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Q: The Winged Serpent (Blu-ray)

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Q: The Winged Serpent (Blu-ray)Starring Michael Moriarty, Candy Clark, David Carradine

Directed by Larry Cohen

Distributed by The Scream Factory


Although his name might not be as well-known as Roger Corman – the king of low-budget genre productions – auteur Larry Cohen deserves every bit as much respect for his endless gumption and total devotion to making the most out of his features. His ability to work on-the-fly and under the gun is exactly the reason why his film Q: The Winged Serpent (1982) exists today. Cohen, who had just been fired from a low-budget production shooting in New York City, didn’t want to waste the room he’d paid for during the production, so instead he hired some actors and banged out the script that would become Q in a mere six days. The conceit for this tale of a modern-day Aztec beast-god nesting in the art-deco spire of the Chrysler Building came when Cohen looked up at the skyline and said to himself, “That’d be the coolest place to have a nest.” Inspiration can come from anywhere when you’re in the Big City.

New Yorkers are losing their heads, literally. Reports of a gargantuan winged creature terrorizing rooftops have the NYPD on high alert, but they just can’t seem to spot the damn thing. Meanwhile, across town, small time crook (and wannabe jazz pianist) Jimmy Quinn (played by Cohen crony Michael Moriarty) is an unwilling participant in a diamond heist (at a store called… wait for it… Neil Diamonds). It goes poorly, leaving Jimmy to run for his freedom all the way up to the top of the Chrysler Building where he finds a huge nest housing the largest cinematic egg since Mothra gave birth. Quinn decides that maybe now would be a good time to give up his life of crime and try going straight for once, but when a couple of his associates come looking for the diamonds he lies and claims they’re hidden at the top of the Chrysler Building. Sure enough, both men leave the rooftop minus a head. Thinking this is his big ticket, Jimmy figures he can use his knowledge of the nest’s location as a bargaining chip with the police, exchanging what he knows for a full pardon on all his crimes in addition to a cool $1 million cash. The way he sees it, this city owes him. Who cares if there’s an ancient behemoth eating residents, all while a mysterious man in a bejeweled mask is making willing human sacrifices to appease the beast?

Cohen started off writing detective dramas, a fact which is evident in many of his films since they almost always feature a subplot involving police procedures. While the film is ostensibly sold as a monster-run-amok tale, the fact is that virtually every big creature feature needs a compelling story to work within. Now, I’ll be the first to admit that Michael Moriarty isn’t exactly the most charismatic leading man, but it’s clear that he has a strong desire to imbue his parts with enough of his quirky charm and dogged resilience that they’re at least memorable. Jimmy Quinn is a lifetime loser; a petty crook with no luck who overlooks the one stable, good thing in his life: his girlfriend, Joan, played (rather terribly) by Candy Clark. He’s so accustomed to being broken down and spat out that once he gets a small amount of power it completely goes to his head. Moriarty’s performance ends up being the film’s highlight, mainly because our eponymous creature is a little less than spectacular when finally revealed.

Q had a stellar poster design. I can still vividly recall seeing the VHS cover art many times as a kid and thinking that it looked impossibly awesome. Emphasize impossible because this is another case of the poster setting such high expectations that they would be hopeless to match on screen. It also doesn’t help when you hire one of the foremost fantasy artists of all-time, the masterful Boris Vallejo, the design your one sheet. Quetzalcoatl looks a lot like a plucked turkey, soaring through the skyline of the Big Apple. The design isn’t necessarily terrible, but compared to the beast the cover implies you’re getting… it just doesn’t even come close. Thankfully, since this is 1982, viewers can enjoy seeing Q brought to life via stop-motion animation. The work done here is impressive for a low-budget production, and Q moves through the air almost seamlessly. Large feathered claws were crafted for scenes where lounging New Yorkers are pulled from rooftops before being torn apart, although their employment usually ends up looking like someone is playing with a giant arcade claw machine attempting to win a prize.

Richard Roundtree and David Carradine both receive top billing as a couple of cops working the Q case. Carradine is given the most to do out of the pair, however, leaving Roundtree to just bark a few orders and act mildly heroic when he finally meets the beast. Carradine’s focus is mainly on investigating the series of human sacrifices occurring around the city – hearts cleanly ripped from chests, skin flayed off bodies… that kind of stuff. It’s a bit underdeveloped as a subplot, but the only real purpose it needs to serve is explaining why an Aztec god is making home in a modern day metropolis.

