid that giant egg but sadly he runs into the boss of the gang, who wants his money from the job.  Frightened, Jimmy brings him up to the top floor of the creepy building and his boss and henchman are eaten by a monster and Jimmy is safe for now.  Jimmy tries to think of a way that he can take this killer bird thing to his advantage and after he gets picked up by the cops, he figures out a way.
  Back to Shepard, who has discovered that an ancient Aztec god named Quetzacoatl bears a resemblance to the description but it's too crazy to think that this creature is hiding out in the Big Apple feeding on New Yorkers.  However, this does tie together with his and Powell's other case because these ritual killings may have been what has awoken this ancient monster, right, right.  Can Shepard and Powell stop this winged serpent from eating people in this town or will this beast reek havoc on everyone and make rooftops totally unsafe for everyone?

  This is truly one of the most quintessential B-movies that I have had the pleasure to see.  The story is all over the place and the acting is not quite up to par but it's a hell of a lot of fun to watch.  I don't know how writer/director Larry Cohen (God Told Me To, Full Moon High) does it, but he is able to cobble together these outrageous story ideas and turn them into these incredible B films.  If you are a young film maker looking to make B-movies, watch Larry Cohens' work.  Corman, Kaufman and Cohen, the holy trinity of low budget madness.
  What makes this film great is that the cast is selling it to the nines and playing it straight the whole time.  David Carradine (Death Race 2000, Deathsport), who plays Shepard knows that there is a giant winged lizard swooping down and eating New Yorkers and he has to convince his partner Powell, played by Richard Roundtree (Shaft, Se7en) and his bosses at the department of this.  And when he does, with surprising ease, there is no nod to the camera or any humour at all but just straight business.  This is the situation and how are they going to deal with it and that's what makes this film works.  We as an audience know how ludicrous this situation is but part of the fun is how this is going to be resolved.  Ridiculous problems equal ridiculous solutions.
  Also, the other part of the fun of this film is seeing a lot of people getting their head being bitten off and eaten by a well crafted stop animated Quetzacoatl.  Cohen does not shy away from leaving numerous bloody headless corpses laying all over your screen.  As well as a heart felt but blood bath moment with a baby Quetzacoatl, it almost brought a tear to my eye when that thing got blasted.  Additionaly, considering the budget and when this film came out, my hat goes off to visual effects masters Randall William Cook (Lord of the Rings trilogy, Subspecies) and David W. Allen (Demonic Toys, Dolls) for a very impressive creature. 

 Of course, there are some bad elements in this film, if you are looking at it really critically.  So many elements of this story just seemed hacked together and get lost, then brought back again.  It's really crazy to watch.  Like the whole subplot of the ritual killings, that gets buried for most of the film because of the Jimmy Quinn subplot.  Something that one would think should be a central focus, who is killing and feeding this creature gets left behind, then tacked on at the end.  Also, the relationship between Detective Shepard and Jimmy Quinn, played by Michael Moriarty (Troll, Pale Rider) is so bizarre and doesn't make sense to me in the end.  It is a mostly hate relationship but at the end they're buddy buddy, but there is nothing that happens to create that change.  There is no reason or build up to why that should happen.  So, it's  completely beyond me why they should have a moment at the end.  But there are tons of weird moments like this throughout the film and one of the slowest police chases ever.  However, that's part of what makes this film so amusing.
  Additionally seeing Michael Moriarty's performance in this, it amazes me that he got work after this movie at all.  His singing and playing the piano in this film is equally on par with his dancing scene from the movie "Troll".  I know that Roger Ebert praised his great method performance but I don't see it.  To me, he was just off the wall and amusingly bad to watch through out the picture. 

  However it's moments like that, that makes this such a fantastic B-Movie and a must see for any fan of low budget cinema.  The effects are pretty good, there is lots of blood and there are a number of things that will give you a chuckle.  So, if you're looking for a good creature feature from the 80's, put your talons into this one and fly it home baby!

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