Q: Winged Serpent
Genre pioneer Larry Cohen, who broke new horror ground with the killer-baby hit It's Alive!, takes a stab at the giant-monster scenario with this enjoyable low-budget exercise. The title refers to the winged Aztec god Quetzalcoatl, represented here as a dragon-like flying lizard (thanks to some quaint but amusing stop-motion animation from David Allen), who decides to take up residence in the art-deco spire of the Chrysler Building, taking frequent jaunts in the midday sun to nip the heads off various hapless New Yorkers. The resulting bloody mess confounds detectives Shepard (David Carradine) and Powell (Richard Roundtree), who are already scratching their heads over a series of bizarre ritual murders linked to a secret Aztec cult. Into the picture comes the film's protagonist -- neurotic, sweaty, paranoid crook Jimmy Quinn (Michael Moriarty, in a tour-de-force performance), a two-bit wheel-man with aspirations of becoming a jazz pianist. After a botched diamond heist leads Quinn to Q's lair, his attempts to go straight take a side-turn as he decides to extort from the city an enormous sum in exchange for directions to the monster's nest. A few sneaky deals later, the location falls into Shepard's hands, and he leads a paramilitary assault on the Chrysler Building, where the creature's humongous egg is about to hatch. Rude, edgy, fast-paced, and peppered with witty dialogue (most of which can't be repeated here), Cohen's script retains the spirit of classic monster movies like The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, injecting it with tough, gangster-movie moxie. Moriarty's unbelievable performance -- one of three collaborations with Cohen -- finds him chewing acres of scenery as a contemptible, loud-mouthed goon who's too funny to hate; Moriarty also composed and performed two schizophrenic piano numbers for the film.