Quetzalcoatl, a giant pterodactyl-like monster and ancient Aztec god, takes home in New York and begins to feast on people on the roofs of skyscrapers. The cops haven’t got a clue what is going on until a dim-witted crook stumbles upon it’s nest by mistake. Feeling hard-done by the city for previous time spent in prison, he holds the city to ransom and demands protection from the authorities, with the body count piling up in the meantime.
I had fond memories of this when I was a kid. It was one of those films where you remember certain scenes (the window cleaner losing his head at the beginning stuck in my mind for a long time) and really wish you could sit down and watch it again and again. Fast forward till the present day when I have begun revisiting films I remember from my childhood to see if they were worth remembering. Q, The Winged Serpent is one of those films where the sum is definitely not greater than its parts. This is one pretty bizarre film or should I say two films because that’s what it seemed like to me.
On one hand you have a pretty decent schlock story about a giant monster swooping down to snack on people stupid enough to sunbathe on skyscrapers and the film gives loads of other cheap reasons for people to be atop a skyscraper. It’s a classic B-movie in every sense of the word – lots of gore, obligatory breasts and of course a giant monster. But on the other hand you have a really plodding, boring cop thriller in which the characters try to piece together what is going on with the Aztec link. None of the characters are of any interest. David Carradine is rather wooden. Richard Roundtree (of Shaft fame) does little to warrant a pay cheque and Michael Moriarty is really annoying as the dim-witted crook. They could have cut out half of this bore and given more time to the Aztec story, which was severely underwritten. Grisly sacrifices and skinning people alive was evident in this film but a little more time devoted to this part of the script and it could have become quite compelling instead of just a boring distraction from the scenes of cops talking to each other. Granted lovers of cop dramas/thrillers may be turned on by this story but I was not. In fact there is more time devoted to the crime aspect, so one must wonder whether or not the Q thing was just a gimmick to get the horror crowd to watch. Or whether they started filming the monster flick, ran out of budget and then decided to pad the rest out with cop filler.
The monster itself doesn’t look particularly great which is good because it’s not on screen for long. It’s a stop-motion model but it looks like it was made of putty – there is very little detail to it and its skin is far too smooth and blemish free. Ray Harryhausen always made his stop-motion creatures look as real as possible with texture and depth to their skins and appearance. In the wrong hands, stop-motion can ruin everything. At least the stop-motion action is done well and integrated into the scenery pretty convincingly – we even get some little stop-motion men getting attacked in the process. The finale as the cops fight the monster on the Chrysler Building is pretty enjoyable too. There are a lot of monster POV shots (obviously from a helicopter flying around New York) but someone even had the brilliant idea to throw an odd shadow onto the roofs of the buildings. There’s also a few moments where people on the streets below suddenly find themselves dripping with blood. Or better yet a scene in which a group of people are standing around staring at a dismembered foot that has fallen from the heights. You get the sense in one or two moments that there is something flying around. But unfortunately the monster isn’t on-screen long enough to make a big impact.
It seems too coincidental that every time the monster is on screen, the film is pretty good. As soon as it disappears for ten or so minutes (which it has an annoying habit of doing) then the film drags enormously with a mish-mash of unnecessary sub plots which only serve to prolong its appearance. Worth a look if you’re really desperate for a monster flick with a difference but Q, The Winged Serpent can be tough going at times.