Circa 1990, Larry Cohen's Q would play damn near every weekend on cable. Yours truly, being an impressionable lad at the time, caught this flick whenever possible just because of the fact that it featured a giant winged monster killing random New Yorkers and generally being a menace. The more things change the more they stay the same... I still like this movie a hell of a lot, and, having grown into a cult movie connoisseur since those days, I can almost appreciate Q more now than I did as a youngster.
Recommend this product?
Cohen's film deals with an Aztec god, Quetzalcoatl, who has been resurrected in modern day New York City by a series of sacrificial offerings. The usual cops pick up on the bizarre murder cases plaguing the city, but really get nowhere until a small-time crook shows up saying that he knows where the flying monster resides.
While the story sounds from the get-go like a cheesy send-up of monster films from days gone by ( which to a large extent, Q is ), Cohen's film goes out of its way to entertain an audience, and really does an exemplary job of this considering the film's low budget.
The cast in this flick is pretty fantastic. David Carradine stars as the NYC cop who begins to believe the stories about a flying monster terrorizing the citizens, and does a good job of making the character a likable one. As another member of the force, Richard Roundtree is the more-or-less antithesis of Carradine's character, serving as the hard-nosed detective trying to sort the murders out.
These two characters, while important in the bigger scheme of things, are the under players to Michael Moriarty's portrayal of Jimmy Quinn, a would-be jazz pianist who is forced into a life of crime to pay the bills. Moriarty's performance is easily the star of this film; his sniveling small time crook is afraid of everything, yet somehow finds himself in command of the entire police force once it becomes apparent that the bird actually does exist. Moriarty's delivery is spot-on, creating the type of character that, while despicable in most aspects, is one that the audience gets behind and actually starts to like as the film goes along.
Much credit for this film's success rests in the hands of Cohen's screenplay and willingness to let his actor's experiment with their characters. While the basis for the story was laid out, Cohen clearly left his actors with a significant amount of leeway in determining their approach to the performance. This creates some vivid characterizations, and ultimately, this more than the monster, is the selling point of this film. While the monster certainly livens things up, the script here really shines, delivering a story that moves at a solid pace and packs plenty of action, of both the physical and character-driven variety. The film continuously builds momentum until the inevitable showdown, which is both scripted and realized very well, with actual actors suspended from the roof of the buildings of New York.
Cohen's film looks spectacular, filmed quite adequately by Robert Levi and Fred Murphy. Considering the miniscule funding accorded to this film, it looks a lot better than it should. All of the action was actually filmed in and around the Chrysler building in New York City, including long stretches actually filmed in the building's precipice. The aerial photography used in the film is particularly striking and includes a number of truly breathtaking shots, among which is a scene where the camera follows a balloon floating amongst the buildings. As the balloon floats out of the shot, we see the lower half of the monster swoop by. This is probably my favorite shot in the movie; very well conceived and ominous.
The special effects themselves are a mixed bag. Personally, I feel as though the effects fit the film in this case. They are definitely somewhat crude and occasionally ludicrous, however, I feel as though in a film like this which is clearly more comedic than horrific, they do the trick quite well. The bird was created mostly using stop-motion effects, which always convey a nostalgic feel for me as a viewer, and considering the budget, I thought they were accomplished capably by the effects team. There are a number of superb shots of the bird's shadow cast onto the buildings of the city which look absolutely splendid. While many have criticized this film's effects, I found them to be part of the reason why this film worked so well. CGI absolutely would have ruined the magic going on here.
Robert O. Ragland's score for the movie is appropriately eerie and definitely conveys the mood of this piece. The monster theme seems to reflect the monster swooping in and around the buildings, and the entire score creates tension effectively.
The DVD of this film from Blue Underground contains quite a few interesting features, including a poster and still gallery, bio of the director, a memorabilia segment that can be accessed via DVD-ROM, and a very entertaining commentary from Larry Cohen and guest William Lustig. The commentary does a great job of providing information on how this film was actualized, in many cases being filmed without permits or permission.
All in all, Q is probably one of the most fun films I've seen. The entire film, while theoretically categorized as a horror or sci-fi flick, contains enough humor to keep an audience entertained for the duration. The scripting is sharp and manages to create some great characters who the audience really identifies with. While definitely imperfect in many respects and impeded by monetary constraints, Q has a number of striking scenes, is surprisingly effective, and really exists as one of the greatest monster films I've come across, primarily because of the character development. I would definitely recommend this film to fans of monster movies or horror flicks. It's a blast.