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Two Friends Talking Movies: Q the Winged Serpent (1982)

Q: The Winged Serpent (1982)by Dave Umbricht and Nathan Cone

After a bit of a hiatus, we are back.  Logistical issues delayed us. Who would have thought it would be difficult to obtain a copy of a B-movie about a flying lizard?

Anyways, here we go.

Nathan:

Want me to give you an opening salvo, or would you like to begin?

Dave:

Go right ahead. I’ll just say it was chosen because White Dog was a B-movie trying to be more, while Q was a B-movie that was so much more.

Nathan:

I’m not sure I would add the qualifiers “so much” in your statement, though I will agree that Q is a shade better than your average flying, head-chomping monster flick.

It seemed like a typical scare show from the ’80s, complete with wooden dialogue and dangling plot threads. But what planet did this guy Michael Moriarty come from??? At first I thought he might have been hopped up on coke or something, but the more I watched him, the more fascinated I became. His nervous speech patterns, body language, and bizarro dialogue were a standout.  Carradine, Roundtree, and the rest of the lot were like cardboard figures compared to him. Well, compared to anyone, I guess.

That being said, there were so many bad things going on in this movie. An awful monster, no suspense, extras that stare into the camera, and only two gratuitously exposed breasts. Precious few for a B movie.

One other thing I did find remarkable, though—they got to film in the actual Chrysler Building! Inside, at the top!

Dave:

Ah, now this is why we have friends.  They call us on our stuff, rein us in just a bit.  Ok, so yes, “so much” may overstate it.  There is no meaningful way to discuss/debate this movie.  It’s a movie you either love or you don’t.  And yes, I have a geeky affection for this movie, and the three Larry Cohen movies I have seen (Q, It’s Alive and God Told Me To).  And it goes beyond any of the actual films.

But first, to Q.  Michael Moriarty is insane in this thing, and I’m not entirely sure he’s not insane in real life (I have nothing to prove this other than recalling hearing the analogy of Michael Moriarty is to Larry Cohen as Klaus Kinski is to Werner Herzog).  You noticed it, I noticed it, the blind man who accidentally rented this would notice it.  It is probably the most fascinating thing about the movie.  I also loved some of the plot points and character motivations, seemed like they tried to add a little more flavor to it than just “head chomping.”  But, of course, in the end it is a movie about a flying lizard Aztec god, so only so much can be said.

But forget Aztec Lizard gods for a second, because Larry Cohen is a god.  You noted how cool it was that he filmed at the top of the Chrysler Building. That’s the beauty of Mr. Cohen, I’m not sure he had permission to do it.  His films had low budget or no budget and he just did want he wanted.  I heard him say that he felt he had filmed every street in Manhattan (all without a permit).

I love the creative freedom, the art of just winging it.  Sure, that doesn’t always yield something perfect, but it’s alive and it’s messy and that’s what the creative process is.  I also, love the fact that when they filmed a shot from the Chrysler Building it was essentially hanging a cameraman over the side of the building.  It’s dangerous filmmaking that unfortunately can’t be done today.

Check out this interview, where he explains a little about the “process”:

Nathan:

I don’t think Moriarty is insane, just crazy.  Does that make sense?  🙂  Seriously, I went and looked up the dude, and he has a Tony, three Emmys, and a Golden Globe Award.  Add to that his political ambitions, and you have a very interesting character, to say the least.

I, too, admire the DIY aspect of the production, but as for some of the plot points, they were just that — points.  As in, they’re briefly mentioned and then hardly followed up on.  And Richard Roundtree was completely wasted.  He phoned in the badass cop thing, but to see him get chomped at the end was so anti-climatic.  I wish he would have been right there in the firefight with Carradine at the end.  Q is a great illustration of what you can do, shooting with a small budget…. but I wish they would have started with a better script and storyboard before rolling film.  Example: all those awful shots of crowds staring up at the sky made me wonder… could no one see the giant flying lizard dripping blood on them?

Dave:

Well I think you summed up the whole conundrum with low budget movies: you always wish for more, but at the same time you have to admire what you have. There’s my fortune cookie logic of the day.

I’ll leave you with this question, is there a head chopping monster movie that does have a good script? (And I disqualify animals gone wild films – so Jaws doesn’t count. Neither do Piranha or Alligator, although I say that by reputation, I have not seen either).

Finally, I must give credit to Drew McWeeny at www.hitfix.com for introducing me to Q in his “Motion Captured Must See column”. I was aware of the movie in ’82, but couldn’t understand how something that looked like a Godzilla movie could possibly be rated R.

So with that, any final thoughts? Or just give me that next movie.

Nathan:

You are probably right that I am asking too much of a monster movie to have a good script! But I do like to see good performances, and with the exception of Mr. Moriarty, and a memorable scene with character actor Malachy McCourt, there isn’t much here in the acting department. But speaking of Godzilla, have you seen the original Japanese GOJIRA?

Dave:

I haven’t but I will soon.

Until next time, when we discuss the real Godzilla.

 

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About Dave Umbricht

Dave Umbricht is a self proclaimed "guy who knows a couple of things". However, he has never claimed to know them well. Genetically predisposed to love movies, at age ten he felt really cool being the only fourth grader who knew of the film "My Dinner with Andre", thanks to Siskel & Ebert. For the next twenty years he pretended to have seen the movie until he finally watched it at age 28 and understood what all the fuss was about. He attempted to watch all of the films on Ebert's Great Movies list by age 40. He failed.