Friday, 29 May 2015

Q - The Winged Serpent (1982)

Imagine a monster movie in which Aztec ritual sacrifice conjures up a flying monster that snatches New Yorkers from high buildings. Well, we don't need to imagine it, because it was made by a chap called Larry Cohen. And it's every bit as weird as it sounds.

Q is one of those exuberantly daft films that marked the temporary demise of the cheap-and-cheerful(ish) horror/monster movie that was actually intended for movie release. The rise of VHS meant that, in a few years' time, films with such absurd (and bloody) premises would go straight to video.

But Q (the Winged Serpent bit was added later, and doesn't appear in the opening credits) was seen as your local fleapit, in all likelihood. As such, it commanded some decent production values and a starry cast.

Rather than just review it, I found an old MP3 recorder and decided to test it out by recording my brilliant observations. It's been  many, many years since I saw Q on late-night telly. In fact it's quite possible that I've never seen it all the way through till now, just caught bits when rolling in from the pub in my misspent youth. Well, it's time to rectify that as I give you my scintillating insights, as recorded during the actual movie when I'd been drinking.

This may go on for some time. It's all free, folks...

Okay, 'Samuel Z. Arkoff presents...' a film, obviously, and... it stars Michael Moriarty, Candy Clark, David Carradine, a star presumably desperate for money, and Richard 'Shaft' Roundtree who probably fell into the same category. Bruce Carradine's in it as well, so he got his brother in as part of the deal. Visually effects by literally some people who aren't Ray Harryhausen.

Our story begins with a woman in a high-rise, and there's a guy cleaning the windows outside in one of those cradles. He looks creepy, he has a moustache.  'How many times can you wash that dumb window?' she asks. She's apparently running a mail order shoe and handbag emporium. He's cleaning the window, making an irritating squeaking noise, but then there's a much louder sound and his head is ripped off. Now we see that it is indeed the Empire State Building, outside which Richard Roundtree is meeting David Carradine - both cops.

Head ripped off at high altitude. A rational explanation is offered. Huh.

It's a film chock full of good imagery, like sweaty, disgusting men carving meat. Michael Moriarty is talking to bad guys with terrible Seventies moustaches that have survived into the Eighties, proving that evolution is not entirely valid re: facial hair. Mr Moriarty is keeping Bad Company.

Now, just to confuse things, a flayed body has been discovered in an apartment. Richard Roundtree is baffled. 'Somebody skinned him!'

Excellent setting up of everything in the first few minutes - flying monster, flayed body, and now a woman is going onto a roof to sunbathe topless. There's a guy watching from an adjacent building with binoculars. He has the cheesy facial hair, of course. Off comes the top, and then we get the helicopter shot/monster POV before we go back to the baby oil. And here comes the flying monster - eek! And now we cut to a giant advertising chicken, hilarious, and blood is raining down on New Yorkers, who are upset. 'It's shit!' says someone. 'No, it's blood!' Rather improbably they can't see the monster because it's flying 'in the sun'. It's the Red Baron of giant flying predators.

Now Michael Moriarty is trying to get a job playing jazz piano in a bar. Candy Clark, his girlfriend, clearly suggested this as she's the barmaid. David Carradine has just walked in. Moriarty is a terrible scat-jazz singer-pianist. We know he's terrible not just because we can hear him, but because the dog doesn't like him. When a dog notices how bad music is things are desperate. I mean, it's an Alsatian for God's sake.  Bad news for the balding, cheap-suited pianist - the manager has turned on the jukebox to hear some real music. Girlfriend not impressed. David Carradine tries to be supportive, and gets a 'Fuck You!' for his trouble.

Meanwhile, back at the carnage, cops standing round going 'Duh! Dunno!' Now MM's idiot pianist is involving himself in a heist with the pre-Sopranos from earlier. Our anti-hero is the wheel-man but has just been handed a gun and told to aid in the robbery at a diamond emporium. Bloody stupid, as there are two cop cars just across the street. Typical New York stuff. Now the robbery has gone way south with gunfire and lost car keys. MM is running away with a suitcase of diamonds, I presume. Oh, he's been hit by a taxi and the loot is in the road.

Having been hit by a car I can testify to the quality of his acting. You don't just recover, you limp away in confusion and embarrassment, plus pain. Now he's calling his lawyer, and guess what? The lawyer lives in the Empire State Building. Threads being interwoven. Now our anti-hero is fleeing into the building, he's being pursued, his lawyer's office is closed. Security are onto him so he's climbing up the pointy bit top of the building - the Zeppelin mooring mast! (Not really, but that was the story they told to justify 'putting a hat on it'.) Anyway, MM is going up, like an idiot running away so as to arouse suspicion.