While many might dismiss the film as a big turkey, I think there’s more than enough of interest occurring within the running time to at the very least entertain viewers. Cohen came up with a unique take on ancient Aztec rituals, and he made sure to populate the film with a few well-rounded characters and familiar faces. Hell, it’s worth watching just for all the glorious NYC skyline porn, since the film was shot entirely on location. Cohen even managed to secure permits to shoot at the top of the Chrysler Building. Fans of old-school monster movies are sure to be pleased.

Shout! Factory’s Blu-ray is an appreciable upgrade over the previously issued DVD from Blue Underground. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn they simply used the existing HD master that was available since BU is known for quality image restoration. The image enjoys an upgrade in clarity, as well as a boost in color reproduction, while also maintaining a healthy, moderate layer of grain. Night time shots lose much of their detail to darkness, but Cohen (surprisingly) chose to shoot almost entirely in daylight. On the audio side of things, a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo track kicks things off. Now, before anyone goes complaining that this is a downgrade from the DTS 6.1 surround sound track found on the DVD, be aware that this film was mixed in mono, so anything those extra channels might have added would likely be newly-created to fill out the soundfield. The stereo track perfectly suits the film, although the dialogue levels are a bit on the low side.

The major bonus feature here is an audio commentary with writer/producer/director Larry Cohen. Whether or not you’re a fan of his films, this is a must-listen track. Cohen talks virtually non-stop right from the get-go, regaling listeners with on-set anecdotes, information on how he achieved some of the film’s more impressive shots, casting, securing permits, and more. He covers all aspects of the production in a clear, direct tone. The disc also includes a theatrical trailer, as well as a teaser, both of which (while looking rather rough) are in HD.

Q might not live up to the promise of its poster art, but what films truly do? Cohen delivered a picture that is a hodgepodge of monster activity, crime, extortion, and greed. And he did it all with a single week of pre-production. He makes the most of his time, his actors, and his films. Michael Moriarty delivers a solid performance, essentially carrying the film on his shoulders. Fans of Cohen’s oeuvre already know what’s in store here, but the uninitiated should (hopefully) find something here to keep them entertained. Shout! Factory’s Blu-ray provides the best presentation Q is likely to receive, and while the bonus features may be minimal, the commentary alone makes up for any shortcomings.

Special Features:

  • Audio commentary with writer/producer/director Larry Cohen
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Teaser trailer

    Film:

    3 1/2 out of 5

    Special Features:

    2 1/2 out of 5

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    Through the Cracks – Trick or Treat (1986) Review

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    Starring Marc Price, Tony Fields, Lisa Orgolini, Glen Morgan, Gene Simmons, and Ozzy Osbourne

    Directed by Charles Martin Smith


    I have been a horror fan for more than half of my life at this point. Meaning I have seen most of the quality horror offerings under the sun. But that said, every once in awhile a classic sneaks past so we wanted to create this “Through the Cracks” review section for such films.

    Case in point, I had never seen the Halloween horror flick Trick or Treat until last night. I know, right? How the hell did that happen? But these things do happen and so for everyone that has seen the flick a million times, this will be a review of the movie from a super horror fan that – at the age of 33 – is seeing Trick or Treat for the very first time.

    Now let’s get to it.

    First off you have to love the movie’s plot. Mixing horror and heavy metal seems like a given, yet preciously few films Frankenstein these two great tastes together.

    Like many of you out there, I am a big metal fan as well as a big horror fan. The two seem to go together like chocolate and peanut butter. Or Jason and horny campers.

    I dig bands like Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, and even those hair metal bands (Dokken forever!) and I’m well aware of the legends surrounding playing these records backward.

    Off the top of my head, the only other flick that combines the two to this degree is the (relatively) recent horror-comedy Deathgasm. I say more horror-metal flicks! Or should we call it Metal-Horror? Yeah, that’s a much more metal title.

    It only makes sense that someone, somewhere would take the idea of “What if Ozzy Osbourne really was evil and came back from the dead (you know, if he had passed away during his heyday) to torment a loner fan?” Great premise for a movie!

