Directed By: Larry Cohen
Starring: David Carradine, Michael Moriarty, Candy Clark
Tag line: "You'll just have time to scream... before it tears you apart!"
Trivia: 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
Take an old-style giant monster movie and mix in a generous helping of exploitation goodness and you have Larry Cohen’s Q: The Winged Serpent, a 1982 horror / mystery about an ancient flying reptile feasting on the good citizens of New York City. Yet as imposing a figure as the title creature is, it’s upstaged at every turn by actor Michael Moriarty, playing one the most charismatic slimeballs ever to grace the big screen.
The New York City police have been working overtime to solve a series of bizarre murders. One victim, a window washer, had his head lopped off while he was working… hundreds of feet in the air! Even more gruesome was the discovery of a body that had been skinned from head to toe. Initially, the detectives assigned to these killings. Shepard (David Carradine) and Powell (Richard Roundtree), believe the two cases are unrelated. That changes, however, after Shepard pays a visit to the National History Museum, where he learns a little something about ancient Aztec rituals. From what he can gather, a religious cult is using human sacrifices to resurrect the winged serpent God Quetzalcoatl. What Shepard and his fellow officers don’t realize, though, is that the sacrifices are actually working.
But one man knows the truth: petty thief (and wannabe musician) Jimmy Quinn (Michael Moriarty). After taking part in a jewel heist, a nervous Quinn decided to hide out on the top floor of the Chrysler building, where, along with some skeletal remains, he found an enormous nest with a giant-sized egg in the middle of it. A day or so later, Quinn is picked up by the cops for his role in the heist, and overhears Shepard talking to Powell and Lt. Murray (James Dixon) about the possible existence of a dragon-like creature, which may be responsible for some of the unexplained deaths. Realizing he’s the only person who knows the whereabouts of the monster’s lair, Quinn tries to strike a deal with the cops, promising to lead them to the nest in exchange for immunity and $1 million in cash. Shepard and his superiors, as well as Quinn’s long-suffering girlfriend Joan (Candy Clark), try to get the small-time crook to spill the beans, yet he refuses to budge, and with the lives of millions of people hanging in the balance, the police may have no choice but to give Quinn exactly what he wants.
Considering it’s a low-budget ‘80s film, the special effects in Q: The Winged Serpent aren’t half bad (the shots of the monster flying through the air were accomplished via stop-motion animation). On top of that, the movie features plenty of gore (in the opening sequence, we see what happens to the window washer, and it ain’t pretty) and even a little gratuitous nudity (thanks to a topless sunbather, played by Bobbi Burns, who ends up as a snack for Quetzalcoatl). Yet what you’ll remember most about Q: The Winged Serpent is Michael Moriarty’s electrifying performance. Whether having lunch with his criminal cohorts or auditioning for a job as a piano player, his Quinn is always the most interesting character on-screen. Even in the later scenes, when he’s trying to blackmail the police, he has charisma to spare, and while it’s obvious from the get-go Quinn is a nefarious dude, you can’t help but like the guy.
Toss in David Carradine (not at his best, but good enough) and Shaft himself, Mr. Richard Roundtree; as well as an exciting confrontation that takes place high above the city (a la King Kong), and you have what amounts to one hell of an entertaining creature feature.