Q The Winged Serpent Review
Are there any doubts as to Q The Winged Serpent’s cult credentials? Writing, producing and directing we have Larry Cohen, a man seemingly unable to a non-cult item for the cinema: Black Caesar, Bone, It’s Alive, and the list goes on. There’s the attachment of Samuel Z. Arkoff plus a cast that boasts Michael Moriarty, Candy Clark, Richard Roundtree and David Carradine in the four main roles. And then there’s the title of course, featuring words which in this combination could equal one of only two things: utter trash or a masterpiece.
Now 23 years of age, most of us should know that Q is the latter – and to my mind Cohen’s finest as well as being the only one of his films to feature on Moviedrome during the Alex Cox years (as part of a double bill with another creature feature since picked up for release by Anchor Bay, Lewis Teague’s Alligator). This isn’t a film which strives for such an audience, however (a sadly growing trend which has resulted in there being more wannabe cult articles than the genuine article), rather is sees Cohen paying personal homage to his old favourites. As Carradine puts it, Q is “just an old fashioned monster”.
Yet whilst Cohen is aware that we want a monster movie – and provides one in a slightly gorier Ray Harryhausen style – it becomes increasingly apparent with each new viewing that he is also addressing the film noir genre. Quetzalcoatl, to give Q its full name, may get the title role, but Michael Moriarty is the major figure. He plays a small time crim and aspiring jazz pianist who, following a bungled jewel heist (the site of which, Neil Diamonds, gives the film its best joke), hides out in the Chrysler Building and discovers the titular beast. The crux is that he’s a complete coward – it’s as though one of Elisha Cook Jr.’s characters has finally been granted more than a few lines of dialogue and an early death. We see him nervously fidget with his collar, get hit by a car and utter lines such as “I stink and I wanna cry”.
The same is also true of the Carradine and Roundtree characters. Both play obscenely laid back cops who would normally mouth one or two gnomic lines of dialogue and be done with, but here are given far greater prominence. Neither blinks an eye as they investigate decapitations, ritual sacrifices and a reincarnated god. To them it’s all in a day’s work which only makes all the more appealing. Indeed, Cohen could have removed all traces of the serpent from his film and still arrived at a terrific crime flick. As it is we also have a great monster movie as well.
Indeed, just as the cops and robber element harks back to the past as well as being handled in taut fashion, so too does Q itself. Cohen gets straight down to business once the opening credits are over (immediate decapitation) and then rounds things of with a neat King Kong reverse homage. Yet the two generic elements also complement each other inasmuch as the neat and tidy plotting is contrasted with the rough and ready special effects. The helicopter work may be fine (the shots were photographed by the same man responsible for Superman’s equivalents), but there’s also delightfully creaky stop-motion and some hugely over the top foley work. Of course, such matters are part of the fun and you only have to compare Q to the 1998 Godzilla - a film which did things the other way around with its shoddy scripting and state of the art visuals, despite ripping off a number of Q’s plot points – to realise that Cohen clearly knows what he’s doing, and does it extremely well.
Despite its clean print and anamorphic transfer, Q’s region 2 release is something of a disappointment. Blighted by an NTSC to PAL transfer we therefore get intermittent artefacting, ghosting and a lack of definition to the image when it could have otherwise been quite impressive. Thankfully, the sound fares better with optional DD5.1 and DTS mixes to complement the original stereo. Oddly, however, neither proves as dynamic as the DD2.0 nor are they as involving. That said, the original choice is technically sound as well as being crisp and clear, so there really is little reason to be disappointed.
Of the extras, only Cohen’s commentary truly deserves its place on the disc. The rest root through the archives for production stills and the like as well as providing biographies for the director and his key cast members, but are unlikely to make beyond a single viewing. The chat track, however, is mostly agreeable with Cohen laying into I, the Jury (the film from which he was booted off before starting Q), discussing the week of preparation he had before going into production and divulging the possible casting of Bruce Willis and Eddie Murphy in two of the lead roles. He’s also never allowed a pause as he’s joined by William Lustig (who directed Maniac Cop from a Cohen script) who continually points out the areas which we want discussed, but never gets in the director’s way. At times it’s as though he’s barely there, leaving only Cohen and his disarming, refreshing honesty.
Unlike the main feature, the commentary comes without optional subtitles.