We haven't heard too
much from Larry Cohen recently, it seems. With the exception of Original
Gangstas (a logical project for the director of the well-regarded
Black Caesar), he seems to be concentrating on writing rather
than directing these days. But in the late 70's through the 80's, when
he was most prolific, I regarded this fellow as something of a Great
Cohen did the producer/director/writer
thing on a series of unusual horror/SF films starting with the truly
odd God Told Me To and continuing on through the somewhat annoying
It's Alive III - Island of the Alive. His movies always strike
the viewer as being fairly fresh approaches to old formulas - The
Stuff, for instance, is Body Snatchers with Cool Whip®
as the villain - but they're recognizable as formula nonetheless. Q
is Cohen's Giant Monster movie.
Cohen wastes no time
in getting to the - ahem - meat of the matter, starting off with
a high-rise window washer getting his head
bitten off some 75 stories above the ground. Soon after, a sunbathing
woman (giving us our obligatory boob shot) is carried away by something
diving out of the sun. And, oh, yes, a skinned corpse crops up in a
hotel room. It's becoming a very interesting day for police detectives
Shepard (David Carradine) and Powell (Richard Roundtree).
But never mind that,
as we become acquainted with extremely small-time hood Jimmy
Quinn (Michael Moriarty). Jimmy's been trying to go straight with no
luck, and finds himself forced out of his usual role as wheelman and
into actually participating in a diamond heist. Things go wrong, Jimmy
bolts with an attache case full of diamonds, and promptly loses the
valise when he's hit by a cab.
Through a not-too-contrived
set of circumstances, Jimmy finds himself at the top of the Chrysler
Building, where he discovers an enormous nest and an equally enormous
egg. This comes in handy when the surviving members of the gang track
Jimmy down and lean on him for their loot, and Jimmy helpfully leads
them to the nest. As their death screams echo through the dome, Jimmy
scurries away, giggling, "Eat 'em up! Eat 'em!"
So what's going on here?
Well; the flying beastie that's snatching construction workers off the
high iron is some species of giant bird that only crops up every so
often, and Shepard becomes convinced that it was prayed back
into existence by an Aztec priest and his willing sacrifices
(oh, yeah, more corpses crop up with surgically removed hearts and the
like). In short, the bird is Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent of
Aztec legend. By the time Jimmy is finally picked up by the cops for
the diamond job, Q has been spotted too many times to be ignored, and
the hoodlum realizes he's sitting on a gold mine - he's the only one
who knows the location of the monster's nest. So,
despite the protestations of his girlfriend (Candy Clark) who urges
him to "do the right thing", Jimmy proceeds to blackmail the
The long and short of
it is, Q and its egg wind up on the wrong end of the machine guns of
NYPD, Jimmy has to face down a very annoyed Aztec priest, and
in a bombed-out loft somewhere, there's another damned egg, anyway.
The fight between Q and
the NYPD is pretty good, although if you're expecting something along
the scale of a Godzilla fight, you're going to be disappointed. Cohen
didn't have that sort of budget, and it looks like damn near all the
footage uses the real Chrysler building dome. There's a lot of
shooting and swooping, and several stop-motion puppets get hurled to
their deaths. All in all, kinda what you would expect of such a fight
in the real world. Though I wonder what happened to the stray bullets,
what with all that automatic weapons fire in downtown Manhattan....
As ever, it's the little
things that make Q. Cohen makes good use of guerrilla photography
on the streets of New York (as he did in God Told Me To, insinuating
a then-unknown Andy Kaufmann into the ranks of cops marching in the
St. Paddy's Day Parade): blood drizzling down from above onto
panicking pedestrians; a crowd standing in a crosswalk parts, revealing
that they're staring at a dismembered foot. When the police finally
interrupt one of the gruesome sacrificial rituals, the sacrifice (they
have to be willing, remember) is so incensed he attacks the cops. And
in the last act, as Powell is chasing the Aztec priest along the rooftops,
he is followed closely by an undercover cop who was disguised as a street
mime. A mime with a gun. Man, I love these movies.
and Roundtree are good as characters they've played umpteen times before
and will probably play umpteen times more before the Millennium. It's
Moriarty, as usual, who gives the standout performance as the ex-con
ex-junkie who's only slightly smarter than a bag of hammers. Cohen somehow
got Moriarty, a fine actor, to do three* flicks for him, including the aforementioned The
Stuff and Island of the Alive. Well, bully for Cohen, say
I, and Moriarty's career didn't seem to suffer. It's nice to
have actual talent on these things (and yes, it must be said, Cohen's
always had good actors working for him).
Q itself looks really
good, thanks to Dave Allen, Randy Cook, and Peter Kuran. I suppose it's
for me to say so, and I've fought this for a long time, but.... I've
always thought Dave Allen's stop-motion animation looked better than
Ray Harryhausen's. There. I've said it. (Well, except for 20 Million
Miles to Earth, but that was damn fine animation) Memory
had informed me that Q looked a lot like the Ugly Bird in The
Legend of Hillbilly John, but memory was, fortunately, wrong.
In some ways, it looks like a giant flying hot dog, but the animation
is so fluid that you forget that right away.
If there is a fatal flaw
in Q, it's a flaw that's inherent in Cohen's other flicks; they
are, quite simply, what they are. After you've watched it once, you
have experienced the whole enchilada, all the surprises, twist and nuances,
and enjoyable as they may have been the first time through, you feel
no need to see it again. Cohen's movies do not reward a second viewing.
But that's not too tragic, in a field where most of its competition
does not reward a first viewing.
In the notes on the Anchor
Bay Entertainment Collector's Edition, Larry Cohen writes, "Quentin
Tarantino gleefully told me that two different European critics wrote
that Reservoir Dogs was Q without the bird." That
was a rather spooky feeling, upon my first viewing in almost
10 years - the robbers meeting at a restaurant, the diamond heist gone
hopelessly bad - so nyah nyah nyah nyah nyah to everybody who's
been bitching that Tarantino ripped off City on Fire. He obviously
ripped off Q. (Reservoir Dogs with a monster....hmmm.....
dammit, somebody get me a Budget!)
Unless there's something
I'm forgetting, Q was the last attempt at an American Giant Monster
Movie until King Kong Lives or (urk) Zakorr
the Invader (We don't talk about the Jurassic Parks or
around here). As such, it deserves some recognition and respect - especially
since, unlike those worthies, it turned out to be pretty good.