|Director: Larry Cohen
Michael Moriarty, Candy Clark, David Carradine, Richard Roundtree
The early ‘80s were a strange time in the world of horror cinema, as the world of sophisticated and atmospheric horror was in a rapid decline as the rowdy era of drive-in fright flicks began to burgeon. As a result of the success of The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Jaws, independent filmmakers with no filters and big imaginations came on the scene to fill theaters with tales of bizarre monsters, manic killers and undead mayhem. As fans flocked to see the new takes on terror, filmmakers dove deeper and deeper into mythologies, finding creatures to loosely adapt and bring to the big screen as the next memorable creature feature. From this mindset, Q: The Winged Serpent was begot, adding an all-too-sleazy New York atmosphere to the mechanics of Jaws.
Public opinion on Q seems to be polarized, as the film tries to encapsulate a fun sense of fascination and mysticism to varying degrees of success. To some, the film stands side by side with Piranha and C.H.U.D. as a humor-laden horror gem of cult ingenuity, while others believe the films various narrative flaws align it closer to something worthy of the Mystery Science Theater treatment. Nevertheless, the film was given a Blu-ray upgrade from the always diligent SHOUT! Factory, who present Q: The Winged Serpent for the imaginative cinematic oddity that it is.
Although opening with the conventional “first kill”, Q quickly distances itself from the standard horror movie tropes as the film delves into two dueling narratives: one follows a frustrated detective who entertains the idea of the supernatural involvement as these murders tie to a ritualistic killing and the other follows a down-and-out criminal who stumbles upon the creature’s nest and unwittingly becomes the strongest weapon to fight it. The film often wears the hats of a procedural, paranoia film and horror pick-em-off, but the film somehow never feels to be tonally misbalanced, as if each bizarre shift is needed for the next shift to make sense. With the legendary yet inconsistent Larry Cohen at the helm, Q’s main appeal is the genuity of the high-concept story and the straight face of the low-budget story. In other words, Q: The Winged Serpent isn’t your typical ‘80s schlock horror, but certainly offers a heaping helping of absurdity.
If you are looking for genuine scares and thrills, Q will leave you disappointed, as the scary moments feel too ridiculous and stylistically familiar to resonate. The dialogue often feels stiff and the story itself is often predictable and stupid, but for some viewers, there is an endearing quality to the sincerity of those aspects that in a way elevates the material over the schlocky goresploitation films of the time. Q is a fun film, no doubt about it, but it seems for every moment of sleazy campiness is counteracted by a boring stretch of uneventfulness. Q, in that regard, is an incredibly subjective genre offering, and if you can get into it, the madness will resonate in a big way, while those who cannot simply cannot.
For all of it’s structural flaws, the film is a major success in two departments: the performances and the practical effects. In a traditional sense, most of the acting is not very impressive and often feels like a round of sleepwalking from several cast members, particularly a comfortably smarmy David Carradine and paint-by-numbers angry cop Richard Roundtree, but some of the other performances reek of a devotion to the film’s over the top nature. In particular, Michael Moriarty’s role of the ne’er-do-well criminal is wonderfully surreal, chewing on scenery and indulging in neurotic bravado in a performance that’s almost worth the price of the set alone. Moriarty is funny, engaging and sleazy on a level all its own, and when the film goes into wilder territory in the third act, Moriarty dives into the material head first.
As mentioned before, the film also hosts a series of strong practical effects, and while it may be congruous with many of the effects-driven monster films of the time, Q’s imagination is still infectiously admirable. Although the miniature and stop-motion work is absolutely era-appropriate, the practically puppeted animatronics are incredible in their own right and the wake of Quetzlcoatl’s carnage is gloriously gory. Even the creature itself feels as detailed as practically possible, offering a sense of personality to an otherwise relentless destroyer.
The HD video transfer and presentation of Q in its original 1.78:1 aspect ratio seems very truthful to the original source material, so any flaws are likely carried over from the film itself. The film’s natural grain is fully present, and predictably gets heavier during process shots of the Winged Serpent. Colors are truthful, but could pop more, and the image overall suffers a bit from softness. Thankfully, there are no signs of visible edge sharpening or DNR filtering.
Like the video presentation, the DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track has a few imperfections that are likely inherent in the original source material, but none of this is too distracting. There is no hiss or scratches and dialogue is clear and mostly leveled.
There is not as many extras here as in some other offerings from SHOUT! Factory, but the NEW Audio Commentary with writer/producer/director Larry Cohen is a gem—quite informative and fun to listen to. Also included are the original theatrical trailer and teaser.
As with most SHOUT! Factory releases, Q: The Winged Serpent is likely going to get its best transfer from this set, so fans of the film should seek it out if they already haven’t. As for the others, the film’s effectiveness relies on personal preference, as more open-minded and fun-loving horror fans will be more receptive to the film’s inherent bizarreness. Those who like their horror heavy and terrifying will definitely be underwhelmed, but the solid effects, Michael Moriarty’s scene-stealing performance and Larry Cohen’s straight-faced approach to his ridiculous material make Q stand out among its monster movie contemporaries.