Joshua Reviews Larry Cohen’s Q: The Winged Serpent [Blu-ray Review]


There are cult classics, and then there are films like Larry Cohen’s Q: The Winged Serpent. With a cast including the likes of Richard Roundtree and Michael Moriarty and a premise involving ritual sacrifices and the rise of Aztec god Quetzalcoatl, the film had the makings of becoming a truly camptastic masterpiece of monster schlock, but instead, as this brand new Scream Factory Blu-ray release proves once again, this is as interesting a 1980s creature feature as you’re bound to find.

Written, produced and directed by It’s Alive director Larry Cohen, this utterly enjoyable romp of a monster film follows a pair of narrative threads, all revolving around a rash of murders plaguing New York City. First there is small time crook Jimmy Quinn who, after a failed heist has him on the run, runs into the nest of a recently risen Aztec winged God. However, he crosses paths with two long time cops, Dr. Shepard (David Carradine) and Sgt. Powell (Roundtree), who themselves are thrown into the fray attempting to solve a case of murders that may or may not be related to this creature.

And in this film’s use of the creature, comes its greatest attribute.

Whereas most films of this ilk would have their beast(s) front and center, Cohen gives his central monster the same screen time ostensibly as say any of the number of nameless and faceless victims the monster feasts on. The final act of the film gives us our first legitimate look at the beast, and collectively she is likely on screen for a handful of seconds. Instead of being a campy creature picture, however, Cohen attempts to paint a truly compelling police procedural that itself finds a handful of solid performances at the very center of the story.

Moriarty is kind of a revelation here. Most will likely know him from his various TV work, but as a Method stage thespian, he gives this film an oddly enthralling energy and rawness. It’s not as naturalistic as a normal Method performance, simply given the inherent cartoon nature of the plot, but it is one that really gives a healthy layer of character depth to a film that would otherwise feel like your run of the mill monster-driven horror picture. There are a few over the top beats (there is an argument with his main squeeze, played by Candy Clark, that leaves a lot to be desired, primarily subtlety), but there is a lot to dig one’s teeth into with regards to this performance. Carradine is solid, playing the sarcastic Dr. Shepard as if it were second nature to him, with Richard Roundtree turning in a performance that is very much typical of say, Richard Roundtree. It’s a film that thrives on its characters being something more than caricatures, and thankfully, the solid cast here does its job to elevate the campy material.

That said, this is very much a film driven by Cohen’s rather singular vision. Featuring some rather superb grainy and contrast-heavy photography, the film itself holds a rather visceral aesthetic, and Cohen relegating the monster at its center to nothing more than shadows and brief frame-long glimpses gives the film a sense of terror not really found within this genre during this time period. The effects here are rough and haven’t aged perfectly, but the character itself is still a truly imposing and haunting figure amongst this narrative, that it becomes a truly terrifying film come that final act.

Now, while the effects are admittedly rough, and some of the Cohen-penned dialogue feels stilted and campy, this is a truly interesting take on the monster film genre, a genre that has seemed to have died completely in today’s modern landscape. With a great sense of style inspired by director Larry Cohen and some solid performances that stand up as testaments to just how great a director Cohen truly was, Q is an absolute joy to watch, be it for the first time as it was for this writer, or for those of you who may be long time fans of this genuinely superb cult classic. The effects be damned, come the film’s final action-soaked act, it becomes impossible for one not to become utterly enraptured by the bullets flying, people falling and everything else adorning that shockingly tense and thrilling final set piece.

And thankfully, Shout Factory and its subsidiary Scream Factory have given us the Blu-ray that it so richly deserves. The transfer here is admittedly a bit weak. Notch that up to rough source material, but the effects here look dreadful, and the film itself looks like it has been taken for a bit of a ride since hitting theaters in 1982. Sound-wise, the dialogue seems a bit under mixed, but again, one has to chalk that up to the source material, which has been mostly relegated to B-grade DVDs or even worse VHS cassettes for much of its life span. However, with a commentary from Cohen himself, this is a solid home video release for a film that is more than deserving of a Blu-ray of the highest regard, and yet another feather in the cap of both Shout and Scream Factory.

Joshua Brunsting

Josh is a critic, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, a wrestling nerd, a hip-hop head, a father, a cinephile and a man looking to make his stamp on the world, one word at a time.