What do you get when you combine exploitation filmmaking staple Larry Cohen; stars Richard Roundtree and David Carradine; AIP producer Samuel Arkoff; and a claymation, prehistoric creature flying over 1980s New York City? Well, obviously the only thing that could be is Q: THE WINGED SERPENT.
Cohen may not be the most well-known exploiter in the annals of sleaze and grit, but he did carve out a name for himself in niche circles and earned some modest grosses for studios in the process. Q may not have the social awareness of his 1972 hostage drama BONE or the inspired scares (and even gross out factor) of his IT’S ALIVE series of films, but it may be the craziest thing that Cohen ever put to screen or wrote, which is saying a lot when you’re discussing the man who made a movie about killer yogurt-esque desert (THE STUFF).
As usual for him, Cohen supplied his own script – this one completed in a matter of a few days, shortly after being fired off of another film – and shot it all very quickly. To his credit, it never feels like a rushed production. For all of its “on the fly” zeal and sub-par creature effects, it’s charming in a way that movies featuring this many severed heads typically aren’t.
Q doesn’t only work as a creature flick, though – even if it is especially good at being one – as it is also very much a buddy cop story. And who doesn’t want to see a buddy cop movie featuring Carradine and Roundtree? Cohen struck gold when he could pitch and/or advertise this one as Caine and Shaft hunting an ancient winged serpent prone to decapitate anyone unfortunate enough to be walking by.
To allow Q to only exist as a fleeting, silly exploitation picture is almost unfair though. Cohen has never been a filmmaker oft accused of creating work only for money, and his best films manage to feel awkwardly personal. Much like GOD TOLD ME TO, Q tells a story about New York and one very much concerned with those who live there. Many of the extras are purported citizens of the neighborhoods in which they appear and Cohen genuinely attempts to showcase the city in a way that is both oppressive and inviting. It’s as if he is putting these cops and a giant dragon into a sandbox filled with drugs and candy and telling them to play nice. Even then, one gets the feeling that Cohen loves this city, his city and after a while it transgresses the typical creature feature mold and becomes something a lot more human and, subsequently, dark.
Of all of the films he’s made, Q is certainly not the bleakest thing that Cohen has written or directed. The aforementioned BONE and GOD TOLD ME TO are much more concerned with upsetting an audience than Q ever seems to be and it is all in good, nasty fun. Even then, the cheap looking stop motion effects and some of Roundtree and Carradine’s goofy interactions may be a bit too much to take seriously for some, regardless of if Cohen wants them to be taken that way or not. When it comes down to it though, there aren’t many – if any – other police-procedural-cum-pissed-off-ancient-dragon flicks out there and this one more than earns its place in any monster movie series more than thirty years after its release.