Starring Maxwell Caulfield, Robert Beltran, Carlos Moreno Jr., Adrian Alvarado, Sonia Satra, Brooke Mason
Directed by Jamie Wagner AKA Jim Wynorski
When last I reviewed a Jim Wynorski movie it was last year’s Komodo vs. Cobra, a film I found so indefensibly worthless that it caused me to go temporarily insane. I confess I wrote the review immediately after watching the film and my emotions were still raw and the bile was still great within my throat.
I’ve been hearing about a new Wynorski-helmed creature feature entitled Cry of the Winged Serpent for awhile now and thinking it sounded like it had potential. If nothing else, the plot didn’t make it sound like it would be his fourth reworking of his Curse of the Komodo screenplay. My hungering for a decent monster movie is so strong of late that I actually went out of my way to purchase a recently released Russian DVD of the film. I don’t know why the Roger Corman-produced Cry of the Winged Serpent has yet to see the light of day domestically. It looks and feels like something tailor-made for the Sci-Fi Channel even though they’ve yet air it and there’s currently no word of even so much as a DVD release anywhere in the world except for the former Soviet Union.
Good news, Mr. Wynorski; I commend you for cranking out a good one this time. Cry of the Winged Serpent – warts and all – is in my humble opinion the most enjoyable movie Jim Wynorski has made in close to the last twenty years. Though it’s not without its problems, those problems are not movie killers. I’d dare say those problems give the film a rough around the edges feel that enhances its B-movie goodness. As far as modern B-monster movies go, this one is a real treat.
The first thing I learned from watching Cry of the Winged Serpent is that Catholicism in Mexico is a lot different than it is everywhere else in the world. Given an ultimatum by a drug kingpin that could result in the death of innocent peasants, a Catholic priest won’t turn to God or Jesus but rather Quetzalcoatl. He whips out a magical amulet from his pocket and summons the Aztec winged serpent deity to lay waste to the armed thugs holding them at gunpoint. Then after being mortally wounded and passing on the amulet to Miguel, a young villager whose family had just been massacred by the drug lord’s thugs, he orders the twenty-something to go get revenge for their people. Now I don’t recall if there’s anything written in stone that states just because you’re a Christian you have to give up your ancestral pagan ways, but a priest using his dying breath to get another person to vow murderous vengeance against those responsible just doesn’t strike me as something the Pope would condone.
Contrast that with the Los Angeles-based Father Juan that takes in the young man from the Yucatan. The dying priest told Miguel to seek out Father Juan to help guide him in the ways of Aztec mysticism yet Father Juan repeatedly urges Miguel to use the power more wisely, preferably with fewer casualties. Riiight. As if there’s ever a wise way to summon a 25-foot winged serpent deity and not use it as a means of deadly force. This Catholic priest talks up the power of their Aztec ancestors even as he chastises the young immigrant for using that very power, outright condemning him as the dead bodies rack up, even though all those bodies belong to the violent thugs that work for a murderous crime lord that the Mexican priest who bestowed upon him this amulet specifically told him to seek vengeance against.
Aztecatholicism is clearly a religion of many contradictions.
Franco, meanwhile, grows increasingly desperate as his men turn up dead, his money goes missing, and Miguel keeps calling the young Scarface wannabe on the phone to tell him that his days are numbered. Franco grows increasingly paranoid and rightfully so since Miguel is being assisted in the vendetta by someone within Franco’s criminal organization. The identity of the mole is kept a secret until the finale even though it’s hardly a mystery to figure out who it is and why.
As Franco’s men turn up increasingly dead, having been clawed or bitten or impaled or merely dropped out of the sky (the film’s funniest moment coming during a televised baseball game where an outfielder goes out to catch a fly ball and nearly catches a falling corpse), hardboiled cop Griffin (a gruffer than usual Maxwell Caulfield) and his perky female partner, who really seems more like a plucky gal Friday than a policewoman, are hot on the trail. Their pursuit to put Franco in the slammer soon turns to an on-going multiple murder investigation as they try to figure out who is killing off Franco’s foot soldiers. It’s obvious to see where Wynorski’s head was at when co-scripting this one given that Griffin keep questioning witnesses of Mexican descent that continually refer to the winged beast they saw as “La CaCanya,” a term used to describe the giant bird monster in the infamous 1950’s cheesefest The Giant Claw. Despite sharing a name with another mythical flying creature, Griffin refuses to buy into the whole flying serpent that materializes out of the sky theory until he finally sees it for himself.
Cry of the Winged Serpent is quite the hodgepodge, combining elements of Larry Cohen’s cult classic Q, The Winged Serpent, the 1946 George Zucco not-so-classic The Winged Serpent, pretty much every movie where a young person gains an otherworldly means to seek righteous vengeance only to begin going mad with power, and late Seventies/early Eighties era TV cop shows – back when cop shows were more lightweight, the lead was always a maverick prone to using excessive force, his partner the voice of reason, and the dialogue always featuring snappy banter. Only thing missing is the police chief forever yelling at the tough guy cop about procedural violations, but at least we do get the terminally unhip coroner who tries and fails to keep pace with the main character’s snappy comebacks. All these elements combined make for a good natured creature feature. Although by the time the closing credits began to roll I was overwhelmed with the sense that I’d just finished watching the full-length pilot for an early 80’s TV cop show about a crimefighter that uses a dragon-like creature to help him bust criminals. Believe it or not, I do mean that as a compliment.
One usually doesn’t expect such tame fare from a Jim Wynorski production. Perhaps that’s why the film has yet to get released domestically. Profanities are mild, bikini cleavage is the most T&A the film musters, and the goriest moments come in the form of a few tail impalings that are still nowhere near as gory as they could have been. Quetzalcoatl mostly slaps bad guys around, flings them through the air, or fatally swats them. Even clawings and bitings are devoid of the level of carnage usually seen in modern monster movies. The relatively bloodless nature of the monster-on-human action will no doubt disappoint some. I, however, found this approach gave me a warm feeling, harkening back to the milder monster movies of the glory days of cinema. Monster movies don’t always have to be a bloodbath.
Despite some rough patches, such as an ineptly staged dream sequence based around the murder of Griffin’s wife and being told that the person that wields the amulet is as invulnerable as Quetzalcoatl itself doesn’t exactly jive with Miguel’s ultimate fate, Cry of the Winged Serpent still sports a solid storyline, above average special effects, peppy dialogue, and playful performances.
Speaking of performances, busty Wynorski movie regular Glori-Ann Gilbert appears briefly in what I believe may be her most clothed role ever. Here she attempted to stretch her acting muscles by doing something she’s never really done before – actually trying to act. A very short scene that makes for quite an entertaining trainwreck.
I also found it amusing that Wynorski is using yet another alias with this one: Jamie Wagner. At least that was the one listed in the film’s opening credits. The ones on the DVD case credit the directing duties to “Jay Andrews”, one of the many aliases of Jim Wynorski. Come to think of it; The Many Aliases of Jim Wynorski sounds like a great name for his biography should anyone ever write one.
Even though Jim Wynorski’s real name isn’t slapped all over the movie’s credits, I give the man his due on this one. And Roger Corman. And co-writer William Langlois. Cry of the Winged Serpent is ferociously fun.
3 1/2 out of 5
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