    And Trick or Treat delivers on the promise of this premise in spades. Sammi Curr is an epic hybrid of the best of the best metal frontmen and his resurrection via speaker is one of the great horror birthing scenes I have seen in all my years.

    Add to that the film feels like a lost entry in the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise. More specifically the film feels like it would fit snugly in between two of my favorite entries in that series, Dream Warriors and The Dream Master.

    This movie is 80’s as all f*ck and I loved every minute of it.

    And speaking of how this film brought other minor classics to the forefront of my brain, let’s talk about the film’s central villain, Sammi Curr. This guy looks like he could share an epic horror band with the likes of Mary Lou from Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II and the Drill Killer rocker from Slumber Party Massacre Part II.

    Picture that band for a moment and tell me they aren’t currently playing the most epic set in Hell as we speak. I say let’s see an Avengers-style series of films based on these minor horror icons sharing the stage and touring the country’s high school proms!

    In the end Trick or Treat has more than it’s fair share of issues. Sammi Curr doesn’t enter the film until much too late and is dispatched way too easily. Water? Really? That’s it?

    That said, the film is still a blast as director Charles Martin Smith keeps the movie rocking like an 80’s music video with highlights being Sammi’s rock show massacre at the prom and his final assault on our hero teens in the family bathroom.

    Rockstar lighting for days.

    Even though the film has issues (zero blood, a rushed ending) none of that mattered much to this horror hound as the film was filled to the brim with striking horror/metal imagery and a killer soundtrack via Fastway and composer Christopher Young.

    Plus you’ve got to love the cameos by Gene Simmons (boy, his character just dropped right out of the movie, huh?) and Ozzy Osbourne as a mad-as-hell Preacher that isn’t going to take any more of this devil music. P.S. Watch for the post-credits tag.

    More than a few of my closest horror buddies have this film placed high on their annual Halloween must-watch lists. And after (finally) viewing the film for myself, I think I just may have to add the film to mine as well. Preferably on VHS.

    Trick or Treat is an 80’s horror classic. If you dig films like Popcornand if you put the film off like I did, remedy that tonight and slap a copy in the old VHS/DVD player.

    Just don’t play it backward… God knows what could happen.

    All said and done, I enjoyed the hell out of my first viewing of Trick or Treat. But what do YOU think of the film? Make sure to hit us up and let us know below or on social media!

    Now bring on Trick or Treat 2: The Prom Band from Hell, featuring Sammi Curr, Mary Lou Maloney, and Atanas Ilitch’s Driller Killer from Slumber Party Massacre Part II!

    • Trick or Treat (1986) 3.5
    3.5

    Summary

    Charles Martin Smith’s Trick or Treat is a sure-fire Halloween treat for fans of 80’s horror flicks, as well as fans of heavy metal music.

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    User Rating 3.5 (14 votes)
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    AHS: Cult Review – Clowns, Cults, Politics, and Peters

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    Starring Evan Peters, Sarah Paulson, Billie Lourd, Cheyenne Jackson, Frances Conroy, Mare Winningham, and Allison Pill

    Created by Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk


    ** NO SPOILERS **

    It’s here. We’ve reached the end. The newest season of “American Horror Story” has ended and now we are here to provide you guys with our season review of AHS: Cult.

    Spoiler free.

    To start things off let me say I’m not the world’s biggest fan of “American Horror Story”. It breaks down like this: I enjoyed the absolute hell out of the first season of the series (“Murder House”), couldn’t get through “Asylum” (I know, I know, I’ve tried), dug “Coven” for what it was, really enjoyed “Freak Show”, and again I couldn’t get into “Hotel” or “Roanoke”.

    That’s the story of me and “American Horror Story”. Plain And simple. But what did I think of the new seventh season of the notorious horror anthology series? Let’s find out.

    Back when the seventh season of AHS was first announced (then going by the title “AHS: Election”) I was immediately intrigued by the new season because I heard it would not include any supernatural elements. Like the fourth season, “Freak Show”.

    Now I’m a fan of ghosts and weird creature-men with drills for d*cks, don’t get me wrong. But the series has thus far relied almost exclusively on horrors of the supernatural variety (other than “Freak Show”) so this major change of pace was again welcomed by this guy.

