Format: Criterion Channel
Director: Michael Cohen
I'd tried to watch Q: The Winged Serpent (1982) a number of times, going back as far as high school, but the lack of monster to minute ratio was daunting. But with October upon us, and Criterion offering up a bevy of 1980's and vampire-based horror films (it *may* be your best bet, value-wise, this Halloween, after Shudder) I took a look at the list decided now was the time.
What a weird @#$%ing movie.
The entire look and feel of the movie is firmly in 1970's film-making. By 1982, we're two years past Empire Strikes Back, and two years away from 1984, which is pretty much where you can lock in Gen X's idea of modern movie-going, and this movie looks and feels like it should be 1974. The effects are a reminder of how dodgy stop action could be if work wasn't coming out of ILM. The characters are stock 1970's characters - a world weary cop in a grungy NYC police precinct and a ne'er-do-well living outside the confines of square life who also has an artistic side and troubles with his woman. New York is filmed as an unglamorous city in decline. Every conversation turns into a stylized argument straight out of 1970's acting school.
About half-way through the movie, I began to believe I'd misunderstood what the movie was, really. For a hot minute, I thought the monster of the film was going to be inconsequential and we were really getting a character study of a cop delving into stuff beyond him on one side and, really, the way government and power work in a crisis through the lens of the Michael Moriarty story as a crook and hustler tries to exploit his knowledge during a crisis. But, nope, it's a big, goofy monster movie with some deeply 1970's vibes and an ending that feels hopelessly tacked on for the kiddies who showed up for a monster and cop movie.
My understanding is that Moriarty's role (which now feels like he reached into the future and channeled Bill Burr) is what people grab onto and why the film has such a high reviewer rating. And they're not wrong. He's great. Candy Clark is in one of those thankless but terrific "gotta support my man" parts from the 1970's that seems far closer to gender dynamics of the 1950's than the 1990s. David Carradine is a solid actor, but I'm sure if he knew what Moriarty was up to, he wouldn't have gone for "Crusty Hero Cop #8974".
Most weird is that the film, about a Mayan diety, features no Latinos as near as I can tell. In NYC. Nor does it ever really explain how people were volunteering to be human sacrifices or why. The chief murder-priest isn't played by anyone with a Central American heritage - he's from Bombay. And I'm not sure if he's supposed to be from India or he's supposed to pass for Hispanic? I know Hollywood has a fraught relationship with Latinos but this is just wild.
There's a great movie buried in here, and so it's a good and entertaining movie, but one that feels like it has studio notes all over it to the detriment of the film.
I'm glad I finally saw it. I might watch it again. But - for me - the whole is not greater than the sum of the parts.