Q: The Winged Serpent

Official Poster

Release Date: October 29, 1982

Genre: Crime, Horror, Mystery  

Director: Larry Cohen  

Writer: Larry Cohen

Starring: David Carradine, Michael Moriarty, Richard Roundtree, Candy Clark, James Dixon

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

Larry Cohen is perhaps my second favorite filmmaker only to John Carpenter. He’s truly an auteur in the film industry. He wrote, produced, and directed his own movies taking on different genres with creative themes and concepts. Cohen was best known for being a guerrilla filmmaker where he shot his movies without permits and got away with them. His risk-taking no-nonsense style has earned him the admiration from many peers and fans. Sadly, he passed away in March 2019, but his legacy will continue to live on. For this week’s review, we are going to be looking at one of Larry Cohen’s most popular movies. It’s an homage to the early monster movies such as King Kong. It takes place in New York City (like King Kong), but instead of seeing the monster on top of the Empire State Building, you’re going to be seeing a monster on top of another landmark building, the Chrysler Building. This week we’re going to be reviewing 1982’s Q: The Winged Serpent!

As the title suggests, Q is a flying monster that has made its home on top of the Chrysler Building. It flies through the skies of New York City snatching up people for food.  No one knows where this creature came from or how it got here. As the monster roams the skies, two separate stories are going on. The first story you have is Police Detective Shepard (David Carradine) who is assigned the case of finding the monster and killing it. He believes the monster has something to do with a series of ritual killings he’s also been investigating. Along with his partner Powell (Richard Roundtree), they link the killings and the monster to a secret Neo Aztec cult. The second story involves Jimmy Quinn (Michael Moriarty), a cheap two-timing crook who is an excellent piano player who is involved in a botched diamond heist. He makes his escape by hiding inside the Chrysler Building where he discovers the creature’s nest atop complete with a giant egg. Jimmy uses this knowledge of the creature’s location to lure his fellow mob pursuers to their deaths at the hands of the creature and to extort the city of money and immunity from prosecution in exchange for giving up the creature’s hideout.

Image of the monster.

Larry Cohen wrote and shot this movie in a little over two weeks. He was working on a project called I, The Jury until he was fired by the studio (he is credited for writing the script to the movie). Not wanting to leave his hotel room that was paid up, he assembled a small crew from the aforementioned project and started shooting all around the city. It took Cohen six days to write the script for Q. The cast was not aware of what they were making when they received a short telegram from Cohen to arrive in the city and be prepared to work.

When I first watched Q, I was thoroughly impressed with the look and style of the movie. It reminded me of the Godzilla movies that I used to watch as a kid on television. There was a look and feel to them that stuck in my brain and this movie did the same thing. It had me engaged from the first scene and I was on the edge of my seat to see how it was going to play out. I was familiar with Larry Cohen’s work at the time, but not enough to know how he shot films and how he edited them.

Q has an excellent cast filled with character actors and method actors. I’ve always been a fan of David Carradine and I was ecstatic when I found out he was in this film. He doesn’t disappoint. He plays Shepard as a traditional detective, trying to find all the clues and piece them together. When he comes up with his final report, it is rejected by his superiors. Carradine continues to believe what he has uncovered and is willing to do what it takes to stop the monster and save the city. His partner, played by Richard Roundtree is a little rougher around the edges. If interrogators were playing ‘Good Cop, Bad Cop’ with a suspect, Roundtree would easily be the ‘Bad Cop.’ There’s even a scene where he plays that on Jimmy Quinn. Speaking of Jimmy Quinn, he’s the surprising hero of the movie played brilliantly by Michael Moriarty. When he first appears on screen he is desperate to get back in the game of stealing. When the diamond heist goes bad he starts to get edgy and paranoid. As the movie progresses you see that Jimmy grow a brain and develop a plan to get rid of the people who are looking for him and a way to set himself up for the failed heist. Many critics and fans have hailed Moriarty’s performance as the best piece of method acting they’ve seen and I echo that sentiment. He pours emotions filled with anger, despair and cockiness. This was the first collaboration between Moriarty and Cohen and it wouldn’t be the last as they would work together on five more movies.

Michael Moriarty as bumbling crook Jimmy Quinn.

