Home Video Hovel: Q: The Winged Serpent, by Scott Nye
What are we to do with a film like Q: The Winged Serpent? On the surface, Larry Cohen’s most famous film appears a schlocky monster movie, and while it certainly has those elements, so much of the film is devoted to things having nothing to do with the monster. Maybe it was a practical necessity, I don’t know. Further, they keep staving off the city’s realization that there’s, you know, a giant winged serpent flying about New York and eating people, despite it, you know, being right there. But all of that is somewhat for nought, because what’s so interesting about Q to a guy like me who isn’t all that much of a genre nut is the fact that there’s so much damned life in the picture.
Look at most genre flicks made today, even (or especially) the “self-aware,” “ironic,” or “deconstructionist” types – they’re almost in denial of any sense of life outside of monsters, killers, and all the other tangible elements of the kind of film they’re making. They’re films made by people who only know movies. Q: The Winged Serpent, for all its silliness, is steeped in life in New York, and all the grime and corruption and seediness in which it was soaked in the early 1980s. Our protagonist, Quinn (Michael Moriarty), has zero investment in the threat, and for most of the film, he’s not even An Honest Guy, Just Trying to Get By. He’s a piano player who moonlights as a diamond thief, and he’s not very good at either, let alone just being a human being. He drinks too much, gets violent with his girlfriend. He cheers as Quetzalcoatl tears apart some fellow mugs looking to bump him off. When he has a chance to help take the creature down, he extorts the city for every cent he can get.
Moriarty is the most oft-highlighted element of the film, and not without reason. He almost exists outside of the film, so wild and untamed is his performance. Rex Reed praised the Method-y nature of it, but I can’t possibly conceive what real human emotion Moriarty was tapping into. He’s unhinged, but he’s not uncompelling. Moriarty becomes an expression of the film’s rushed production, Cohen’s willingness to throw anything at the wall whether it sticks or not. What might be lost in a more “refined” piece is gained in finding the spontaneous, free from intellectualization, and more instinctive.
All of which, again, is not to say the film is bereft of various 80s genre pleasures, from stop-motion monsters to funny cops to gratuitous nudity to blood, blood, and more blood. Not to mention a certain lurching sense of narrative momentum, in which things will quickly pick up only to come to a grinding halt, but hey, you take the good, you take the bad, and then you get a winged serpent.
Q: The Winged Serpent comes out on Blu-ray courtesy of Shout! Factory looking pretty damn fine. The image is a little soft overall, which wouldn’t bother too much if the colors weren’t so bold as well. It’s not a bad transfer by any stretch, just well short of industry standards (including their own, it should be noted). You also get a commentary track with Larry Cohen, which is a real pleasure, as these kind of many-years-removed-from-the-publicity-cycle bits tend to be. If you’re a fan of the picture, naturally you must hear this, but even those on the fence about it all will greatly benefit.