Hello once again and welcome to A Mind Occasionally Voyaging, where I pretend terrible old movies are actually pretty good, while showing you screenshots that demonstrate that the body text has been making use of sarcasm. This is the point in the article where I pretend to introduce this week’s movie, up until I get interrupted by this week’s guest star who will pretend to be just dropping by unexpectedly.
We’re in part three of the Michael Moriartython, wherein we enjoy the cinematic stylings of the greatest action-horror hero of the 1980s, Michael Moriarty. A man with the wherewithal to speak out against such evils as, to quote Wikipedia, Bill Clinton, abortion, embryonic stem cell research, anti-Catholicism, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, George W. Bush, both major U.S. political parties, Halliburton, Kenny G, the College of Cardinals, and Islam. Though he later recanted his ill-considered statements against Islam, we can only assume that I should not approach him to play the lead if I can ever get funding to produce my spec script, Sherlock Holmes and Kenny G Team Up To Save The Pope.
But that’s a story for another day. Our movie this week is.
Ahem. Our movie this week is.
Oh come on. I know you’re out there. I’m not going to start going into my review only to have some robot or ghost or video game character pop up and interrupt me, so let’s just get it over with.
Hey, keep your freakin’ pants on, I’m molting over here!
Aaaah! It’s the bird from The Giant Claw! A horrible eldrich monstrosity as big as a– Hey. Wait. I thought you were bigger.
That is, point of fact, a popular misconception. You see, in the film, when they referred to me as being as big as a battleship, they were in fact speaking of popular Milton Bradley board game of that name.
I see. So when they went to make the movie, they got confused?
Oh no. Youse have only seen the film in its theatrical edit. There is a deleted scene in the director’s edtion which reveals at the end that the entire film has taken place on a parallel planet which is exactly like earth in every way, except that it is approximately 1/60th your size. The entire cast consisted of smurf actors. That is why they decided to film in black and white. It’s actually quite obvious if you watch the scene in the general’s office.
You mean this one?
Yes. The matte painting of the Capitol building there is in fact a post card from their gift shop. The late Ray Harryhausen himself did something similar for The Beginning of the End
Well, I’m quite impressed. Um. Would you like to have a seat and watch a movie with me?
I would be happy to partake in a film with you, but I will avoid sitting, as I’m surrounded by an inpenetrable antimatter shroud which destroys anything with which I come into contact.
Oh! It sounded so nonsensical in the film that I just assumed they made it up.
No, in point of fact, their science was mostly right. I am from a distant galaxy composed entirely of anti-matter, and hence the physical laws are very different, hence the gibberish about mu mesonic atoms.
Fascinating. Then why do you sound like a Brooklyn mob enforcer from a thirties noir film trying to sound smart?
The laws governing our accents are very different in the anti-matter universe.
Fascinating. Oh, by the way, I never got your name. In the movie, they just call you “The bird”. And I assume that “Giant Claw” isn’t your real name?
Being as I am, from an anti-matter universe where the laws of physics and accents are radicallty different, the language of my people is extremely complex. Why, a single letter in my native tongue contains over twenty-nine letters. If I were to speak just one syllable of my true name, the sound of it would cause your spleen to sublimate, leaving behind only a gooey pile of Vick’s Vapo Rub. However, since I am a strange and horriffic creature whose very existence is an affront to the standards of logic, decency, and physics in this part of space, according to the traditions of your race, you can call me “Glen”.
Glen Peck. After the actor, Gregory Peck.
Riiiiight. Okay Mr. Peck, it turns out that you’ve dropped by right in the middle of my Michael Moriarty Movie Marathon. I realize this might take a little getting used to. Just the other week, I had the ghost of Orson Welles over, and it nearly drove him to try to unleash the forces of armageddon over the earth.
Oh, no, do not worry. I’m a big fan of Michael Moriarty myself. Why, in fact, we beings from the other planes of existence have been all abuzz over the unfortunate incident with Mr. Welles, and among my reasons for coming here was to assure you that we beings from beyond your mortal comprehension aren’t all total douchenozzles. In fact, when I heard you were reviewing the film work of Mr. Moriarty, I dug out a copy of this classic piece, which I think you will find relevant to your interests. My cousin, Glen, he’s got a major part in the film. They approached me, of course, but I retired from acting back in the fifties. Wanted to spend more time campaigning for my political causes.
Yeah. I’ve been a spokesman for Quebecoise independence and statehood for Puerto Rico since the early 70s.
Fascinating if true. But what’s this Michael Moriarty film you’re talking about?
