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Q

Year: 1982
Production Co: Arkoff International
Director: Larry Cohen
Producer: Larry Cohen
Writer: Larry Cohen
Cast: Michael Moriarty, David Carradine, Richard Roundtree

I knew I'd seen this movie before, I remember the lurid excuse to show a topless woman sunbathing on the roof of the apartment building who gets snatched by the titular monster. I'm not sure why so much of the rest of it felt so new to me, but it's probably because even though it's got a little bit of cool mystique and the premise is certainly good, the plot's not that memorable.

I mean, pitting grizzled New York City detectives against the supernatural embodiment of an ancient Mexican god, bought back to life as a giant winged reptile thanks to the actions of underground devotees of its cult who perform human sacrifice and flay the skin from their victim's bodies? What about that doesn't scream a kind of Roger Corman/Ray Harryhausen cult aesthetic?

Add to that the devil-may-care allure of the behind the scenes stories (the production staged the scenes in the tops of Manhattan's iconic skyscrapers, firing off blank rounds from automatic weapons and bringing the real police running because they'd recevied no permits to do so) and you'd think the whole thing would be a hoot.

Instead, it goes in so many zany directions you might wonder if you'd fired up the wrong movie. The cops, a young David Carradine and a terminally angry Richard (Shaft) Roundtree, are on the case of a killer leaving skinned bodies throughout the city, which leads them to the sacrificial cult trying to bring about the resurrection of its winged god.

Quetzlcoatl himself (the 'Q' of the title) has already reappared when things kick off – every now and then we leave the rest of the action to show a sequence of him plucking unsuspecting New Yorkers from their rooftop sundecks or pools and carrying them off screaming.

Unfortunately, the movie services Q itself very poorly. For one thing, you'll wonder how an 80 foot long lizard flying through the sky above one of the most populated areas on Earth manages to escape everyone's notice. The scene where the blood from one of the victims (and only during one such incident, mind you) drips down to the street and hits cars and people might be the high camp watermark of reaction shots, but it gives us no further glimpse of the monster.

Instead the lion's share of the action is given to small time hood Jimmy Quinn (Michael Moriarty). It makes a little bit of sense as he's the lynchpin between the cops and the lead they're looking for, but for a role that would ordinarily be a bit of connective exposition between the main story strands, it's so much about him and his story it relegates the investigation and monster to mere subplots.

It means the plot is something unexpected, which you'd think would be a good thing in any movie, but I turned it on expecting a creature feature and instead got a character study about a scared, desperate and opportunistic little scumbag with some monster attacks in it.

Maybe, as I wondered to myself later, shlock producer/writer/director Larry D Cohen simply didn't have the money or ideas to properly execute the monster scenes in the story. It was certainly made on the cheap.

Jimmy accompanies some local mobsters on a jewelery store robbery, but when the cops arrive sooner than expected he makes off with the loot, fleeing to the top of the Chrysler building to hole up until the heat dies down. While there he finds Q's nest, complete with a huge egg containing the next generation.

Shepard (Carradine) and Powell (Roundtree) are working the murder case, but when they pick Jimmy up for the jewel job, he realises the nest might be able to write his ticket. He tells the cops and their superiors he knows where the monster terrorising the city is, and if he walks from his rap with a hefty payday he'll reveal it.

The way his story plays out and wraps itself up is wobbly and abrupt, merely setting the scene for Shepard and some SWAT officers to attack the nest and initiate the climactic shootout with Q wheeling around in the sky while Powell finds and stops the latest murder and skinning right in time.

Carradine and Roundtree look slightly embarrased and exasperated to be there, and it's Moriarty's movie to command, which he does so – he's not exactly great, but he throws himself into his role with much more engagement and enthusiasm than the set-up and final product warrants. With a much bigger budget for creature effects and a more cohesive script where the monster is the star of the show it might have been a bit more satisfying.

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