By Aaron Hillis | The Playlist August 28, 2013 at 5:10PM
"Q: The Winged Serpent"
1982, dir. Larry Cohen
(Shout! Factory, available on BD)
Less than a mile uptown from King Kong's Empire State Building lies the Chrysler Building, nesting home for the eponymous, man-eating, stop-motion animated Aztec god (full name: Quetzalcoatl) in this deliciously oddball, Ray Harryhausen-inspired creature feature by way of lowlife crime thriller. Written and directed by the idiosyncratic, deadpan humored, socially conscious Cohen, an under-acknowledged genre auteur ("It's Alive," "The Stuff," "Black Caesar") who deserves at least some of George Romero's hype, "Q" stars a jittery, motor-mouthed Michael Moriarty ("Law and Order") as a two-bit thief and wannabe pro pianist who discovers the plumed beast's skyscraper dwelling. Leveraging his knowledge to get into the good graces of NYC police investigators David Carradine and Richard Roundtree, our hapless, self-serving rogue tries his best to not get murdered by gangsters and the religious cult-invoked fiend who squawkingly beheads window washers and flies away with topless sunbathers to flay and feast on later. TheClaymation F/X (not to be confused with Cohen's "Special Effects") are charmingly dated, even as a low-budget throwback to '50s and '60s monster movies, but what makes this B-movie transcend its schlock value is its believable, gritty characters, and especially Moriarty's eccentrically unhinged, heavily improvised performance.
The Skinny: Moriarty and Cohen have had a lucrative collaborative relationship, working together on "The Stuff," "A Return to Salem's Lot," "It's Alive III: Island of the Alive" and "Pick Me Up," a fan-favorite episode of the Showtime anthology "Masters of Horror" that placed Cohen in the same respected camp of contributing genre veterans as John Carpenter, Guillermo Del Toro, Tobe Hooper and Joe Dante.
Bonus Round: Cohen's commentary track starts a bit frazzled but eventually finds its anecdotal groove, with a tangentially shaggy overview of the film's production (it was put together in a 24-hour scramble after Cohen was fired from an adaptation of Mickey Spillane's "I, Jury") and an early test screening that went awry when the crowds walked out after realizing it wasn't a preview of "Close Encounters of the Third Kind."
Makes a "Larry Cohen's Finest Hour" Triple Feature with: "Bone," "God Told Me To"
WORTH A SPIN:
"Betty Boop: The Essential Collection, Volume 1" (1932 - 1937, Olive Films, on BD, DVD) – With doe eyes as big as her puckered lips are tiny, Max and Dave Fleischer's cartoon jazz doll "boop-boop-a-doops" her girlish way through 12 early one-reelers, which are surreal and racy and far darker than anything Disney made in that era. Essential, indeed.
"The Big City" (1963, Criterion, on BD, DVD) – With his trademark warmth and wit, India's greatest director Satyajit Ray explores one woman's pursuit for independence in then-contemporary Kolkata. Simultaneously, Criterion releases Ray's 19th-century set "Charulata," another elegant, progressive, femme-centric melodrama.
"The Painting" (2012, Cinedigm, on BD/DVD combo, DVD) – Looking for meaning in their painted lives, "Alldunns," "Halfies" and "Sketchies" populate the vibrantly animated world of Jean-François Laguionie's sweet, sophisticated fantasy "Le Tableau" (as it's known in its native France), a visual feast for children and adults alike.
"Post Tenebras Lux" (2012, Strand, on DVD) – Mexican auteur Carlos Reygadas ("Silent Light") regularly delves into the existential and spiritual anguish of his characters, and won Best Director at Cannes for this impressionistic, bizarrely autobiographical drama featuring a family in crisis, bathhouse swingers, and a bright red demon.
"This is Martin Bonner" (2013, Monterey Media, on DVD) – A Sundance award winner, Chad Hartigan's low-key but note-perfect drama concerns an ex-con (Richmond Arquette) who is taken under the wing of an aging Australian expat (Paul Eenhoorn). Who knew such a small film could be a smart, profoundly redemptive and devastating character study?