Like all of his movies, Larry Cohen shot the film with no permits and used real life police officers, construction workers and window washers which gives the movie an authentic feel. The movie is shot in the streets of New York, over the skies of New York and of course the inside and outside of the Chrysler Building. When you watch the people of New York look above when they are getting splattered with blood falling from the sky or taking cover when bullet cases are raining down, those aren’t paid actors, those are real people who are quickly reacting to the situation that they are in. The only permission he received was from the owners of the Chrysler Building. At the cost of $15,000 Cohen was able to shoot inside the building all the way up to the top where no ordinary citizen has gone before. From there you will be amazed by what the top of the building looks like and becomes the set piece for the climatic showdown between the monster and the police which is this reviewer’s favorite scene in the whole picture.

Now let’s get to the character of the monster itself, Quetzalcoatl! The special effects for Q were done using stop-motion animation by Randall William Cook and David Allen. It is custom for stop motion sequences to be shot as they are happening. This was not the case (nothing is ever coherent in a Larry Cohen movie). When Cohen hired Cook and Allen to do the stop motion animation, he had already finished shooting the movie. His plan was to add the creature into shots already taken. This results in the monster looking like he was pasted onto an existing shot. It brings a sense of unevenness when watching the monster when it appears or has moments of action such as plucking the heads off people. The effects are no different from what you would see in a b movie involving a monster, but don’t let the cheapness distract you. You will easily bypass it as you continue to be engrossed in the movie and enjoy the effects for the sheer fun.   

David Carradine giving directions before he is ambushed by Q.

There’s not much more I can say about Q: The Winged Serpent without giving too much away. It’s one of the best B-Movies to come out within the last forty years. It continues to have an impact and has inspired other filmmakers to make their own monster movies using this concept. I rank this as favorite film of everything Larry Cohen has done, even The Stuff! It’s example of a film which proves you can make a crazy concept and can execute it with a great story and characters.

TRIVIA (Per IMDB)

  • A young Bruce Willis wanted to star in David Carradine’s role but wasn’t a known name at the time that Larry Cohen could depend on to be bankable. Bruce later met Larry again when Moonlighting (1985) was a hit.
  • Pre-production for the movie lasted just one week. The film was conceived after Larry Cohen was fired from a big budget film shooting in New York. Cohen, determined not to waste the hotel room he had paid for, hired the actors and prepared a shooting script within six days.
  • In an interview on NPR’s “Fresh Air”, Michael Moriarty described the scene in which he auditions as a piano player. The music he played was a self-composed and unrehearsed improvisation, and the dog’s reaction was genuine.
  • The building in the opening scene of the movie is the Empire State Building. In this scene, a window cleaner loses his head to the monster. His name is William Pilch, and was the actual window cleaner for the Empire State Building at the time of the movie’s filming.
  • The French movie poster incorrectly shows the monster covered with feathers, a wavy dinosaur frill along its back, and with large white teeth. This is because it was illustrated and printed up before copies of the film were imported into France.
  • David Carradine agreed to play Shepard even though he didn’t receive a script to read prior to his first day of working on the film.
  • The jewel store that the bad guys rob in the early part of the film is called “Neil Diamonds” a pun on the name of Neil Diamond.
  • Cohen stated about the monsters death at the ending, “It’s the exact same scene as the end of the $150 million Godzilla picture. Gee, if I had that money I could have made 150 movies.”
  • Shepard’s (Carradine) wife is played by Carradine’s actual wife at the time.

AUDIO CLIPS

Back Again Creep
You’re Not The Only Action In Town
Jimmy Plays The Piano
Equal Share Equal Chance
I’ve Been Afraid of Everything My Whole Life
Who’s Got My Lunch Pail?
The Feathered Flying Serpent
I Better Take My Birth Control Pill
Evil Dreams
Being Civilized
Eat Him
Drag Me Here So You Could Do Pushups
Becoming Quite A Bird Watcher
If You Know Something
Nixon Like Pardon
Get Rupert Down Here
Fry Up 500 Pounds of Bacon
Stick It Up Your Small Brain

The Best Laid Plans

Official Poster

Release Date: March 1, 2019

Genre: Comedy

Director: Michael LiCastri

Writer: Michael LiCastri

Starring: Linnea Quigley, Edwin Neal, Michael LiCastri, Yvelisse Cedrez, David Plowden, Keith Surplus

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

For those who have been following “Guilty Pleasure Cinema” for the past couple years, there are times where I will do special reviews and/or lists to change the format up. The next few weeks you will be seeing these types of writings. I have planned two separate movie rankings, one based on a filmography of a specific director and the other is a list of movies that have been shown on a particular show that is my current favorite show. For this week’s “Guilty Pleasure Cinema,” I wanted to share with you a review of a film I had an invite to watch. This film is the first full length feature from Writer/Director/Actor Michael LiCastri whom up to that point has made several short films including The Great Pineapple Debacle, When Tarantino Met Shakespeare and October 31st to name a few. The film is titled The Best Laid Plans.