Right, the pointy bit. Is this the roosting place of the monster? Yes it is. Here we get genuine shots of NYC, and discover that MM, while a coward in many ways, isn't afraid of heights. So he just keeps going up, though no-one is pursuing. The shots are pretty impressive. And he's just discovered a nest with giant eggs. What do you do in such circs? Poke it, knock on it a couple of times. Yes. Then maybe you go away? It's a very big egg. Yes, he's doing the sensible thing and retreating...

And now he's urinating, while being attacked by a pigeon. And dead bodies have started falling on him because this is the nest of the monster. He's got the gun he had during the robbery, which I'm assuming he hasn't fired because he's a bum not an outright bad guy. And we're still only twenty minutes in, and a shedload of exposition has happened with very little dialogue. Now MM is taking a bracelet from the remains of what I assume was the sunbathing girl. Plot point. Beats a hasty retreat upon hearing a 'Braaaaawk!' type noise.

Now we're on the high steel, and another set-up in the tradition of Jaws etc. Somebody has been molesting the lunch pail of a worker who's clearly the butt of much humour. We know this guy's going to get killed, and that's part of the fun, really. Now we see the shadow of the monster cast on the skyscrapers as bits of body rain down on the populace at large. This causes some alarm.

David Carradine's talked to an expert, heard about the Flayed God, and is doing research into the Aztecs and stuff. Quetzalcoatl - did it ever exist? 'Wouldn't be the first time in history a monster was taken for a god.' He's looking at a page on Teotihuacan, which has nothing to do with the Aztecs but never mind. DC has a bald spot like MM! This is film of bald spots, in fact. But he has an attractive, much younger girlfriend because he is the hero.

Cut to Michael Moriarty's apartment, or his girlfriend's, which is quite nice, considering. She isn't buying his crazy story, though, And this scene illustrates, once more, the way that this cast bring twice as much acting ability to this movie as is needed. Value for money, folks! And now MM the ex-junkie and bad piano crooner lays down the law about monsters. 'There ain't any eggs that big!'

Woah! And now an actual Aztec human sacrifice is happening. The guy in the ritual mask (of course) sounds British and may well be the museum guy who talked to David Carradine earlier. And now someone's drawing a parallel with Holy Communion, which is firm but fair I suppose. Has the god returned? Will New Yorkers end up worshipping it? Will success spoil Rock Hunter?

Now MM's gangster friends want the diamonds back. Since he dropped them he has no option but to run away. Where to? Yep, we see a classic New York 'use the fire-escape ladder that swings down' chase and we're off. And again a chase scene shows how fascinating and diverse New York is - the film is an extended love letter to the city, albeit one penned by a cynic with some major issues. MM tells the gangsters the diamonds are hidden in the pointy bit of the Empire State Building. Heh. So in a sense the 'spirit of New York' - i.e. a grubby opportunist - is making sacrifices to the monster.

Half-way mark in the movie, and we actually see the monster grab a guy from a rooftop swimming pool - our first good look at the Winged Serpent. It's not bad given the constraints on model work. MM gets nabbed by the NYPD, remarking that 'black cops are worse than the white ones'. Another deft cut takes us to a discourse on biology and metaphysics, with David Carradine asserting that 'Thing thing has been PRAYED back into existence!' Only he can say this. Kung Fu and all that.

Now the good guys have cheesy creep MM, he refuses to tell 'em where the monster-bird is unless he gets lots of money and stuff. His girlfriend adopts a very moral line on this. (Why is she his GF, then? No idea.) And here comes a classic line: 'I'm just asking for a Nixon-like pardon for anything and everything I might have done.' Boom! The American dream personified, post-Watergate. Pity the cops hadn't figured out that the place where they arrested MM is the nest site, but hey - dumb cops are part of the whole shebang. Fortunately David Carradine sorts it out by psychology.

After that it's get out the guns, go up the Empire State Building, and try and shoot this mutha. Which they do. But of course, there's a twist ending...

And there ends my exciting 'real time' commentary. I may do another one if I find a suitable film that's so joyously full of things to talk about. 


Cardinal Cox said...

I actually did a poem last week prequelling Q with Dr. Phibes in 1930 in the newly opened Chrysler Building importing Pteradon eggs from Maple-White Land (The Lost World) in South America...

valdemar said...

Great minds think alike! And I'm not at all surprised that Phibes was to blame for this.

Freline said...

You've made a major mistake: the building in which Q nests is not the Empire State Building, but the Chrysler Building.