    Instead of vampires, aliens, and witches this season relied on terrors of the mind. Psychological fears and anxieties. The horrors man does to man. Deep issues.

    Oh, and clowns. Like a lot of clowns.

    But just because this new season didn’t include anything supernatural, that doesn’t mean the 11-episode season wasn’t filled with twisted visuals and horrifically disturbing acts. No, sir. This season boasted some showstoppers including S&M, gimps, and a house of horrors that wouldn’t be out of place in a Rob Zombie flick. It was all good.

    But let’s backtrack a bit here.

    Allow me to rundown the season’s plot for those who may be unaware. “AHS: Cult” tells the tale of a world post-election night. The literal dawn of Trump’s America. In one corner we have Sarah Paulson’s soccer mom, trying to fight through life with a series of crippling phobias (including clowns, holes, blood, and being a good person).

    And in the other corner, we have Evan Peter’s angry, white (blue-haired) male, looking to seize Trump’s new position of power to bring about the end of… Actually, I want this to be a spoiler-free season review, so I’m just going to say the dude’s got big plans.

    Like Manson-size plans. Let’s leave it at that.

    With these two characters established, the new season then proceeds to send them spiraling into a collision course of political sabotage, intrigue, and clown-based nope, nope, nope-ing that can only end with one – or both – of them dead as Dillinger.

    Overall “AHS: Cult” belonged end-to-end to Mr. Evan Peters. The young actor has continued to show his striking range from season to season of Ryan Murphy’s horror show and this season was no different. Peters’ turn as not only Kai, the blue-haired leader of the titular cult, but as infamous leaders such as David Koresh, Jim Jones, and Charles Manson – to name a few – owed this season.

    I can only hope he doesn’t pull a Jessica Lange and opt-out of more AHS next year.

    Speaking of top performances, “AHS: Cult ” showcases some other chilling and memorable turns with Alison Pill’s strangely vulnerable, put-upon wife character being the best next to Peters in my eyes. This actress needs to be in more films/TV!

    Along with Pill, actress Billie Lourd killed it time and time again. The “Scream Queens” breakout star and Carrie Fisher spawn was yet again a highlight in her second Ryan Murphy series. Bet she has the starring role in next season. Mark my words.

    Add to that, the season also boasts a handful of fun cameos, including John Carroll Lynch’s return as Twisty the Clown, Emma Roberts as a bitchy reporter that will do anything to end up on top, and Lena Dunham as SCUM Manifesto writer Valerie Solanas. The cameo cast killed it and I wish they would have been present for more episodes. What are you gonna do?

    On the sour side of the season, I didn’t dig Sarah Paulson’s character. At all. But I’m sure that was the point. Right? I’m still not sure. But, boy, I wouldn’t even want to be stuck in line behind her at a Starbucks for three minutes, let alone spend the better part of this season’s 11-hours with her and her whiny bullshite. Urgh.

    That said, she pulled it out by the finale. That’s all I’ll say.

    In the end, I enjoyed this season as much as – if not more – than any other of the series. “Murder House” will still no doubt go on as my favorite season of the series, but “AHS: Cult” will rank third after season one and “Freak Show”.

    While I was on the fence about the season after three episodes, the show ended up ditching Paulson’s character (and/or shifting her arch) after a lull so the episodes picked up quickly. Whenever the season turned its focus back towards Peters (in whichever incarnation he was playing at the time) the show got better and better. Every time.

    Not a bad way to spend my Tuesday night for the past 11 weeks.

    Bring on season 12.

    • American Horror Story: Cult (2018)
    3.5

    Summary

    The seventh season of Ryan Murphy’s American Horror Story was Evan Peters’ show all the way through. The young actor pulled out all the stops time and time again to make what may have been a lackluster supernatural-free season a winner.

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    User Rating 4.1 (21 votes)
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    The Axiom Review – A Stylish and Clever Slice of Independent Horror

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    Starring Hattie Smith, Zac Titus, Nicole Dambro

    Directed by Nicholas Woods


    The Axiom is an ambitious, well directed, impressively acted and stunningly shot independent horror film that has just a few, teensy little flaws holding it back from greatness (and therefore will have to settle for just being really, really good, instead).

