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Q: The Winged Serpent(1982)
Classic cult monster-movie horror. When a number of New Yorkers are brutally decapitated while sunbathing on their tenement building roof, two NYPD detectives are assigned to solve the case. Meanwhile, paranoid jewel thief Jimmy Quinn (Michael Moriarty) flees a botched heist and hides out on the roof of the Chrysler Building, where he unwittingly discovers the nest of the huge dragon-like creature that has been responsible for the deaths. As Quinn bargains with the police for a financial reward for his information about the creature's nest, a mysterious Aztec cult in the city start making human sacrifices to call on the creature they believe is Quetzalcoatl, the Plumed Serpent. Can the police get the location of the nest before more people are killed? And, once there, can they destroy the monstrous creature?
For more about Q: The Winged Serpent and the Q: The Winged Serpent Blu-ray release, see Q: The Winged Serpent Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on August 22, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Starring: Michael Moriarty, Candy Clark, David Carradine, Richard Roundtree, James Dixon
Director: Larry Cohen
» See full cast & crew
Q: The Winged Serpent Blu-ray Review
Method, meet madness.
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, August 22, 2013
Michael Moriarty is an actor who takes his work very seriously. There are stories galore floating around theater and film cognoscenti about Moriarty's devotion to his craft, which is a euphemism for his eccentricities, overbearing demeanor, and evidently just plain flat out weirdness some of the time. And so Moriarty might seem to be a rather odd fit for what would seem to be a low rent retread of a Grade B level monster movie. But that presumption with regard to 1982's Q: The Winged Serpent is wrong on two counts. First of all, and probably most importantly, Q: The Winged Serpent has more on its mind than simple creature scares, as evidenced by the fact that the creature, while certainly a major element and always lurking in the proverbial background and/or subconscious of this film, has an on screen time that can be counted in seconds. And that in turn is one reason why Moriarty turns out to be a casting stroke of genius, bringing a Method approach to a genre that, let's face it, usually runs from anything Stanislavskian like Fay Wray trying to get away from King Kong. Q: The Winged Serpent manages to stuff a lot of content into its fairly brief running time, including a kind of "kitchen sink drama" aspect with regard to Moriarty's character of Jimmy Quinn, a drug and alcohol addled perennial loser who botches a diamond heist he's forced to take part in but who has dreams of performing as a jazz pianist, and his hapless girlfriend Joan (Candy Clark), an aspect which seems to have been ported in from a nearby play by the likes of Edward Albee or Arthur Miller. Playing out against this intimate dysfunctional family drama is the main gist of Q: The Winged Serpent, which follows two detectives, Shepard (David Carradine) and Powell (Richard Roundtree), as they attempt to discover whether a series of really gruesome murders has anything to do with the sightings of a large winged dragon snatching people (or at least peoples' heads) from the upper echelons of various New York City skyscrapers. Q: The Winged Serpent isn't always successful, due at least somewhat to a rather odd mélange of tones, but it is unlike any other putative monster movie you're likely to ever see.
The film seemingly intentionally contravenes at least some established monster movie tropes by introducing several (initially) extraneous elements. Most prominent among these is Jimmy Quinn (Michael Moriarty), certainly one of the oddest main characters in any creature feature. Quinn is a hyperkinetic loser, a guy who actually gets hit by a cab after trying to complete a heist, and whose run from the authorities eventually leads him to the Chrysler Building, that homage to Art Deco that pierces Manhattan's skyline. Jimmy manages to get up into the upper reaches of the building's spire (evidently at least some of this film was shot on location), where he finds a rather large egg. In the meantime, both Shepard and Powell have been called to that other iconic Manhattan skyscraper, The Empire State Building, because a window washer has lost his head—literally.
