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Film / Q: The Winged Serpent

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"Its name is Quetzalcoatl... just call it Q... that's all you'll have time to say before it tears you apart!"
Tagline for the movie

A 1982 fantasy/horror movie written and directed by Larry Cohen, starring David Carradine, Michael Moriarty, Candy Clark, and Richard Roundtree.

Shepard (Carradine) is a New York City Cop investigating a series of ritual homicides. Bodies turn up skinned alive, with the heart cut out, decapitated, and otherwise mutilated in disturbing ways.

Meanwhile, Jimmy Quinn (Moriarty) is a piano player and petty criminal who gets caught up in a jewelry-store heist caper. When things go badly, he takes the stolen jewels and flees, abandoning his fellow crooks, and loses the jewels after being hit by a taxi. He flees to a disused attic space at the top of the Chrysler building, where he finds a humongous nest near a hole in the roof.

The two plot lines come together when Shepard figures out that an Aztec Cultist priest, Kahea, has been convincing victims to be somewhat willing human sacrifices as he prays the ancient Aztec god Quetzalcoatl back into existence. Quetzalcoatl appears in the form of an enormous dragon-like creature, and nests in the top of the Chrysler building, flying out to snatch victims off of skyscrapers under construction, rooftop swimming pools, and snacking on the occasional skyscraper window-washer.

Jimmy disposes of his fellow crooks by leading them to the nest and cheering as the bird eats them, then informs Shepard where to find the nest in exchange for a promise of immunity and one million dollars, tax free. A team of NYPD cops waits at the top of the Chrysler building, and when the bird-snake-god thing returns from a hunting flight, they shoot the thing to death in a surprisingly cool action sequence. Afterwards, Kahea ambushes Jimmy in his apartment in revenge for killing the monster and prepares to make him a sacrifice to Quetzalcoatl, but Shepard luckily intervenes and kills Kahea. Jimmy gets his one million dollars, tax free.

"Q is all you'll have time to say before its tropes tear you apart":

