Q (1982)

I love a good religious horror movie, the weirder the better. I’m pretty tired of movies built around Christian mythology – be it exorcism or the Rapture or anything in between. There aren’t nearly enough American movies about other religions. The Keep (which it still on my list, much to my shame) I believe is based in Jewish lore, so that’s one. Eastern dogma is fertile ground for supernatural movies like The Golden Child, which, while not exactly horror, is one of my all-time faves.

But those are easy. We need someone to monsterize the niche religions. We need a crazy Scientology movie where Tom Cruise and John Travolta pay a mad scientist to build a magic soul auditing machine to awaken the evil Intergalactic Dictator Zenu, who then goes on a rampage of offering free stress tests and eating poor people. I’d say Zoroastrianism is ripe for a movie deal but I think their diety already got a few movies starring Antonio Banderas and Catherine Zeta Jones. I’m pretty sure that’s right.

But wait. Up in the sky, what is that? Is it a bird? Is it a dragon? Why no, it’s the winged Aztec god, Quetzalcoatl! Now we’re talking.

Your tax dollars, hard at work.

The story: How awesome would it be to be a window washer in New York City? If you can handle the fear of heights aspect, you get amazing views of the skyline and the potential to see naked people cleaning their apartments or investment bankers snorting blow off hookers. It’s a pretty sweet gig, at least until a giant flying reptile takes up residence in the Chrysler building and starts devouring New York from the penthouse down.

Within the first five minutes of Q, at least three people are snatched from rooftops by an unseen creature. Someone has to investigate and since the Ghostbusters weren’t around in ’82, the task falls to the NYPD. Surely not related: dead, skinless bodies start showing up in hotel rooms right around the same time. Only the wisecracking Detective Shepard (David Carradine, who though balding his entire life was somehow constantly in need of a haircut) sees a connection between the rash of aerial attacks and these macabre murder victims.

Why did I shoot my barber?

Biggest letdown: I’m of the opinion that if more than one drunk homeless guy reported a 40′ flying serpent all of New York would go bananas. I would quit work and camp out on my roof until I got eaten or had to go downstairs for a potty break. Yet in this movie, no one makes a big deal about an epidemic of dragon sightings that happens to coincide with severed body parts falling from the sky. New Yorkers are a hardened, cynical bunch, but after a few dozen people complained about blood raining from the tops of buildings I have to think the story would at least merit local coverage. It might be a product of horrific editing but Q has a total of two brief shots of news reports about the monster. Even after the thing is 100% confirmed, the City’s entire response team consists of four cops and an ex-con. At one point the police captain sums up my thoughts thusly: “You know, there’s something I don’t quite understand: you don’t seem at all surprised by this. Why is that?” Why indeed.

Hmmm, some shit about a giant monster and...hey, the Jets won!

Viewed today the mix of stop-motion effects and giant rubber talons naturally look dated, though even in its day Q couldn’t touch the inimitable Ray Harryhausen’s visuals in the contemporaneous Clash of the Titans. I’m not sure that’s a bad thing. If the effects were better, we might have missed out on the image of the monster flinging claymation cops off a skyscraper in the big showdown. Sure, they could have blue screened those bits with live actors but I much prefer watching a dark-skinned Gumby fall 80 stories while Richard Roundtree wails in voiceover. Shaft, noooooo!

Fly, Gumby, fly!

Why you should watch: I can never get enough of ’70s and ’80s movies set in New York. The grit of the City is an instant character. Every urban detail in Q feels authentic. The crowded sidewalks, the rattling door locks in a waitress’ massive Manhattan apartment, even the lime green interiors of the police HQ are unmistakably New York. The Gotham of today is so whitewashed that movies purportedly set here can be filmed in Toronto or Pittsburgh and no one knows the difference.

He'll never hear me coming.

Q also has a pretty great cast, even if Carradine looks like he smoked a kilo of peyote before every take. I’ve read that Michael Moriarty was a serious Method actor back in the day. His performance as a whacked out junkie loser certainly has all the flailing weirdness of later years Brando, so I guess that’s something. For my money though, nothing beats deadpan, B movie one-liners like “Jesus, look at that fuckin’ omelet,” and “Aw shit, maybe his head just got loose and fell off.”

Quetzl...Quatzo...something. Sorry, I'm stoned outta my mind.

Memorable Moment: There are plenty of classic camp moments but my absolute favorite comes toward the end when a modern-day Aztec priest corners an intended human sacrifice. He holds a knife to the guy’s throat and tells him they’re going to recite a prayer together so the serpent god will accept their blood offering. Unsurprisingly, the victim declines to join in said prayer. The knife-weilding priest gets all serious and implores him, “But I can’t kill you unless you say the prayer!” No wonder the Aztecs were conquered so easily. “But we can’t give you all our gold unless you decimate our population and enslave us!”

I am so calling the super about this.

Choice quote: “It could be over in Jersey someplace. My God, with a wingspan like you’re talkin’ about here, that thing could fly miles into New York City every day. And it would do that of course, you know, because New York is famous for good eating.”

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2 Responses to “Q (1982)”

  1. […] 31 Flavors of Terror A terrifying movie terror-thon of terror « Q (1982) […]

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