Thirty years of horror: Q (1982)

Tom: This is goofball Larry Cohen’s early New York guerrilla filmmaking at his best (i.e. it’s better than God Told Me To). Not to say Q is good filmmaking. It’s not. I can’t help but guffaw at the wings drawn over the helicopter shadow as this movie’s excuse for special effect. But Q has something unique. It has an absolutely fascinating performance by Michael Moriarity, who demonstrates that when an actor is really invested in a role, he can transcend writing, direction, and claymation. I would love to adapt Q as a stage play. I promise I am not joking about that, because at the heart of this movie is the stuff of good drama: a character making decisions. All it needs is an actor as talented and committed as Moriarty.

After the jump, that’s one hell of an omelet.

Chris: I was prepared to see some bad filmmaking here, but even so I’m not sure I was prepared for some of the dialogue in this movie (“You ever drop a cantaloupe from 40 stories?”). It feels like much of the film is some elaborate writer’s workshop exercise to get to a scenario that plausibly placed Richard Roundtree in a car with two sweaty New York cops in bad suits and a mime.

Tom: The “I’m afraid of almost everything, but I’m not afraid of heights” moment is the summation of Q in a single shot: a weirdly intriguing line, filmmaking so shoddy the actor isn’t even in focus, and absolute commitment in Moriarty’s delivery.

Chris: I have to agree on Moriarty. He’s just so compulsively watchable here. The way he manages to walk (even before acquiring one of the most epic limps in movie history) as if his legs and arms are too long for his body is magnificent. The way he makes bad dialogue sound utterly believable (“Why’s everybody trying to give me revolvers?”) is crazy good. The way he uses his face as this incredibly malleable and expressive instrument…he’s just uniformly terrific. It’s actually great to finally see this performance. I’ve heard about it, because Roger Ebert made a special point to bring it up in his review of this film as well.

Tom: It’s as if no one told him he was in a bad movie. He showed up for something directed by Coppola, Scorsese, or Bogdanovich. I almost think Cohen appreciated what Moriarty was bringing to the set. How else do you explain the audition scene, where Moriarty plays the piano and starts scatting inappropriately, only to be shut down by the bar owner, and to then lash out at David Carradine on his way out? That’s the sort of thing you’d see in a real movie. Unfortunately, in Cohen’s later movies with Moriarty, you get the sense that Moriarty eventually figured it out. “Oh, this is the kind of movie we’re making? Okay, I see what we’re doing now. In that case, I’ll just save my energy for something else.”

Chris: Moriarty isn’t the only person who showed up to act for this. Buried in the middle of this movie is a pretty good performance by American Graffiti heroine Candy Clark, too. She gets even worse lines and even worse editing by Cohen and company but still manages to make it work. Watching her and Moriarty actually trying to elevate this nonsense made me wish there was a whole 1982 film with these two in the same roles, but in this case just trying to put their lives back together again. They’re that interesting to me. I was bummed when we had to cut back to more ridiculous flying monster nonsense.

Tom: I’m afraid I have to part ways with you on Clark’s performance. It seems to me she can’t keep up with Moriarty, but she won’t stop trying. She’s like a waterskier who’s fallen off the skis but won’t let go of the tow line. David Carradine and Richard Roundtree, on the other hand, know exactly what kind of movie they’re in and it shows. The drawn-out exposition scene with Carradine’s two-page report in a blue oversized binder is hilarious. All these actors, so late in the movie, setting the stage for the premise — a small time hood deciding the fate of New York City because he knows where the ancient supernatural (?) beast is nesting — while Moriarty lurks in the background, patiently waiting for his next scene.

Chris: This was my first experience with a Larry Cohen movie. Is this what they are? I get the appeal of being an edgy, New York filmmaker working the far edge of the margins, but there were other folks doing that in the 1970’s who didn’t let sloppy editing, turgid reaction shots, and comically bad dialogue get into their films. Early on when the window washer’s head becomes a snack, we get a scene where David Carradine and Richard Roundtree look over the crime scene and the extras behind the police barricades are far more interesting and funny than anything else in this movie that doesn’t have Moriarty or Clark. They offer better social commentary, too.

Tom: I think the more relevant name in the credits is producer Samuel Z. Arkoff, who made a career out of B-movies being B-movies. But you can see several of Cohen’s weird touches, perched precariously between hilarious and inspired. The mime cop. The little vignette about the construction worker’s lunch pail. The forced ancient Aztec god angle in what is otherwise just a creature feature. The backstory of Jimmy Quinn. For better and worse, Q is a representative taste of Cohen’s blend of trash and treasure. His magnum opus is probably the Maniac Cop trilogy, which is occasionally clever. His monster baby saga, which began with the surprisingly tame It’s Alive, has nothing on Rosemary’s Baby, of course, but it’s a noble attempt. The Stuff is just a big messy joke. But to get an idea of Cohen’s ability to persevere and adapt, check out how his Phone Booth script was eventually made into a movie, followed immediately by the underrated Cellular. Both are telephone based movies, each rooted in a very specific time, and both are far more character-based than your usual trashy thriller.

(So what’s this “thirty years of horror” thing?)