Q THE WINGED SERPENT
Like most Larry Cohen films, Q - The Winged Serpent bubbles with an extraordinary wildness of imagery and subtext, almost to the point of overflow. In many of the numerous pickup shots of the city, Cohen, for instance, deliberately notes the striking similarity of the architecture between the flying buttresses on the Chrysler Building and the design of Aztec temples. Cohen inserts all manner of sardonic analogies between Aztec religion and modern culture: The donors heart is ritually removed and presented to the gods luckily these days all we have to do is take the water and drink the wine thats what I call being civilized, David Carradines detective notes in one of his dry asides.
Q - The Winged Serpent works the best of all of Larry Cohens films. What makes it such an enjoyable film is not so much its subtext or the monster but Cohens sense of humour. Characteristic of Cohens wit is the opening scenes with a secretary exchanging flirtatious waves with a window washer while making derogatory comments about him into a friend on the phone. Where the film lights up in a big way is when it comes to frequent Cohen collaborator Michael Moriartys glorious performance. Cohen and Moriarty are not scared to take risks with the role it is an amazingly broad performance and there are times when it gets genuinely eccentric such as when Moriarty sits in a bar and comes up with an hilariously nutty improvised diddly-wop song on the piano. (With equal eccentricity, Cohen plays Evil Ambition, a song that Moriarty himself composed and sings during a chase sequence, with bizarre incongruity but winning charm). It is hard to imagine any leading man who would be prepared to take on the role of a craven coward who spends almost the entire film in quivering hysterics. Michael Moriarty, whose diminutive, prematurely balding scrawniness is perfectly suited to the part, does and succeeds. The point where the film triumphs altogether is the scene where Moriarty presents his demands to the city I want a Nixon-like pardon.
With Michael Moriarty up front, it is easy not to notice some of the other good performances. David Carradines slight dullness of playing and reserve is extremely well suited to that of the intellectual detective and Carradine pulls it off with grizzledly sarcastic amusement.
The monster itself looks good, brought to life by a combination of stop-motion animation and prosthetics. It is kept to only a few briefly glimpsed shots so that the wavering quality of some of the stop-motion animation never destroys its illusion (apart from at the otherwise tense and exciting climax). There is one gorgeous shot where the monsters shadow is seen winging its way across the sides of skyscrapers.
Larry Cohens other genre films are: the killer mutant baby film Its Alive (1974), the bizarrely brilliant alien messiah film God Told Me To/Demon (1976), It Lives Again/Its Alive II (1978), the werewolf comedy Full Moon High (1982), the sentient fast food takeover film The Stuff (1985), Its Alive III: Island of the Alive (1987), A Return to Salems Lot (1987), the witch comedy Wicked Stepmother (1989) and the mad scientist film The Ambulance (1990). Disappointingly, Cohen appears to have dropped out from directing low-budget genre films from the 1990s onwards. Mostly he now writes screenplays. Cohens other genre scripts include the psycho-thriller Daddys Gone A-Hunting (1969), the psycho artist film Scream, Baby, Scream (1970), the deformed psycho cop film Maniac Cop (1988) and its sequels Maniac Cop II (1990) and Maniac Cop 3: Badge of Silence (1992) (all three of which Cohen also produced), the original story for Abel Ferraras Body Snatchers (1993) remake, the stalker film The Ex (1996), Uncle Sam (1997) about a patriotically minded undead Gulf War veteran, the hilarious psycho sperm donor film Misbegotten (1997) and the psycho-thriller Phone Booth (2002), Captivity (2007), the remake of Its Alive (2008) and Messages Deleted (2009).