    The first thing you realize when watching The Axiom is that this is a beautiful film. Everything is framed and shot in a lush and stylish manner, but one which is always tonally appropriate for the scene.

    The second thing you’ll notice, and keep noticing as the film plays out, is that the movie really struck gold with this cast. Not only is there a total lack of the sort of stilted and unnatural acting seen in countless other microbudget horror affairs, but the performances are genuinely fantastic across the board. The main characters are believably chill and relatably normal in the early scenes, and the acting remains just as impressive once things start getting a bit more… intense. It’s not often that an independent horror film has so many good performances that it makes it hard to pick the movie’s acting VIP, but that is undeniably the case here. Taylor Flowers delivers what is probably the showiest performance (and does it very well, indeed), but the entire cast really is quite good.

    The central premise of the film is both interesting and original, and touches upon the real life fact (given some recent attention in the ‘Missing 411’ books and documentary) that a lot more people sure seem to go missing out in the woods than seems reasonable, while simultaneously weaving all sorts of folklore, fairy tales and urban legends into the mix. It’s also clever in the way that it very naturally reveals aspects to the relationships between characters that serve to later – or sometimes retroactively – explain some of the more questionable decisions they make or attitudes they display. While that may sound like screenwriting 101, it’s surprising how many films fail to do this. The Axiom rewards the viewer’s attention in other ways as well, with many aspects of the movie that initially feel odd or unnatural receiving reasonable explanations (within the context of the movie) by the end. It’s not quite as challenging (or as rewarding) in this regard as, say, something like Session 9, but it does add a nice layer of complexity to the storytelling.

    The film’s score, by Leo Kaliski, is also quite good. There may be a moment here or there where the music hits an overly familiar beat, but overall it not only fits the movie’s tone, but does quite a bit to help set that tone as well.

    The only thing that I don’t feel the movie quite pulls off – and I’m trying to be vague here, because I feel like the less you know going into this film, the better – is some of the makeup effects work. The gore stuff is very well executed, but some of the other stuff feels like it was crafted with the intention of shooting it in a more… stylized manner. Instead, filmed as it is here, the result is sometimes less than impressive and can fail to make the impact that the movie seems to be implying that it should. And while some of what the makeup effects lack in execution is made up for with the ingenuity and creativity of their design, it’s still a bit of a shame when they don’t quite pull them off because, aside from a few niggles that I have with the writing, the effects are the only aspect of the film that occasionally fails to live up to the high level of technical proficiency that The Axiom otherwise demonstrates.

    ADDITIONAL THOUGHTS:

    • Man, the acting in this movie is really good. The dialogue may stumble once or twice, but these actors always sell it anyway.
    • Give back Mia Sara’s DNA, Hattie Smith!
    • If you’re going to put your female lead in shorts this small, I hope you’re not sensitive to viewers unleashing a nonstop parade of “Has anyone seen my pants / OH GOD WHERE ARE MY PANTS!” jokes.
    • “You just pop this here ‘Blair Witch Stick Person / Anarchy sign’ sticker up on that there windshield of yours, and them park rangers? Well – heh heh – they won’t bother you none, no sir.” Hmmmmm…
    • The film really is shot amazingly well – better than a lot of mainstream releases. Cinematographer Sten Olson has a real future ahead of him.
    • As does writer / director Nicholas Woods, for that matter. Any director who can get this level of quality out of their cast and crew on their first ever film is someone to keep an eye on.
    • “I’ll make a run for it and get help,” says the female lead, and I’m like “Yeah, let her go – she has no pants to weigh her down.”
    • The gore effects in the movie are both realized and utilized very well.
    • Welcome back to horror movies, “I’ll be right back” dialogue spoken unironically by and/or to ill-fated characters.
    • The Axiom
    4.0

    Summary

    In the end, The Axiom is a solid and entertaining flick that manages to wring a level of quality and originality out of the somewhat tired “Don’t Go in the Woods” horror subgenre not seen since 2012’s Cabin in the Woods. The cinematography and acting are hugely impressive, it features a nice, unnerving score, the premise is original and captivating, and the whole thing moves at a nice pace that helps keep the film’s flaws from dragging it down.

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    User Rating 3.95 (20 votes)
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