As if the thought of making a decently entertaining dragon movie weren’t enough of a challenge, the filmmakers opted for some hilariously shoddy stop-motion animation for the ancient flying lizard. Even for early 1980s standards, the work seen here is downright awful, making all those Christmas TV specials of the prior decade look like masterpieces. Heck, Ray Harryhausen did stunning, work in 1953 on ‘The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms’ compared to this understandably forgotten dreck. The uproariously bad ‘Q: The Winged Serpent’ tries desperately to convince audiences a giant dried-up turd with wings wreaks havoc upon New York City and nests in the spire of the Chrysler Building.
Contributing a thick layer of badness to the proceedings is a multitude of laughably terrible acting, starting with ‘Kung Fu’ star David Carradine. He plays Dt. Shepard as a tough, cynical and crabby cop on the case to solve a series of unexplained, gruesome murders where victims’ hearts are ripped out of their chests or skinned alive. The mystery is intriguing with some great, explicitly detailed practical effects if not for Carradine’s appallingly dreadful line delivery, as if he made little effort to memorize the script and is instead reading from cue cards. Richard Roundtree is fellow cop Sgt. Powell, and he brings some minor depth and seriousness to the production. Sadly, he’s not given much screen time to balance everyone else’s lousy performances.
Carradine’s investigation uncovers what could arguably qualify as the most asinine and bizarre but still hysterically stupid plot ever seen in movie history. And I mean, possibly ever. Not only are we meant to imagine the very top of the Chrysler Building harbors a winged serpent believed to be a god, but we’re also expected to believe some Aztec-worshipping cult resides in New York and is responsible for awakening the beast terrifying the hapless city. The monster’s name is Quetzalcoatl, or “Q” for short, by the way. If the story were set in Los Angeles, there might be some believability, but the Big Apple is really stretching itg. Good thing Carradine explains his crackpot theory simply as “You really have to suspend your disbelief on this one.”
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With one face-palm after another in a 90-minute horror feature that feels like it drags on for much longer, the triple face-palm award goes to the excessively melodramatic and animated Michael Moriarty. The character-actor is shockingly given top billing as smalltime crook Jimmy Quinn, a sniveling, twitchy little weasel whose luck has suddenly turned in his favor. Being the first to discover the serpent’s massive nest where a humongous egg rests, Quinn tries to rob the city of millions and demands immunity before disclosing the beast’s location to police. Moriarty’s performance probably wouldn’t be so bad if he weren’t also so very annoying, which may or may not be the point. Nevertheless, the petty thief is a born loser and only serves to strain the narrative to point of boredom.
To be honest, it’s a real shame ‘Q: The Winged Serpent’ didn’t turn out better and more entertaining. I really want to like it — love it, even — as a deftly sly, modern-day creature feature in the tradition of classic Ray Harryhausen. In some small respects, it does satisfy to that end, especially towards the end when we see more of the monster. Coming from director, producer and writer Larry Cohen, the filmmaker behind other wonderfully bad B-movie classics as ‘Black Caesar,’ ‘It’s Alive,’ ‘God Told Me To’ and ‘The Stuff,’ it’s possible the attempt is a thinly-veiled, tongue-in-cheek tribute. Unfortunately, whatever subtle underlying comedy can be found is lost in a thick layer of what should’ve been mild seriousness, leaving audiences with an all-around bad, forgettable movie.
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The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Shout! Factory brings ‘Q: The Winged Serpent’ to Blu-ray as a Region Free, BD25 disc housed inside a standard blue keepcase. At startup, viewers go straight to a menu screen with full-motion clips and music.
The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
‘The Winged Serpent’ makes a nest on Blu-ray with an average looking 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode (1.78:1). At times, the picture appears to have been cleaned up some, like it possibly comes from a remaster of the original print, but if that’s the case, the source is in terrible condition. Although displaying a thick lathering of grain, the video is pretty soft with several areas looking blurrier than others. Resolution is generally poor, but there are moments with good clarity and decent definition which keep the presentation from being a complete disaster. Contrast is fairly bland and feels muted, while black levels come on really strong, all but obscuring the finer details in the shadows. Colors benefit the most, showing bold primaries throughout. In the end, the high-def transfer is a disappointment with little that genuinely impresses.
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The Audio: Rating the Sound
The laughable action-horror dreck swoops in for the kill with a slightly better DTS-HD Master Audio mono soundtrack, but it still misses by a wide margin and leaves viewers sitting out in the cold. Like the video, it would seem the original design has been remastered, delivering a mostly clean and crisp presentation in the center. Some minor background activity, like city traffic and pigeons flying about, can also be heard clearly, broadening the soundfield just enough to impress. Bass is plentiful and throaty for a movie of this vintage, giving the action and winged monster a bit of weight. However, the lossless mix does exhibit a tad of clipping and noise in the upper ranges, especially when Q does its screeching flybys. Added to that, dialogue can at times seem low and stifled, making it somewhat difficult to make out a couple of conversations.
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The Supplements: Digging Into the Good Stuff
Audio Commentary — The main bonus feature is a more recent recording of writer, produce,r and director Larry Cohen going into great detail about the production, its origins, and various other thoughts. It’s a surprisingly good commentary as Cohen explains his stylistic approach, working with the cast, particularly David Carradine, and the movie’s overall reception. It’s an amusing track for those who enjoy the film.
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A ridiculously over-the-top story about an ancient winged serpent terrorizing New York City is at the center of the hilariously bad ‘Q: The Winged Serpent.’ From filmmaker Larry Cohen, the movie could be enjoyed as some craftily sly, tongue-in-cheek homage to classic creature features, but much of the seriousness overpowers the potential for clever comedy. The Blu-ray arrives with a mediocre but passable audio and video presentation, and with one only bonus feature to generate interest, the overall package is for fans only.