Bird is the Word: Come Fly Away with ‘Q: The Winged Serpent’ (1982)


Ever hear of Quetzalcoatl? It’s an Aztec god! In “Q” it swoops down from the Chrystler Building and randomly kills New Yorkers. Nice!

[Note: Some plot details are discussed. To be fair, though, this isn’t the kind of movie where you should be outraged by spoilers anyway. It’s basically a giant monster movie. No big whoop.]

“A Quetza-whaat?”

Before watching Larry Cohen’s Q (AKA The Winged Serpent or Q – The Winged Serpent), I only had a vague familiarity with the beast, or the god. I can honestly say I heard the name, and knew it was some sort of Aztec thing, but this movie helps bring the legend to life…well, sort of.

The truth is, no one’s going to think Q‘s effects were absolute top-notch. Also, the idea of Aztec cult members  sacrificing themselves to resurrect Quetzalcoatl seems far-fetched — albeit quaintly interesting. I guess that’s how I would describe this movie. It’s an old-school claymation monster movie, with a few dramatic elements thrown in to give it more story. The best aspects of it are probably the kills, although Michael Moriarty’s performance as Jimmy Quinn (a criminal who wishes to become a jazz pianist) does stand out.

The Kills

A rather realistic looking corpse, courtesy of Q. (via UFDC)

What’s fun about the kills is how random they are. Like an average bird looking for a field mouse, Quetzalcoatl will swoop down from up on high, swallow a person (or maybe just their head), then go back to her nest — presumably to share the “food” with her young.

Another funny aspect is, unlike most horror movies, this horror takes place overwhelmingly in the day time. In fact, most of the kills seem to occur during morning or early afternoon hours. It’s like the say: The early bird gets the worms. However, when humans are the target, one might ask: “Yeah, but what if you’re the worm?”

The Monster Effects

Q in action. (via UFDC)

I don’t know if it’s intentional or not, but the claymation parts make this movie funnier to watch.  It’s not the worst animation I’ve seen (in fact, I’ve seen far worse), but the bird’s movement is kind of humorous.  Granted, I don’t think every aspect of the bird-god was done this way, but definitely a good chunk of the bird’s presence has that effect. If you’re into this sort of thing, this movie’s a potential goldmine. If, however, you hate cheesy movies and “retro,” outdated special effects, you’ll probably hate this one.

It reminded me a bit of the original King Kong. Though I’m not fanatical about stop motion, there’s a certain respectable to it. For whatever reason, I give it the benefit of the doubt.  I accept it more easily than, say, CG animation. It could be unfair, but maybe it’s because it’s still a physical effect — that is, someone molded it, moved it, tried to make it semi-realistic as a physical form. It’s a little different from something created through animation software (though I’m sure both approaches can be combined).

Jimmy Quinn: The Quetzalcoatl Lair and the Broken Promise

As suggested earlier, Michael Moriarty adds some weight to an otherwise silly movie. One actually feels for his character, who’s struggling to put his life on track as a pianist, but falling back into his criminal ways. To escape a botched heist, Jimmy heads to the top of the Chrystler Building. This is where he locates the foul bird’s nest, littered with offal and other human remains.

Michael Moriarty as Jimmy. (via UFDC)

However, as the body count piles up, he realizes he may be on to something. He tells the police he’s found the giant bird’s nest, but demands a hefty finder’s fee to reveal the actual location. This is where the story gets interesting — aside from the giant, man-eating bird-god parts.
After initially agreeing to pay Jimmy, a jerk Detective named Shepard (David Carradine) actually reneges on his promise. What a skunk!

Here, in all honesty, is where I really sympathized with Jimmy — regardless of my previous feelings toward the character. Like they say, a deal’s a deal! You don’t reverse such a deal unless you absolutely can’t go through with it. That’s just a rule, and it’s a low-down, dirty thing. Granted, I can kind of see Shepard’s perspective, and most of us have broken promises, but still…Shepard kind of sucks!

The Verdict: “Q” also Stands for “Quaint”

I ultimately recommend seeing Q, with the standard warning that it won’t be for everyone. Nevertheless, there’s enough for the average horror fan to enjoy. You can enjoy either its childishness, or more grown up themes. It’s up to you.

Next: 8 horror icons with music side projects

So, were you interested in this killer bird movie, or is Q not right for you? Let us know in the comments!