Released in 2019, The Best Laid Plans stars LiCastri as Kevin. He along with his friends Allen (David Plowden) and John (Keith Surplus) are all college graduates who are struggling to find jobs. Kevin finds out that he and his family are about to be evicted from their home, so the three of them are trying to come up with a quick way to raise the money to prevent them from being homeless. They find out that a former classmate of theirs named Tommy (Brian Ballance) won the lottery, they decide to kidnap him to shake out just enough of his winnings to keep Kevin and his family in their home.

Michael LiCastri, David Plowden and Keith Surplus in The Best Laid Plans. Image courtesy of Michael LiCastri.

The Best Laid Plans is a relatable situational comedy filled with quick wit and dark humor. LiCasri creates a visual story of what many college graduates are going through during these harsh times while pointing out the newer generation’s desire to make some fast money with very little effort. You see it today with everyone wanting to be internet sensations or creating profiles on provocative sites where consumers pay money to view explicit content. In this case The Best Laid Plans takes the old fashion concept of a kidnap for ransom scheme.

I thoroughly enjoyed the performances of the three buddies. Their chemistry is the backbone of the movie and I chuckled at the banter between them. Each character is relatable and come from different backgrounds not just from family and economics, but educational as well. It reminded me of one of my all-time favorite comedies Airheads where the three leads would rip each other to pieces over the situation they were in when they took over their local radio station.  The Best Laid features small appearances from Scream Queen legend herself Linnea Quigley and the Hitchhiker from the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre Edwin Neal which will make horror fans jump with glee.

Linnea Quigley and Edwin Neal in The Best Laid Plans. Image courtesy of Michael LiCastri.

In terms of the technical aspects of The Best Laid Plans, the locations are minimal as LiCastri focuses on the development of the characters rather than shooting various spots for viewers to look at. There’s no fancy angle shots or shaky first person view. Instead LiCastri keeps the camerawork simple by making sure the essential characters in the scene are all showed in frame. LiCastri can create a lot with very little and those are signs of a good competent filmmaker.

If you’re looking for a good laugh that doesn’t require fart jokes or physical comedy, The Best Laid Plans is for you. Those who are first time filmmakers can watch this movie as a template to how to make a compelling indie film with little to no money. All you need is a great script, relatable characters, and a realistic situation to put them in. At a run time of 73 minutes, it is well paced to keep your attention.

Image from The Best Laid Plans. Courtesy of Michael LiCastri.

The Best Laid Plans is available to watch now on Amazon Prime.

TRIVA (Per Writer/Director/Star Michael LiCastri)

AUDIO CLIPS

The Only People Who Hate Dysentery
Calling It The Man-child
Aladdin Defense
I’m Going To Start A Business
Crepes
How Did The Research Go?
That Guy Is So Hardcore
We’re Going To Take Some of His Money
Where Are The Cookies?
Edwin Neal and Linnea Quigley
How Long Do You Think It’ll Take To Finish All That Weed?
Afraid of Knocking on a Window
Shotgun
You Kidnapped Me For My Lotto Winnings?
Draw Straws
You Going To Give Us The Money?
Intentionally Trying To Shit Myself

Eternal Code Review

Official Poster

Release Date: October 15, 2019

Genre: Action, Crime, Thriller

Director: Harley Wallen

Writer: Harley Wallen

Starring: Damien Chinappi, Richard Tyson, Scout Taylor-Compton, Billy Wirth, Erika Hoveland, Yan Birch, Mel Novak, Vida Ghaffari

Warning: Possible Spoilers In This Review

As I’ve previously mentioned in my review for Attack of the Unknown, there are times here on “Guilty Pleasure Cinema” where I receive an opportunity to watch a film sent to me directly from the distributors or producers. This review is going to be another special review since it falls a little outside the normal reviews I’ve put on here. There won’t be any audio clips or trivia. Instead it’s going to be a straight up review as to why I recommend you check out this particular film. With that being said, I had the pleasure this past weekend of watching a unique film that was written and directed by Harley Wallen, whom has appeared in over forty feature length films and TV shows. His filmography includes Agramon’s Gate which stars B Movie icon Laurene Landon, Betrayed starring John Savage and Abstruse starring Tom Sizemore. I’ll be reviewing his latest release, Eternal Code.