Well, it’s a 1982 film by Larry Cohen, who you wills remember from such films as It’s Alive and God Told Me To.
That’s the one with the glowing gold alien with the chest-oriface, right?
Quite. This is a film that such a personage as Rex Reed celebrated as complete and utter drek. Only he pointed out that even amidst the gigantic ball of my own antimatter droppings this movie is, the performance of Michael Moriarty was a shining gem. A shining gem in the center of a ball of crap.
Now you’ve got my full attention.
Our film is one of the last and most grandiose examples of the Harryhausen school of stop-motion special effects youse are liable to see. I’m talking, of course, about Q
Q: The Winged Serpent
Directed by Larry Cohen
Starring Michael Moriarty, David Carradine, and Richard Roundtree
You had me at David Carradine.
Don’t get too excited. This is an entirely non-Kung-Fu role for Carradine.
Our story opens in scenic New York, where high up on the Empire State Building, a blonde whose name I do not think we ever learn (But based on how her office is appointed, I will call her Carrie Bradshaw) is being sexually harassed by the window washer, who appears to be played by Liam Neesen with a Porn Stache.
Sadly, Liam Neesen’s pervy stalkerish behavior is cut trafically short when something from above triggers a cheap process shot where he tries to pretend he’s hanging from the side of the building instead of walking crouched down along a horizontal prop. Seconds later, the Empire State Building’s strap-on Liam Neesen gets circumsized by something we don’t yet see, but it sounds kind of bird-like, and, well, we’re watching a movie called “Q: The Winged Serpent”.
Next thing we know, our heroes, a pair of cops played by David Carradine and
Richard Roundtree, make snarky comments about the victim, while David Carradine checks out his partner’s ass. This causes me to finally remember who Richard Roundtree is…
Just as soon as David Carradine and Shaft proclaim their total lack of any kind of idea how the window-washer was decapitated (Carradine suggests that maybe his head was just loose and fell off. This is meant to make Carradine look like a cynical cop with AttitudeWhich technically qualifies him as a Power Ranger, but actually just makes him look like a dick with a terrible sense of humor), we cut to the Man of Action himself, Michael Moriarty. Moriarty’s playing a guy named Jimmy Quinn, who is apparently a small-time hood who makes his living as a wheel man for armed robberies. He’s also suggested to be a jumpy, paranoid type, and, I am starting to suspect, developmentally challenged. If he doesn’t turn out to be Kaiser Soze, I will be mightily disappointed.
Don’t hold your breath
That’s David Carradine’s job.
SQUAK! Too soon, man, too soon!
Sorry. The setup, you know. Anyway, Moriarty and some other hoods are plotting a crime, for which he’s being solicited as a wheel man. And suddenly we’re in a hotel room, where a maid screams, and suddenly we’re a few hours later as police photographers are photographing a crime scene. Does this movie have ADD or something? Anyway, the crime scene in question is the dumping of a man-shaped grilled hot dog, which police detective Captain Kangaroo declares is an expertly flayed human body (they say absolutely nothing to suggest that he was also burned, though the body is quite clearly charred). Shaft also consults on the case, but offers nothing beyond pointing out that the decapitated window washer was, like this case, pretty freaking weird. Did I mention that the other cop in this scene looks like Captain Kangaroo?
Captain Kangaroo casually smothers the dead man with a pillow, and, the movie’s thirty seconds being up, we cut to… Um… Uh… The Red Balloon, I guess. Our regularly scheduled monster movie will resume immediately after the pretentious French masterpiece…
We return to find a blonde chyk sunbathing atop a skyscraper. Because the birds featured in this blog have not yet included the booby, she decides to sunbathe topless. Her luscious partial nudity proves too tempting for our resident for our faithful monster, and it swoops down to devower her, which gives us our first look at the thing. Or rather, it would, if it weren’t for the fact that the camera is pointed directly into the sun. It will later be explained that the creature is clever enough to always fly in front of the sun so that no one gets a good look at it. And then they’ll get to the big reveal of what it looks like, after which it will never attempt to hide itself again.
The sunbather is carried off, to the shock of the perv across the street who was watching her. As the bird flies off to its lair, the sunbather’s blood drips down on, so far as I can tell, the Bee Gees. No one is safe from the horrific spray of gore, not even… Chicken Boo.
