The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Q: The Winged Serpent
Q: The Winged Serpent - On Blu-Ray August 27

Like most people, I initially saw 1982's Q: The Winged Serpent because of Siskel & Ebert, who surprisingly raved about it on their PBS show. Ebert, in particular, was fond of telling the story of the movie's screening at the Cannes Film Festival. According to him, Rex Reed approached the movie's producer, Samuel Z. Arkoff, and said, “All that dreck – and right in the middle of it, a great Method performance from Michael Moriarty!” Arkoff's reply: “The dreck was my idea.” That's a funny story, but it's also indicative of what I liked about Q at the time; it was a cheesy monster movie elevated into something fun because of a committed actor. Watching it again now for the new Scream Factory Blu-Ray (in stores August 27), I find that my feelings haven't changed one iota. This movie is still a goofy blast.

Moriarty plays Jimmy Quinn, a lowlife street criminal who, after a botched diamond heist, hides out in the most remote place he can think of: the peak of New York City's Chrysler Building. There, he discovers a giant nest belonging to a massive flying lizard. The creature – an Aztec god known as Quetzalcoatl – has been terrorizing people unlucky enough to be out on their rooftops. A couple of detectives, Shepard (David Carradine) and Powell (Richard Roundtree), are investigating the mysterious deaths. Jimmy sees an opportunity for himself. He's the only one who knows what's really going on and where the creature is located, so he attempts to extort money from the city in exchange for his information. It all culminates in an aerial attack on the creature as it circles the building, trying to get into its nest.

Q: The Winged Serpent was written and directed by Larry Cohen, a filmmaker who knows a thing or two about making giddy horror flicks. (He also did It's Alive and The Stuff.) Cohen utilizes old-fashioned stop-motion animation to create his creature. The thing looks like something out of a Ray Harryhausen production. The beast kills people in fairly graphic fashion, plucking them out of the sky or biting off a body part. Because the deaths are substantially gruesome, we don't mind so much that the creature effects are utterly unconvincing. Then again, done today, Q would utilize state-of-the-art CGI, but probably wouldn't be anywhere near as entertaining as the low-fi approach utilized here.

What really, truly sells the movie, though, is Michael Moriarty. Either no one told him that he was starring in a cheesy B-grade horror flick or he didn't care. Moriarty fully embodies the small-time criminal schemer he so energetically plays. Because of his consummate acting skill, the story becomes more about Jimmy than about Quetzalcoatl. Ultimately, Q: The Winged Serpent is the tale of a guy who tries to save his own ass by capitalizing on an important piece of information he stumbles across. That it's the home base of an enormous flying lizard is almost beside the point. The suspense comes not in seeing whether Quetzalcoatl is brought down, but rather in seeing whether Jimmy can get his terms met. Mortiarty's nervous, twitchy performance is a thing of beauty.

If you've never seen Q: The Winged Serpent, now is a great time to do so. Scream Factory's Blu-Ray looks terrific and comes with a new audio commentary from Larry Cohen, as well as a theatrical teaser and trailer. They don't make 'em like this anymore, and that's a shame. It's one of the best grindhouse-type pictures of the '80s.

For more information on this title, please visit the Scream Factory website.

Q: The Winged Serpent is rated R for violence/gore and language. The running time is 1 hour and 33 minutes.

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