Critic Consensus: No consensus yet.
Genre pioneer Larry Cohen, who broke new horror ground with the killer-baby hit It's Alive!, takes a stab at the giant-monster scenario with this enjoyable low-budget exercise. The title refers to the winged Aztec god Quetzalcoatl, represented here as a dragon-like flying lizard (thanks to some quaint but amusing stop-motion animation from David Allen), who decides to take up residence in the art-deco spire of the Chrysler Building, taking frequent jaunts in the midday sun to nip the heads off various hapless New Yorkers. The resulting bloody mess confounds detectives Shepard (David Carradine) and Powell (Richard Roundtree), who are already scratching their heads over a series of bizarre ritual murders linked to a secret Aztec cult. Into the picture comes the film's protagonist -- neurotic, sweaty, paranoid crook Jimmy Quinn (Michael Moriarty, in a tour-de-force performance), a two-bit wheel-man with aspirations of becoming a jazz pianist. After a botched diamond heist leads Quinn to Q's lair, his attempts to go straight take a side-turn as he decides to extort from the city an enormous sum in exchange for directions to the monster's nest. A few sneaky deals later, the location falls into Shepard's hands, and he leads a paramilitary assault on the Chrysler Building, where the creature's humongous egg is about to hatch. Rude, edgy, fast-paced, and peppered with witty dialogue (most of which can't be repeated here), Cohen's script retains the spirit of classic monster movies like The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, injecting it with tough, gangster-movie moxie. Moriarty's unbelievable performance -- one of three collaborations with Cohen -- finds him chewing acres of scenery as a contemptible, loud-mouthed goon who's too funny to hate; Moriarty also composed and performed two schizophrenic piano numbers for the film. … More
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as Jimmy Quinn
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as Lt. Murray
as Police Commissioner
as Capt. Fletcher
as Detective Clifford
as Detective Hoberman
as Mrs. Pauley
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Critic Reviews for Q
Cohen's obviously having fun with the cheesy clay animation, and Michael Moriarty delivers an inspired, whacked-out performance as a small-time operater who tries to turn the monster into his own private bonanza, but the rest... is disengaged and sloppy.
The only movie in which you may ever see a gnawed, bloody skeleton wearing a gold charm bracelet.
Audience Reviews for Q
Ray Harryhausen would be flattered with the stop-motion animation that adorns Quetzalcoatl, a prehistoric reptile who decapitates window-washers with a single munch. In the midst of it all is Jimmy Quinn (Michael Moriarty), a scurrilous low-life wheelman for criminals. It's as if Larry Cohen gestated on interjecting Ratso Rizzo from 'Midnight Cowboy' into a cartilage-laden creature-feature and against all odds, the raw, seedy B-plot of Jimmy Quinn is a stupendous switchback on archetypal horror-movie protagonists insofar as Quinn is a profiteering scoundrel who is flailing with reforming his felonious tendencies ("Maybe I can't make it outside the slammer."). Cohen is a Roger Corman-esque shlockmeister at heart and the titillating sight of a nude sunbather is juxtaposed with an ineptly shot scene of the droplets of the women's blood descending on pedestrians. Mostly due to budget, Cohen refrains from showing too much of the titular character and it extracts palpable suspense. Truthfully, 'Q - The Winged Serpent' is a wistfully scalene endeavor as it jostles back and forth between Moriarty's filching scheme and the occult angle with human sacrifices to appease the Aztec god Q. Nevertheless, the strain of self-effacing humor (Quinn states he never wants to "see eggs again" after witnessing Q's hatchling in his Chrysler Building lair) assists in digestion of the more disparate elements and it emerges as another unexpectedly witty character study with New York verisimilitude masquerading as a monster movie.
About an hour in, Morarty goes off the rails and Cohen gives up on plotting and good dialogue. But until then, it's one of the most unique genre movies ever, taking a totally different angle of storytelling, in the plot, in the kind of dialogue that carries us from scene to scene, in the shots of parts of New York City that create the whole, in the super high and low angles and aerial shots that are all different than we've seen before and all perfect for pulling the characterizations and the monster threat together.
The other half of what makes Q unique is the adventurous, voracious performance of Michael Moriarty. If Ratzo Rizzo was over-thought-out acting which Hoffman's second thoughts would have turned down a notch, here we get urban lowlife Jimmy Quinn and the opposite mistake. It's a method-like performance that is totally feeling driven, and might reach too much into Morarity's own reserves as an eccentric gone crazy. For a while, Quinn ( -- starts with "Q" -- ) is a amazing creation, and since he's more ordinary guy than crook, he has our empathy, and we like when he becomes a bit of a kook -- it's the common man's way of being Danny Kaye. But Quinn gets more selfish and annoying and resentful of how life has treated him, and empathy distills into pity, which is half chore. I started empathizing with the monster, who was too majestic to get shot down like Edward G. Robinson and had the whole city against him, even Jimmy Quinn.
Amusingly ridiculous monster b-movie in which a giant dragon goes round lopping off heads in New York City, and yet the NYPD finds it inexplicably difficult to find. The effects are ropey and the whole thing is just daft, but it's tongue-in-cheek enough to be able to carry it off. Just...
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