We cut to Michael Moriarty playing a piano. Yeah. I don’t get it either. I think the scene is there just so that Michael Moriarty and David Carradine will have met each other already (He’s in the bar, drinking between cases) a few scenes later. Pointless
We then proceed to the heist, which is at a jewlery store named — I am not making this up — Neil Diamonds. This appears to be a fine establishment specializing in blinged-out Stars of David and what appear to be goatse.cx-themed diamond rings. Michael Moriarty is strongarmed into participating in the heist directly rather than waiting in the car. A few gunshots later, and Michael Moriarty emerges, clutching a satchel of stolen gemstones to his chest. To his horror, he realizes that one of the other hoods has the keys to the car, and so, being a man of action, he runs away like a spaz and gets kneecapped by a taxi, dropping the satchel and running halfway across the city in an awkward, limping panic before he comes to the Chrysler Building, where his lawyer apparently works, when he’s in, which he isn’t, so Michael Moriarty instead decides to get chased by a security guard into the Chrysler Building’s unfinished atticAccording to Wikipedia, the area under the cone of the Chrysler building really does look like an unfinished attic, and the scenes set there where really filmed on location. This sounds like utter bullshit to me, but hey, if you see it on Wikipedia it must be true.. There, he makes a shocking discovery in the form of a giant process shot of an egg. At the topmost point, we get a little more character development for Michael Moriarty. We’ve previously established that he’s a coward, and now we reinforce it by seeing that even the littlest thing makes him totally lose his shit. For example, see what happens when he’s surprised by a decayed zombie that tries to sodomize him:
Luckily for Michael Moriarty, his assailant turns out to just be a mouldering female corpse. Being a theif of class and sophistication, he immediately tries to steal from the dead, but can’t quite manage to slip the charm bracelet off of the corpse. It’s more or less now that the movie gets bored with this scene, and wanders off to watch the hijinks of some construction workers who have stolen their coworker’s sandwich. Oh the hilarity. The sandwichless worker sulks off, where he is eaten by the giant bird monster. Which I think is supposed to be ironic, but really it just makes his coworkers look like giant dicks who got their buddy horribly killed.
The makers of this film, in their zeal to depict the complex moral enigmas of god-summoming and willing human sacrifices, have spread some unfortunate misinformation about the ancient Nahuatl religion. Namely:
- The primary source of human sacrifice for the Aztecs were prisoners taken in raids and skirmishes. They were only “willing” insofar as there was a general cultural understanding in the area that occasionally being rounded up by Aztec warriors and sacrificed was the price of doing business.
- Human sacrifice was typically done to placate the gods, not to ressurrect them. The closest analogue was the process of becoming an “ixiptla”, wherein the sacrificial victim became a representative of the god, and was effectively awarded rockstar status for the time leading up to the sacrifice.
- Many popular and important Aztec gods were served by human sacrifice, but the cult of Quetzelcoatl mostly sacrificed butterflies and hummingbirds.
This has been your guest host, Glen Peck, bringing youse fun facts about ancient religions.
That out of the way, we return to the David Carradine side of the plot. Having finished up with his boozing, he visits a local museum doing research on the ritualistic flaying. Which I guess means that he’s working that case as well. So the reason that Shaft was at the crime scene with Captain Kangaroo instead of him was, I guess, because David Carradine was on his booze break. He learns about Quetzelcoatl, the feathered serpent of Aztec mythology, whose worshippers, according to the museum person (Professor? Curator?), believed that summoning their god into existence required a number of human sacrifices — and a key point of their belief was that the sacrifices had to be willing.
David Carradine gets some readings on Aztec mythology, which he takes home with him to read at home. With that, day 1 of this epic draws to a close, and David Carradine goes home to do his homework and make sweet love to his wife, Cousin It from the Addams Family.
I have noticed that youse have been leaning heavily on the rollover popups for this review.
Just worked out the CSS to do them properly and I am proud. Anyway, Michael Moriarty goes home to his girlfriend and whines for a while about how he’s far too inept to adapt to life outside of prison, then takes a nap.
The next day, Shaft and David Carradine find a new sacrificial victim, in what is undoubtedly the most horrifying scene in this entire movie. A scene so disturbing that I shall hide it behind the jump, and also behind a hover link.
Awwk! Too soon!
It’s been ten years and two wars!
Just so long as they don’t try building a step pyramid within six blocks.
Anyway, David Carradine is rapidly becoming convinced that these ritualistic killings in honor of the winged serpent god Quetzelcoatl might just have something to do with the gigantic, man-eating flying creature currently terrorizing the city. Shaft, of course, dismisses this as crazy talk.
Elsewhere, Mario Mario is savagely murdered by Quetzelcoatl.
