There’s so much in this movie that I don’t know quite where to start. Let’s start with the basics: worshipers of the ancient, Aztec god Quetzalcoatl , have been performing sacrifices and as a result have brought “Q” back to life. Q is a 40-foot-long winged serpent that has set up shop in the Chrysler building and uses the New York skyline as her own buffet. The NYPD had their hands full between investigating the ritual murders before heads, arms, and blood start raining from the sky.
Starring as our stalwart police detectives are none other than David “Kwai Chang Caine” Carradine and Richard “Shaft” Roundtree. What’s more, they are playing pre-Giuliani New York police detectives, so not only are they jaded, not only are they underpaid and grouchy, but they (and the city as a whole) look completely rumpled and dirty.
Part of what makes this film-and the majority of director Larry Cohen’s pictures-so fascinating, is how Cohen presents ludicrous events and how something very closely resembling the real world would react to them. There are no secret agents, clandestine government agencies, covert religious sects or chosen saviors in the film. There is only an over-worked and incredulous police force. There is a gigantic flying lizard literally picking people off of rooftops and all Carradine can do is research the ritual killings, interview history professors, and put together a theory that just happens to be correct, no matter how insane it appears. When Carradine and company finally do track down Q, the assault on the bird feels more like a police raid than a climactic battle between man and the wrath of nature. But, that is exactly what makes the film so interesting. Well, that and Michael Moriarty.
Older readers will remember Moriarty as the original ADA on Law & Order back before Sam Waterson (my favorite of Jim Henson’s Muppets) took over. Q began a long working relationship between he and Cohen which included The Stuff and Cohen’s episode of the Showtime's horror anthology series Masters of Horror: “Pick Me Up.” Moriarty plays Jimmy Quinn, the greatest asshole ever. Mere words cannot do justice to hope thoroughly and exquisitely annoying Jimmy Quinn is. You have to imagine the dread combination of Veruca Salt , Walter Peck, Ellis Carver, Carter Burke, Biff Tannen, and Chet Donnelly… exposed to gamma rays. Quinn is a former addict/full-time loser who happens upon Q’s nest and uses the information to extort money from the city of New York. Along the way, he will push every single button in your soul until you wish you were the man with knife at his throat. I honestly do not know why Moriarty was not nominated for such a performance.
If that is not enough, be sure to keep an eye out for some of the greatest reaction shots from the cheapest New York local actors. It’s a wonderful combination of bad acting and imitation Ray Harryhausen special effects. And, remember, body parts falling from the sky!