Q (1982):
(Q: The Winged Serpent)

To Larry Cohen, the tensions within a society must be confronted if the roots of oppression are to ever be exorcised -- and if a prehistoric plumed serpent is what's needed, well, so be it. The eponymous initial is short for Quetzalcoatl, the reptilian Aztec sun god swooping around New York City, lopping off heads and mauling topless sunbathers. While detectives David Carradine and Richard Roundtree engage in trademark deadpan Cohen absurdity ("Maybe his head just fell off," is an early throwaway line), two-time loser con Michael Moriarty (trading his usual contemplative sensitivity for eccentric giddiness) stumbles upon the critter's nest atop the Chrysler Building, and does the most sensible thing: squeeze a fortune out of the system for his info. Both radicalized King Kong update and fond tribute to claymation behemoths, the movie's NYC is another writhing Cohen canvas, the out-of-control humor and stylistic jitters of Black Caesar and God Told Me To left untouched by the blockbuster mentality -- gangsters discuss heists with their mouths full, storage shops house human sacrifices, and blood rains from the sky. Like the monster babies of the It's Alive series or the rapacious yogurt of The Stuff, the creature is summoned up less by any individual fiend than by unaddressed cracks in societal cement, of which not even the "normal" characters can emerge uncontaminated. Hanging on to the last vestiges of '70s unrest, Cohen uses comic-horrific monster-on-the-loose potboilers to document ongoing American nightmares -- a notion later naturally neutered by that Reagan-era pacifier, Ghostbusters. With Candy Clark, James Dixon, and Malachy McCourt.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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