The other odd element is the sort of police procedural side of things that plays out because a series of brutal murders has been taking place, with disemboweled, flayed bodies showing up in the unlikeliest of places. Initially there's disbelief that there's a mutant bird even in Manhattan, but later the sneaking suspicion that there might be—and that these murders, which resemble Aztec sacrifices of yore—may be related. What both of these frankly strange items do is distract from what is arguably the main point of the film—that there is indeed a giant prehistoric flying dinosaur (albeit of the Aztec goddess variety) gallivanting around New York and happily munching down unsuspecting humans for snack time. What that does is make the few Quetzalcoatl killings actually more shocking than they might perhaps have otherwise been, since they often seem to just appear out of thin air.
When the authorities finally do start taking the existence of Q seriously, Jimmy is there with a ransom of sorts. He knows where the bird's lair is, and he wants a sizable payday to divulge it. Meanwhile his relationship with Joan has hit a rough spot, both due to his violence, as well as his substance abuse problems. Once again, Q: The Winged Serpent completely defies typical monster movie logic by actually catapulting back to the personal side of the drama (at least for a moment) just when things seem to be heading toward a climax.
Q: The Winged Serpent has a decidedly skewed sense of humor running just beneath its often horrific surface. Carradine's character especially is sharp tongued, but there are a number of bizarre black comedic moments sprinkled throughout the film which keep it off kilter and weirdly amusing. There's also no mistaking the Bizarro World take on King Kong that serves as the film's climax. Instead of The Empire State Building, we have The Chrysler Building, and this time it's the combatants hanging precariously on the side of the skyscraper while the mutant creature attacks from above. In fact it's just another way that Q: The Winged Serpent tilts the whole monster movie tradition on its head. Before biting it off, of course.
Q: The Winged Serpent Blu-ray, Video Quality
Q: The Winged Serpent is presented on Blu-ray courtesy of Shout! Factory with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 1.78:1. It's been years since I've seen this film, and unlike some who insist they remember exactly how something looked decades ago in its theatrical exhibition, I only have dim memories of attending a midnight screening at a revival house. But I do remember that the film was not exactly a model of beautiful imagery, something that unfortunately is carried over into this high definition presentation. I have to assume that this was perhaps sourced from an older master, as a lot of this transfer is on the soft side, though colors are considerably robust quite a bit of the time and contrast is consistent if not overwhelmingly strong. Outdoor daytime scenes fare best here, with grain looking natural and the image approaching a level of sharpness and clarity that some of the darker interior sequences never quite attain. The opticals featuring Q are expectedly softer and grainier looking than the bulk of the film.
Q: The Winged Serpent Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Q: The Winged Serpent features a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track that seems to be hobbled by some inherited imperfections in the source stems. There's some minor but still noticeable distortion in the upper and upper midranges which crops up occasionally in dialogue, but which is most noticeable in some of the louder passages. Amplitude is also weirdly variable at times, so you may want to have your volume button at the ready. There's nothing that approaches true dropouts, but there are definitely some noticeable fluctuations here. Fidelity is reasonable, given the above caveats, and dynamic range is really rather wide.
Q: The Winged Serpent Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Q: The Winged Serpent Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
I frankly had forgotten what a weird little movie Q: The Winged Serpent is, and I mean that in only the best way. The film is both lurid and hilarious, disturbing and silly, predictable and completely unexpected. Moriarty's performance is certainly one of the most unforgettable that you're likely to see in a giant flying dragon film, and Carradine is really funny in a nicely understated way. The stop motion effects are quaintly "old school", and the great use of aerial photography around Manhattan is a big plus. Those who come to Q: The Winged Serpent expecting a traditional monster movie are going to be mightily perplexed. For those who like something decidedly different, which may or may not include that aforementioned giant flying dragon, Q: The Winged Serpent is a lot of fun. This Blu-ray has some minor issues with video and audio, but the supplementary commentary is excellent. Recommended.
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Q: The Winged Serpent Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Q: The Winged Serpent Blu-ray - May 2, 2013
Scream Factory has revealed that it is preparing for Blu-ray release director Larry Cohen's Q: The Winged Serpent (1982), starring Michael Moriarty, Candy Clark, and David Carradine. The release is expect to arrive on the market in August.
Q: The Winged Serpent Blu-ray, Forum Discussions
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