This is also the point in the movie where they actually start letting us get a good look at the monster. He’s only half-in-frame at this point, so I won’t pull out a picture, but there’s something really interesting about the look of the monster which has led me to a theory about this movie, which I will explain later.
Michael Moriarty wakes up the next morning to be chased by the hoods from the jewelery store robbery, who aren’t prepared to believe his explanation about having lost the stolen gemstones in his wacky spastic chase scene. After a comically inept chase scene, they threaten to maim him unless he takes them to the swag. In a flash of inspiration, he leads them up to the top of the Chrysler building, where Quetzelcoatl obligingly murders them, conveniently off-screen.
His appetite whet by his gangster hors d’ouevres, Quetzelcoatl goes off to eat some more sunbathers, and we finally get to see the whole beast in frame at the same time, and let me ask you, gentle reader, whether or not you think there’s something a bit off with this picture. For reference, here is an Aztec rendering of Quetzelcoatl, the feathered serpent of their mythology. Now, consider the antagonist of this movie:
And this leads me to my theory. I suspect that this movie was originally written as an entirely non-Aztec-themed giant flying monster movie. I can’t find anything on the internet to confirm this theory, but look at that thing. That is quite clearly some kind of Harryhausen Dragon or something. Its skin is leathery, it’s got an entirely non-serpentine torso, six more limbs than your average serpent, no orange bill, no long tongue, and its head looks a lot like the heads you’d see on some of the more complex Harryhausen dinosaur-creatures. But anyway, my main point here is that he has no feathers. Now, I know that technically, the title of this movie refers to him as a winged serpent, not a feathered serpent, but we’ve got compelling evidence that the movie knows Quetzelcoatl has feathers. And we’re never going to see our heroes on screen at the same time as the creature. Those few times Q visibly interacts with an actor, all we see is a disembodied claw that looks nothing like the claws on the actual bird. No, I think that what happened was that they wrote Q to be this big epic about the restoration of the ancient Aztec religion, while simultaneously, a special effects studio was working on this big “Flying Ironically, we now know that many dinosaurs had feathers. And not just the odd feather here or there; a full downy coat of plumage. Double-Ironically, the flying dinosaurs weren’t feathered. Triple-ironically, the largest species of pterosaur was a memeber of the genus Quetzalcoatlus. And looked absolutely nothing at all like Q.
This has been a Fun Fact About Paleontology with your guest star, Glen Peck.Dinosaur Attacks New York” movie extravaganza, and there were some budgeting issues, so they scraped together all the footage they had and stamped a Q on it.
Actually, my cousin Glen, he was originally planning to play the role feathered. He had himself plucked just before shooting because the director liked the symmetry of having a bald Winged Serpent acting alongside Michael Moriarty.
Michael Moriarty decides that he’s fucking money what with knowing where the lair of the giant flying fatherless feathered serpent dragon who’s terrorizing the city. He manages to negotiate millions of dollars and exclusive movie rights out of New York City in exchange for the location of the nest. Everyone berates him and tries to shame him, which is supposed to make us think ill of Michael Moriarty, but instead, it just makes the city government look like a bunch of cheap douches who are trying to weasel out of paying to save the city. The fact that they will later screw him out of the reward does nothing but reinforces this view. Because the movie is really committed to the idea that Michael Moriarty is a bad person for daring to want to be a Big Man and Make Millions of Dollars while saving countless lives, his girlfriend will leave him when he gets home.
David Carradine tries to convince his chief that the ritualistic Aztec killings and flayings are related to the flying lizard beast — he’s become a true believer and actually thinks that the cultist has indeed ressurrected mighty Quetzalcoatl via human sacrifice, and the chief isn’t buying it. Neither is the cheif imaginative enough to consider that, for example, maybe the cult is here because of the featherless feathered serpent. Instead, he insists that Carradine’s theory are crazy-talk, and orders him to continue to pursue both cases in parallel, but specifically forbids him from pursuing any evidence or lines of enquiry that might link the two. He just declares by fiat that the cases aren’t related and orders Carradine not to dispute it.
The New York Police Department arms themselves with machine guns and storm the Chrysler Building, where they shoot up the giant egg and we’re treated to a long scene of a fetal flying lizard monster trying in vain to struggle free of its shattered shell, then dying. Since mommy wasn’t at home, the city declares that Michael Moriary hasn’t kept his end of the deal and therefore they won’t pay him anything. Yay a major city defrauding someone just because he’s an undesirable!