Eternal Code follows the story of Corey (Damien Chinappi), an Iraq War Veteran who is in an unfortunate position like many veterans as he is homeless and unable to find work, not to mention having suicidal thoughts. Sitting on a park bench, he befriends a prostitute named Stephanie (Kaiti Wallen) along with two teenage girls who bring him food and money, Miranda (Angelina Danielle Cama) and May (Calhoun Koenig). Miranda’s mother is Bridget Pellegrini (Erika Hoveland), who is the head of a biological company that is developing technology which could bring eternal life to human beings. She is fighting against a merger that is being led by Oliver (Richard Tyson). To make sure the merger goes through, Oliver assembles a team to kidnap Bridget and her husband Mark (Billy Wirth) and hold them hostage while intimidating the other members of the board to vote yes for the merger. Miranda manages to not be taken and enlists Corey’s help to rescue her parents. Using his combat training and skills, Corey seeks out to find Miranda’s parents as well as protecting her from being kidnapped.

Damien Chinappi in “Eternal Code.”

Clocking in at a runtime of 105 minutes, Eternal Code is a dramatic thriller with science fiction elements. The film deals with the concept of life, death and afterlife. While the concept of life after death remains a mystery to humans, science is hoping to solve the mystery. It also deals with the morals and ethics of this research. You have Bridget who is wanting to use this breakthrough for peaceful purposes while Oliver is wanting this for his own personal ambitions, which you will uncover as you watch the film. He’s not going to let anyone nor anything stop in his way even if it means using retaliatory measures which we find so often in our business world today.

The performances are strong in this film especially from the main leads. Chinappi plays Corey as a lost soul in the beginning, but it would take the decency and good heart of Miranda for him to snap back into a sense of purpose as he is determined to pay his debt to her by rescuing her parents. Chinappi’s performance reminds me of a mix between Jack Bauer and Bryan Mills (24 and Taken for those who aren’t getting the reference). He doesn’t rely on torturing his suspects to extract information. Instead he uses stealth, cunning and the old fashioned gun pointed at the head to get what he needs to move forward. Richard Tyson is in a familiar antagonist role as he has been known for playing villains for most of his career, most notably in Kindergarten Cop. His character of Oliver is cold, calculating and is done reasoning with others. The rest of the supporting casts play their parts appropriately and each bring something to the story. There’s two special appearances in the movie. The first is from Scout Taylor-Compton (Rob Zombie’s Halloween and Halloween II) as Charlie, who is in charge of watching over Bridget and Mark and gets easily annoyed by their constant complaining and her frustration shows during her screen time. The other is Mel Novak (Game of Death, An Eye For An Eye) who plays board member Pomeroy. His appearance is a mix between Cliff Robertson and a certain United States President whom shall remain nameless. Novak is known in the film industry for playing villains, but it was a breath of fresh air to see him play a different role as one of the more reasonable executives and would not be beaten into submission even if it meant losing his life.

Richard Tyson and Vida Ghaffari in “Eternal Code.”

You’ll need to be patient when watching this movie as the pacing starts out very slow, but then picks up around the thirty minute mark. From there you have many moments on screen that will make you tense.For those of you who are expecting long shoot em up scenes or explosions, there’s none of that in Eternal Code. There are fight scenes and dead bodies, but it’s minimal. Instead, Wallen’s direction makes you use your brain and think about what would you do in the situation that they find themselves in. The presentation fits with a real life situation if your loved ones were kidnapped, what would you do? How far involved would you be to get them back? The only gripes I had other than the uneven pacing was I felt some scenes could’ve been trimmed down as they would dwell on matters that have already been established.

Eternal Code is a pleasant flick that is a nice breather from all the blockbuster action films that need car chases, things blowing up and a high body count to keep the audience’s attention. It’s not going to fit everyone’s tastes, but if you’re looking for something that is a little more clever and dramatic, then this is worth a viewing.

Erika Hoveland and Billy Wirth in “Eternal Code.”