  • Accomplice by Inaction: when Quinn is demanding concessions from the police for his aid, it's pointed out to him a few times that by not telling the police where the egg is he's responsible for whomever Q kills. He's not having it, though.
  • Agent Mulder: Shepard. Upon discovering the first skinned corpse, he immediately starts researching ancient Aztec sacrificial rites and starts believing that modern day fanatics are trying to resurrect Quetzalcoatl. He ends up being right, but it was still a big leap.
  • Arbitrary Skepticism: The police commissioner scoffs at the idea of modern day Aztec cultists being responsible for Quetzalcoatl resurrection and rampage... despite not denying the existence of Q itself. Shepard outright calls him on this.
  • Attack of the 50-Foot Whatever: A giant snake-bird thing terrorizes New York City.
  • Black Dude Dies First: Richard Roundtree's Sergeant Powell is the only one of the two protagonist detectives to not survive the film.
  • Character Development: Jimmy Quinn eventually realizes (with help) just how pathetic he's been, and after realizing that nothing was going to be as scary as encountering Q, decides to get a real job and reconcile with his girlfriend.
  • Did You Just Punch Out Cthulhu?: At the end of the movie the NYPD manage to kill Q, an Aztec God. Somewhat justified in that modern weapons such as sub machine guns didn't exist in the Aztec's time.
  • Dirty Coward: Jimmy. His first move with everything he encounters is to try to run away.
  • Does Not Like Guns: Jimmy Quinn, who loudly protests when offered a gun and has to have one forced on him by his criminal accomplices. When he tries to use said gun to threaten said accomplices later, they laugh and accurately point out that he's too chicken to actually shoot it.
  • Fanservice Extra: The rooftop sunbathers qualify, particularly the one who takes off her bikini top and lotions herself right before being snatched away by the monster. A second scene has two women doing fitness in bikinis (although the one who gets eaten is the bored trainer with them), with one doing push-ups and looking pretty healthy muscle-wise.
  • Giant Flyer: Quetzalcoatl's physical form.
  • Genre-Busting: A gritty police procedural crossed with a monster movie.
  • Gods Need Prayer Badly: Until people start praying to him and offering him sacrifices again, Quetzalcoatl can't fly around biting people's heads off.
  • Had to Come to Prison to Be a Crook: Jimmy claims to have become a crook as a result of having drugs planted on him, insisting he only wants the money so he can go straight.
  • Half the Man He Used to Be: Q tears Doyle in half.
  • Hate Sink: Jimmy, who's a money-grubbing, obnoxious coward who doesn't care that innocent people are dying and actually made it out of the movie alive although he at least didn't get the money that he held up the city for.
  • Hidden Depths: Michael Moriarty's petty criminal is also a talented jazz pianist, and plays an original song composed by the actor for the film, called "Evil Dream".
  • Human Sacrifice: Q is prayed back into existence with ritualistic human sacrifices.
  • Ignore the Fanservice: One of the monster's victims is a guy who decides to go swimming in a rooftop pool rather than watch some bikini-clad babes do push-ups. It ends badly for him.
  • Landmarking the Hidden Base: The monster nests in the top of the Chrysler Building.
  • Large Ham: Jimmy's "Eat them! Eat them!" line as Quetzalcoatl's progeny eats the gangsters.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: There is a flying monster terrorizing New York and there is a crazy cult running around killing people because it believes it's Quetzalcoatl, but whether or not it is Quetzalcoatl and thus the killings are directly responsible for its appearance is not really answered.
    • Simultaneously, the high priest survived a bullet through his forehead, and it takes several more to put him down after. His victims also seem impervious to pain, simply lying content while flayed alive.
  • Meaningful Background Event: During the helicopter shot of the police driving to intercept the final ritual killing, Q's shadow falls over the bridge.
  • Mix-and-Match Critters: Quetzalcoatl manifests as a dragon-like monster with four legs, a bird-like beak, and bat-like wings.
  • Monster Is a Mommy: Q has an egg in a nest in the Chrysler Building. And another in an abandoned building nearby.
  • Monumental Battle: The final shootout at the top of the Chrysler Building.
  • Multiple Gunshot Death:
    • Unusual for a monster film that has an alleged god as the central threat, Quetzalcoatl and its progeny are not destroyed by some special spell or enchanted item or "chosen one", but rather by having a dozen NYPD SWAT troopers (and Shepard) unload sub-machineguns onto them (in Quetzalcoatl's case, non-stop for a few minutes as it flies around trying to kill them in the climax).
    • The cultist sub-plot gets neatly wrapped up when the cult leader, Kahea, goes after Jimmy (understandably blaming him for Quetzalcoatl's death) and Shepard puts five bullets in him (one gets him in the head and he looks dead for a moment, Shepard empties the rest of the gun when Kahea pulls off one final Not Quite Dead scare).
  • Not Distracted by the Sexy: One of the victims is a personal trainer that is bored and annoyed instead of turned on by the bikini-clad women he's spotting.
  • Off with His Head!: If Q doesn't completely carry its victims away, it rips their heads off. This is how it kills the window washer at the beginning. When the police find the nest, we also learn that this is how Webb (one of the gangsters) died, as his headless corpse drops onto Shepard.
  • One-Letter Title: On some releases. Turned into an example of Role Called when the subtitle is added.
  • Our Dragons Are Different: As opposed to the usual Feathered Serpent, Q in the movie appears as a draconic, four-legged creature with a bare, dinosaurian body, four clawed legs, large batlike wings, and a beaked, condor-esque head.
  • Our Gods Are Different: There's some debate on whether Quetzalcoatl is actually a god or simply a prehistoric bird creature that isn't divine at all and somehow found its way to New York City. Shepard seems to lean towards the former, while the police comissioner believes the latter. Regardless, Kahea performs sacrifices to it, though whether those sacrifices brought Quetzalcoatl into existence or not is never fully revealed.
  • Peek-a-Boo Corpse: Twice. First when Jimmy goes into the Chrysler Building and the sunbathing woman's bloodied skeleton falls on him, and later on when the police go up there and Webb's headless corpse drops down and startles Shepard.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: When Jimmy tells Shepard where he learnt jazz piano (an African-American in a jazz bar taught him), he dumps two racist words in quick succession.
  • Rain of Blood: When Q grabs the sunbather, various pedestrians and drivers in the streets below get spattered with blood falling out of a clear blue sky.
  • Rasputinian Death:
    • Kahea gets shot by Shepard, and it doesn't seem to really faze him at all. It takes five bullets before he finally goes down.
      Shepard: "This man does not die easily."
    • Q takes about three minutes of sustained submachine gun fire to the head, neck, and chest from at least a dozen cops before it finally dies.
  • Sadly Mythtaken:
    • In Aztec Mythology, Quetzalcoatl was one of the only gods that did not receive human sacrifices. In fact, he harshly condemned the practice. Of course the movie also implies that Q might not actually be Quetzalcoatl, merely a giant flying reptile its cult mistook for him.
    • Also, he wasn't a dragon, but a feathered serpent with wings.
    • Also, the mythical Quetzalcoatl was male. In this movie, Q was made female.
  • Sequel Hook: The final scene is a slow camera pan through an abandoned building, ending with a zoom in on a second nest, complete with gigantic egg that hatches as the screen fades to black. No sequel was ever made, sadly. Also an example of The End... Or Is It?.
  • Shadow Discretion Shot: Used in Webb's death. We see the shadow of Q's claw reaching for him.
  • Small Name, Big Ego: Quinn starts the movie acting like he has enough clout to get jewelry thieves to do what he wants on a heist, but they dismiss this at every turn. When he finds out how valuable the location of Q's lair is, he starts making demands of the police, claiming he's the most important man in the city.
  • Summon Bigger Fish: Jimmy gets rid of the mafia men trying to kill him because he took their diamonds by leading them to Quetzalcoatl's nest on the top of the Chrysler Building and letting it eat them.
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight: Doyle and Webb (the crooks Jimmy leads to the top of the Chrysler Building) sure don't seem too concerned about the bloody skeleton on the floor.
  • Vertebrate with Extra Limbs: Q has four legs and two wings.