‘You’ll just have time to scream… before it tears you apart!’
Q also known as Q: The Winged Serpent and The Winged Serpent is a 1982 American crime horror film written and directed by Larry Cohen (It’s Alive; God Told Me To; The Stuff). The movie stars Michael Moriarty, Candy Clark, David Carradine and Richard Roundtree.
Pre-production for the movie lasted just one week. The movie was hastily conceived when Larry Cohen was fired from directing I, the Jury, which was shooting in New York. Apparently determined not to waste the hotel room he had paid for, Cohen hired the actors and prepared a shooting script within six days. This was the first production by Samuel Arkoff’s newly created AIP (Arkoff International Pictures).
According to interviews, Cohen once looked at the Chrysler Building and said, “That’d be the coolest place to have a nest.” This single thought was the idea that began the creation of this movie.
David Carradine agreed to play Shepard even though he didn’t receive a script to read prior to his first day of working on the film. Bruce Willis apparently wanted to star in David Carradine’s role but wasn’t a known name at the time that Larry Cohen could depend on to be bankable.
Q stands for Quetzalcoatl, a winged serpent that was once worshipped by the Aztecs. In 1982 New York someone has been performing ritual sacrifices, flaying victims of their skin. As a result, Q has flown all the way to the city and has taken residence in the iconic Chrysler Building. She’s also laid an egg, from which a baby Q will soon emerge.
Apparently, it’s next to impossible to surprise a New Yorker as living in the city means that you’ve seen it all. And that certainly seems to be the case in this film because no one in New York seems to notice that there’s a winged serpent flying above the skyscrapers.
Somehow, Q manages to snatch up all sorts of people without anyone noticing. When Q beheads a window washer, Detectives Shepard (David Carradine) and Powell (Richard Roundtree) aren’t particularly concerned by the fact that they can’t find the man’s head. Shepard just shrugs and says the head will turn up eventually.
Q is really two films in one. One of the films deals with a winged serpent flying over New York and killing people. This is is a throwback to the old monster movies of the ’50s and ’60s, complete with some charmingly cheesy stop-motion animation. The movie is silly but undeniably fun. Director Cohen is both paying homage to and poking fun at the classic monster movies of the past and both Carradine and Roundtree gamely go through the motions as the two cops determined to take down a flying monster.
However, there’s also an entirely different film going on, one that feels like it belongs in a totally different universe from the stop-motion monster and David Carradine. This second film stars Michael Moriarty as Jimmy Quinn, a cowardly yet charming getaway driver who would rather be a jazz pianist. Quinn may be a habitual lawbreaker but he always makes the point that he’s never carried a gun. He does what he has to do to survive, however, he’s never intentionally hurt anyone. In Quinn’s eyes, he’s a victim of a society that has no room for a free-thinker such as himself.
So, when Quinn stumbles across Q’s nest, he suddenly has an opportunity to make his mark. As he explains it to the police, he’ll tell them where to find the serpent and her eggs. But they’re going to have to pay him first….
In the role of Quinn, Michael Moriarty is a jittery marvel. Whenever Moriarty is on screen, he literally grabs the film away from not only his co-stars but even his director and makes it his own. Suddenly, Q is no longer a film about a monster flying over New York City. Instead, Q becomes a portrait of an outsider determined to make the world acknowledge not only his existence but also his importance.
After spending his entire life on the fringes, Jimmy Quinn is suddenly the most important man in New York and he’s not going to let the moment pass without getting what he wants. Thanks to Moriarty’s bravura, method-tinged performance, Jimmy Quinn becomes a fascinating character and Q becomes far more than just another monster movie.
It makes for a somewhat disjointed viewing experience and yet the film still works. With its charmingly dated special effects and its surprisingly great central performance, Q is definitely a film that deserves to be better-known.
Lisa Marie Bowman, guest reviewer via Through the Shattered Lens
“Compared to most horror films of this decade, Q – The Winged Serpent looks a bit more dated and of its time due to the stop-motion Claymation effects. But it’s so strange and so very Cohen that it makes sense that it would gain a cult following.” Bloody Disgusting
“Both Quinn’s hard-luck crime story and the presence of Q overhead really capture the imagination, but the subplot about a high priest performing human sacrifices on the ground is a useless appendage. It’s hard to imagine developing any sort of emotional investment in that business, and it’s the part of the film that feels the most like a run-of-the-mill horror scenario.” Film Freak Central
“Q is also genuinely unsettling, despite some creaky special effects, and few movies have ever utilised the towers of the New York skyline so effectively as a nauseatingly three-dimensional landscape that regularly induces vertigo in the viewer.” The Quietus
‘ …Q is mostly a good-natured lark that’s only occasionally energized by the director’s characteristic social outrage and despair, and so it pales in comparison to Cohen films as deranged and provocative as God Told Me To, It’s Alive, or even the goofy The Stuff. Q feels slight and sketchy in relation to those other films…’ Slant Magazine
Cast and characters:
Michael Moriarty … Jimmy Quinn
Candy Clark … Joan
David Carradine … Shepard
Richard Roundtree … Powell
James Dixon … Lt. Murray
Malachy McCourt … Commissioner
Fred J. Scollay … Capt. Fletcher
Peter Hock … Det. Clifford
Ron Cey … Det. Hoberman
Mary Louise Weller … Mrs Pauley
Bruce Carradine … The Victim
John Capodice … Doyle
Tony Page … Webb
Larkin Ford … Curator
Larry Pine … The Professor
Eddie Jones … The Watchman
Shelly Desai … Kahsa
Lee Louis … Officer Banyon
Fred Morsell … First Robber
Ed Kovens … Second Robber
Richard Duggan … Construction Worker
Jennifer Howard … Newscaster
David Snell … Attorney
Larry Silvestri … Policeman
Perry Genovese … Policeman
Gabriel Wohl … Policeman
Nancy Stafford … Eyewitness
Bobbie Burns … Sunbather (as Bobbi Burns)
Linda Gilbert … Shepard’s Wife
Aspect ratio: 1.85: 1
The film’s shooting title was Serpent