Here’s a movie I blind bought on blu ray based purely on the concept and the tag line. The concept is a cheesy monster movie, made in the eighties and taking place in New York, starring actors like David Carradine and Richard Roundtree. Now that for me is already enough, but let me lay the tagline out for you. “Its name is Quetzalcoatl. Just it call Q…that’s all you’ll have time for before it tears you apart!” That’s good shit right there. Oh and it was written and directed by Larry Cohen, who also did the movie “The Stuff” which is about a killer ice cream product. I haven’t reviewed that movie for one of these since I try to watch movies I haven’t seen, but I will take this moment to say it’s a movie that everyone should definitely check out.
Anyway, this was clearly a movie that I needed to watch immediately.
The central concept is that Q, an Aztec god, has been awakened in New York in modern day (well, 1983) through ritual sacrifices that involve skinning people alive. Q is kicking it at the top of the Chrysler building, occasionally flying down to grab people out of swimming pools or to eat women sunbathing on the roof of a building. However, Q doesn’t actually appear on screen all that often. The movie spends the majority of its time focusing on the human characters.
The story there is that our lead character Jimmy Quinn (Michael Moriarty) is a small time crook/ex-con who is looking for work. Also he’s a piano player, as he proves in an early and strange scene where he starts playing the piano in a bar for a surprisingly long time. Anyway after a robbery he is involved with goes south (which is completely his own fault), he flees from the police into the Chrysler Building where he finds a dead body and a huge egg. That’s not standard stuff so he knows that something is up. At this point, you assume he’s going to be our standard movie lead and help solve the mystery and stop the monster. But this movie goes the ballsier route and has our hero bribe the police for tons of money in exchange for the information he has on the monster. It doesn’t matter to him that more people are getting killed the longer the monster search goes on for, he sees a pay day opportunity and decides to go for it.
This ended up being my favourite aspect of the movie. How often do you get a lead character in a horror/monster movie that is a complete piece of a shit human being? This guy lies, steals, yells, whines, and it’s also mentioned that he hits his girlfriend. But he’s our protagonist! Thankfully he is also very entertaining to watch, otherwise the movie would suffer for it. The risk pays off and you have a complete asshole as the lead character, who doesn’t quite cross the line into being insufferable. The supporting characters played by Roundtree and Carradine are great as well, with nobody acting like this material is beneath them. It’s great to have a monster movie with good characters and tons of personality, as usually everything between the monster attack scenes is filler material that acts as an obstacle between you and more monster attacks. But here, I was often enjoying watching the human characters enough that I would forget this was in fact a monster movie until Q would show up and bite somebody’s head off.
Something else I wasn’t expecting to enjoy as much as I did is the location. Lots of movies that take place in New York don’t in anyway feel like they are actually there since, well, most of the time the movie was shot elsewhere. For example, I just watched Kick Ass 2 and it was definitely one of the more blatant examples I’ve seen recently of a movie claiming to be New York but that is so clearly Toronto. Here though the movie is absolutely drenched in New York atmosphere. There’s a lot of aerial shots of the city landscape, shots of large crowds of people moving around the streets, and it all works in the film’s favour as it gives it a truly unique feel for a monster movie. A lot of the shots of crowd’s running away are clearly stock footage, but there are tons of other great moments such as when limbs or drops of blood begin to rain down upon the citizens.
Strangely enough, the monster itself may be one of the least interesting parts of the movie. The creature is shown pretty early on, there is not a big reveal of it at the very end or anything like that. It’s made of clay and moves around using stop motion animation, a technique I’ve said before I have an immense amount of respect for. Anyone who has ever tried it knows how much work is involved, so I will always support its use in just about anything. Yes it does give the monster a cheesy, dated quality, but it’s just part of the charm and obviously they weren’t working with a large budget here. Ok yes the clearly clay people that are thrown from the monster’s mouth are undeniably goofy, and it makes it hard to tell whether the movie was being intentionally silly or whether that was a budget factor. Because of things like that, it’s certainly not a scary movie, but it sure is a fun one.
Q went beyond my expectations, which admittedly were zero. Well-written human characters and a great use of location make up for a fairly standard monster whose effects have not aged well. It’s a very enjoyable time, and makes for another easy recommendation.