Captain Kangaroo finds one of those Red Phones That Direct Dials The Kremlin and calls… A mime. Really. He’s under cover at a nearby university, on the lookout for the ritual murderer. I think they determined it was someone medically trained who had checked out a bunch of books on Aztec religion and had been late to work. Or something like that. The mime’s under cover on patrol. Shaft, the Mime, Captain Kangaroo, and some other cop all go cruising for a bit, which as far as I can tell serves no purpose other than to highlight the fact that there’s a scale model of the Statue of Liberty that was used to model the real thing before it was built on top of an auction warehouse somewhere in New York. They catch up to the killer — I don’t think they ever actually mention his name — just as he’s about to perform another willing sacrifice. The intended victim jumps up and asserts his willingness to be sacrificed and tries to protect the killer, so Captain Kangaroo shoots him dead. Thank god they saved him from being sacrificed.
The killer flees, but the chase is interrupted when Q shows up again and tosses Shaft to his death. Then Q flies back to the Chrysler Building. The place that Michael Moriarty gave them. And which they’d weasled out of paying him for because they declared his information worthless having given them only the egg and not the bird. I would like to give this movie the bird.
Sorry. Anyway, the police announce that they’re going to load tracer bullers in their guns even though it’s broad daylight, because ordinary bullets wouldn’t be visible on film, and so it wouldn’t look like they were doing anything. Or maybe because that hypothetical other movie that the stop motion footage is from used laser guns. The bird finally shows up and we get on with what is apparently the climax of this film. Now, this part is really neat, thematically, since I think it’s very intentionally an inversion of the climax of King Kong; instead of Kong atop the Empire State building, being attacked by circiling planes, we get instead the NYPD atop the Chrysler building, shooting outward at a circling giant movie monsterAnd incidentally raining down machine gun bullets on the denizens of New York below
That’s my nephew’s big death scene. Y’know, he modeled it off of my death scene when I did Hamlet in Summer Stock.
It’s a very impressive death scene, too. A lot better than you usually get in giant monster movies. But his death serves the greater purpose of letting us get back to Michael Moriarty, who is sulking in a hotel room, having been, as noted, dumped for daring to want a reward.
Unfortunately, the killer tracks him down… Somehow… And decides to sacrifice him in revenge for leading the cops to his god’s nest — he refers to Quetzalcoatl as “The Plumed One”, in spite of Q’s lack of any visible plumage. Of course, the sacrifice must be made willingly, so he holds Michael Moriarty at knifepoint and… demands that he volunteer willingly. Seriously. In fact, he seems to have absolutely no backup plan when Moriarty refuses to willingly accept his own murder, and just sort of struggles with him looking confused and bumfuzzled. “Can I sacrifice you?” “No.” “C’mon!” “No.” “Please?” “No.” “Be your best friend?”
Fortunately for Michael Moriarty, David Carradine has also tracked him down, and arrives in what would be the nick of time if there was any real sense of urgency to the struggle. Carradine reveals that Moriarty’s girlfriend wants him back, and that he’s not such a terrible piano player after all and could have an honest carreer ahead of him. They all enjoy a hearty laugh over the dead killer.
And that’s Q: The Winged Serpent. More than anything, it’s really a blast from the past; it feels a lot like a really good 50s monster movie. Of course, for a movie from 1982, it’s ridiculous and overblown and light on plot. And when I say “ridiculous and overblown”, I don’t mean in a fun 80s way. Really, it’s a movie that focuses mostly on being a character study, all about the Carradine and Moriarty characters and how Moriarty’s Jimmy Quinn transitions between a cowardly rogue, to a desperate hunted man, to a bastard who delights in leading people to their deaths, to a self-serving opportunist, back to a simpering moron. And —
Hey, you forgot the tag
Oh! Right! There’s one last little reveal at the very end showing that there’s a second egg somewhere else in New York. I assume that this was meant as a hook for the proposed Larry Cohen movie “R: Son of Q”, but sadly, it was not to be.
The reason I bring it up is that, while in your world, the implied sequel was never made, there was a followup in my galaxy that ran for about ten years off-broadway. My nephew, he wasn’t in it — couldn’t yodel, see. But man, it was a fun show. One flay more / Another day another sacrifice / My skinless victims don’t smell too nice / This police man who seems to me / Would be happier practicing karate / One flay more! Or how about Do you hear the people scream? / Screaming the cries of freaked-out men / It is the screaming of a people / Who’ve got blood dripped all over them
Now that’s a play I’d like to see.