Interspersed between the myriad of slasher movies I watched on cable in the 80s were the occasional alien b-movies like Strange Invaders and Invaders from Mars, as well as creature features like C.H.U.D. and Q: The Winged Serpent. Rewatching this awesome 1982 film about a prehistoric winged reptile that terrorizes New York City, I discovered the ‘horror’ part takes a backseat to a sacrificial ritual murder mystery that I paid as little attention to this time as I did the first time I saw it almost 3 decade ago.
For starters, Q: The Winged Serpent opens with some of the best creature feature horror music ever, accompanied by amazing aerial shots of New York City that rival those at the beginning of West Side Story. In fact, they are what made this movie so memorable back in the 80s—the flying Q.P.O.V. as he comes swooping towards the roofs of buildings to grab everything from sunbathing women to construction workers hunting for their stolen lunches (don’t worry, it turns out Q isn’t the lunch thief).
On top of that, we get Michael Moriarity in one of his usual 80s horror weirdo performances. He rox. This time around, he’s this crazy small time criminal who discovers Q’s nest and a huge egg at the top of a skyscraper while running from the law—and decides it’s a great way to dispose of some of the baddies who are after him.
Meanwhile, David Carradine is a detective investigating a rash of gruesome murders in the city, including heart removal and skinning (with some seriously gore-iffic special effects of the skinnings). His sidekick is some dude I immediately recognized as some sort of sports figure. If you’re into that stuff, his name is Ron Cey.
After 3 deaths by Q in the vey beginning of the movie (basically 3 bodies in 3 minutes), this movie shows some huge monster promise—you even get a quick glimpse of Q as we watch a naked woman get snatched. The only private part we actually see is her boobs.
Q is classic puppet looking technology like something out of the original King Kong. Awesome. And speaking of, Q even has his final battle at the top of a building just like the great ape—only this time, the dudes shooting at him are inside the building.
Along the way, the annoying murder mystery distracts from the wonder of Q, but we do get some amazing moments, like when Q picks up a victim way up in the sky and suddenly people on the street hundreds of stories below start to feel blood splattering on them, and look up in the sky only to find the blinding sun is blocking out any actual sighting of Q.
One of the big criticisms I read about the film is how this giant Pterodactyl can be flying around the city and no one sees it. First of all, this is beautifully portrayed sleazy 80s New York City, so basically, who gives a fuck if there’s something huge flying up in the sky? There are prostitutes to be screwed and drugs to be snorted. And second, if you’re on a New York City street, you are never really looking up at the sky while in between huge towering skyscrapers—and even if you did, Q wouldn’t look much bigger than a fly considering how high up he is in the sky.
Q: The Winged Serpent is definitely one of those films you have to see to appreciate. While it might suck as a whole, it is loaded with classic horror moments, dialogue, performances, and a picture perfect snapshot of nasty New York City in the 80s.