Q: THE WINGED SERPENT
(director/writer: Larry Cohen; cinematographer: Fred Murphy; editor: Armond Lebowitz; cast: Michael Moriarty (Jimmy Quinn), David Carradine (Detective Shepard), Richard Roundtree (Sergeant Powell), Candy Clark (Joan), Larkin Ford (Museum Curator), Malachy McCourt (Police Commissioner); Runtime: 93; Larco release; 1982)
“There are no hidden messages or deep symbolic meanings to ponder.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
A flirtatious window washer, on a skyscraper, has his head lopped off while on the job. One cop asks another: “How did that happen?” He answers: “I dunno, maybe his head came loose.” A tenured college professor is found flayed in his hotel room while on a visit to NYC, as the cops rule out suicide since there is no reason for a tenured teacher to kill himself. A woman sunbathing in the nude on the roof of her building is attacked by a giant bird and is carried off to be flayed and dumped on the roof storage area of the Chrysler Building, where the birds are nesting and hatching future attacking birds in giant eggs. The question becomes: Is there a connection between the flayer and the birds?
Detectives Shepherd (David Carradine) and Powell (Richard Roundtree) are assigned the case, and Shepherd immediately puts two and two together and comes up with this logical deduction that this must be a ritual killing. So he sees the Museum of Natural History’s curator and hears his explanations on the myths of sacrifice and it now becomes obvious, even to a skeptic like himself, that this must be the work of Q, which stands for Quetzecoatl, the flying Aztec god. The bird can be prayed back into existence and kept alive with the blood that must be given willingly by the victim, or else the ritual performed by the priest (the flayer) is meaningless and the bird or god can’t gain strength from the blood.
Meanwhile, petty criminal, nerd, ex-junkie and ex-convict, the fast-talking Jimmy Quinn (Michael Moriarty), tries out for a piano singer’s gig in the bar his girlfriend Joan (Candy) works at. He is using a piece a black man who killed seven white men taught him how to play when he was doing hard prison time; but, he doesn’t get the job. So he takes the other job he was offered earlier on in the day, to drive a getaway car in a jewelry heist. Quinn is a born loser, so natch the job goes sour. The hoods make him come into the store with them and give him a gun, even though he asserts that wasn’t part of the deal. When things get fouled up inside the store, he walks out with the diamonds; but, doesn’t have the keys to the car. He then gets hit by a cab as the bag full of jewels disappears in the street, whereas he will have to walk with a limp for the rest of the film. He will be pursued by the mobsters for the diamonds and be tracked down by the police because the hoods who got caught rat him out. But in hiding out from the mob, who think that he still has the jewels, he inadvertently stumbles upon where the menacing bird nests.
This is real funny stuff. The special effects for this low-budget film are surprisingly well-done. That “fuckin’ bird,” which is how it is referred to by NYC’s finest causes them to scratch their heads over this one. They gather 43 eyewitness reports of blood dripping on them from skyscrapers, and hear about a huge bird carrying off construction workers; and, on a luxury building rooftop, a swimmer is swooped away by a huge bird in front of everyone else in the pool.
Quinn while running from the two hoods, who are in pursuit of the jewels, leads them right into the claws of the nesting bird. Quinn giggles at their misfortune, watching them being eaten to death; and, he suddenly realizes he has his meal ticket, if he plays his cards right. When the police question him about the jewelry heist, but are really more concerned about all those mysterious killings, he comes forward with his proposal to help them solve that case.
What is amazing is how well the story and the routine investigation of the cops into this bizarre newspaper headline story go together. Carradine takes it all in as just another day at the office, while Quinn couldn’t be more goofier and likable, as he smiles like he won the lottery when he blackmails the city into giving him a million bucks for his info; he says that he also wants a Nixon-like pardon.
Powell, as the straight, gung-ho cop, has the honor of teaming up with an undercover cop, disguised as a mime, as they chase a lunatic priest over NYC rooftops.
I loved the explanation given of God: It’s an invisible force we fear and in our vanity, we try to make human.
All you have to remember about this film is that there are no hidden messages or deep symbolic meanings to ponder.
REVIEWED ON 5/17/99 GRADE: B+