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Q

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 07/12/13 04:59:00

"Q for quick, quirk, and quetzalcoatl!"
3 stars (Average)

It is kind of impressive - well, it's kind of SOMETHING - that the title creature of Larry Cohen's quickly-assembled monster movie "Q" (sometimes "Q: The Winged Serpent") is roughly the third strangest thing about it. Why? Well, in part, because this is quite possibly the most bizarre thing Michael Moriarty has done in his career, and that's a pretty high bar to clear.

"Q" is for "Quetzalcoatl", the name of a flying, feathered snake-god of Central American myth. These myths, it turns out, have a basis in truth, as a winged serpent (sadly featherless) is flying around New York City, occasionally picking people off rooftops and eating them, but not quite being seen. These cases - along with a flayed body found in a hotel room, are proving quite confounding to detectives Shepard (David Carradine) and Powell (Richard Roundtree), at least until small-time crook Jimmy Quinn (Moriarty) stumbles onto its nest in the Chrysler building.

Let's be fair - describing Jimmy Quinn as a small-time crook really doesn't do the sheer oddness of Moriarty's performance here justice. Jimmy's a weird, stammering fellow of so little wit that it's difficult to tell whether he's just uncouth and not very bright or if he's mentally impaired in some way. That Cohen and Moriarty make him seem kind of childishly delusional and put-upon as he joins an armed robbery and tries to find work at a piano bar (in an audition where he is not very good at a ll in jaw-dropping fashion) despite also mentioning that he's occasionally hit his girlfriend (Candy Clark) is kind of amazing. It's not unusual for a movie to have a rogue in the lead, but it's rare for him to be as thoroughly peculiar as this one.

Even when Moriarty isn't on-screen, the rest of Q is plenty odd. Given that Cohen got this thing written and set-up in a week because he didn't want to waste his time in New York after being fired from I, The Jury, it's perhaps not surprising that it's got a somewhat improvised feel, with many of the kills feeling like Cohen just told his actors to do a scene ("executive annoyed by the guy who seems to be washing her window a little too often") and then just tagging "is killed by barely-seen monster" onto the end. It's surprisingly fun, actually - these scenes are a lot more casual than the usual "introduce people just to kill them" bits of horror movies, with the sorts of punchlines that make a viewer recognize that he or she should feel kind of bad for laughing at them without actually preventing that from happening. There's a similar feel to the scenes with Carradine and Roundtree, whose characters don't seem to particularly like each other and both have an amusing combination of sarcastic and deadpan reactions to the strange case they're investigating.

For all the low-key fun the movie can be, it's sort of a mess at times. Cohen makes the explanation of how and why someone is setting quetzalcoatls loose on the city quite vague, and, sure, "is this an animal that serves as the grain of truth behind the Mayan myth or is the sacrifice the important thing?" is not as important a question to answer as "how do we stop it?", but it drives enough of the action to deserve to be clearer. Maybe give it some time at the expense of Jimmy trying to negotiate payment for his information, which makes him more abrasive than he needs to be. The flashing-back to victims being flayed often feels like the definition of gratuitous, too - like they spent too much time and money shooting it to leave it on the cutting room floor when things didn't fit. It's not such a great bit of gore to be kept in no matter what.

The other special effects aren't exactly great, either - it's a pretty good choice to keep the quetzalcoatl mostly unseen, as even for 1982, it's not exactly state-of-the-art, either as a rubber monster or in terms of being matted onto the background. The visuals themselves are actually pretty decent, with Cohen and cinematographers Robert Levi & Fred Murphy getting the good aerial shots they need to sell this particular monster's attacks. There's whimsy to a lot of the movie - Jimmy helps rob a store called "Neil Diamond" - and even when the execution isn't great, the general atmosphere is enjoyable.

And for this type of movie, "sort of silly but enjoyable" is a rather positive result! Even today, when effects-laden monster movies have become fairly common, it's rare to find one that's as quirky as "Q" - or at least, that makes its quirk fun as opposed to annoying.

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