After The Shallows turned out to be the worst thing Blake Lively’s done since Ryan Reynolds, let’s see a monster-attack movie done properly. Q: The Winged Serpent is a creature feature about a dragon-god living in the Chrysler Building, presumably flat-sharing with Marvel’s Kingpin. Now that’s a sitcom.
An economical exploitation film, Q is the kind of X-rated B picture that would have played in scuzzy New York theatres at midnight back in 1982. There are boobs, blood, dragons… you know, like Game of Thrones. But underneath the silliness and cheapness, writer/director/producer Larry Cohen’s talonted filmmaking shines through.
Film scholar Kim Newman describes Cohen’s New York as: “a split level world that is part King Kong and part Mean Streets“. On the ground, down-and-out crook Jimmy Quinn (Michael Moriarty) scrambles to survive on the streets; and swooping above the Manhattan skyline, the winged serpent Quetzalcoatl is also just trying to survive… by eating New Yorkers. Talk about a satirical bite.
Before you can say “nominative symmetry”, their paths cross and as Newman says: “Both attempt to defy the city.” We’re talking Sydney Lumet with dragons. Cohen makes us invest in the human drama as well as the monster madness, sticking story, satire and horror together with irony and superglue.
Moriarty is oddly brilliant as Quinn, throwing himself headlong into this compelling character arc. His performance reminds me of Kevin Spacey in The Usual Suspects, which would be released more than a decade later. He’s joined by David Carradine, Richard Roundtree and a flying lizard, gleefully animated in Harryhausen-esque stop-motion by Randall William Cook and David Allen (not that one).
Taking its cues from monster-movie behemoth Jaws, the film appreciates the importance of anticipation and build-up before showing its hand – or in this case, talon. Until Q is fully revealed, we see her shadow against high-rise buildings, aerial shots from her POV and hear her piercing shrieks and Robert O. Ragland’s soaring score.
This is truly a film greater than the sum of its variously bizarre parts. From Cohen’s satirical vision to Moriarty’s towering performance, Q is a monstrously fun piece of genre-busting entertainment. With playful wit and deadpan execution, it’s got me worshipping Quetzalcoatl.