Q is enjoyably dirty, a seedy vision of early ’80s New York populated with abrasive scum and sacrificial Aztec worshipers. In the mix is primitive god Quetzalcoatl, serpentine bird who scours blindingly sunny skies seeking to feed on unfortunate rooftop victims.
Q comes billed as a genre monster flick, yet Larry Cohen writes and directs this grungy peering into low brow humanity as a crime picture, which happens to host a killer fowl. Tropes of ’50s sci-fi are overturned, ditching peppy scientists for gaudy villains and grubby, miscreant cops. David Carradine leads, but this is Michael Moriarty’s showpiece as skittish Jimmy Quinn, small time criminal with an ambivalent moral code.
Ragged pacing clumsily pushes Q forward, biding time between its poky glimpses of David Allen’s stop motion lizard bird. Q is distinctively underground, New York streets filled not with panic, but with citizens who stare curiously into cameras. Low budget restrictions undoubtedly forced hands to shoot rogue, and evidence is burned onto celluloid.
By violence standards of ’82, Q finds itself vicious, often snapping heads and zooming on the bird’s proudly displayed results. The ancient god’s appetite is questionable, devouring a sunbather down to stripped bone, and merely killing for sport via decapitations. Sustenance logic is secondary to splash shocks.
Exploitative with its startling kills and dim with its action, Q surfaces its sleazy facade to lend an uncomfortable air to everything it does. Moriarty is intelligently centered in a film bloated with thugs, enough to push away repetition in Q’s overwhelmingly morbid tone. Even humor, darkly delivered, pokes gags at the expense of those skinned alive.
Q finds itself straddling lines with often slippery connecting points, Carradine’s detective character seeking an unknown whose sacrifices brought on barely pronounceable Quetzalcoatl’s wrath. Moriarty’s shyster trails off into subplots of domestic violence and jewelery thieving, all while the titular bird circles in first-person (first-bird?) views, teasing an audience impatient for bloodshed.
A spirited finale, which spins cinematography and stop motion around the Chrysler Building, is abrupt as New York police make their raid on a nesting site between edits. Q creates obvious gaps for its effects to slip in, David Allen’s minuscule crew cornered without typical procedural input. Cohen shot plate footage without any involvement from the visual effects department, and then expected Quetzalcoatl to fit cleanly. Under those circumstances, and as an afterthought to this scouring depiction of New York, Q makes due. [xrr rating=3/5 label=Movie]
Shout Factory unleashes the wrath of Q on Blu-ray, not Blue Underground who handed out DVD editions. Shout handles transferring duties and tinkers with source material in an attempt to save a scuzzy, low grade film stock from depreciation in HD. End results are frustratingly obvious, and undoubtedly digital.
Of immediate note is contrast, searing hot and bleaching visuals with stingily aggressive whites. Instead of dirty shadows, Q now pushes dominating black levels, wiping away details as to create a cartoon atmosphere. Subtly is lost in color gradient; Q pushes from white, to hues, to black. Transitions are impossibly thick for film.
Grain retention is noted where digital contrast has not rendered it invisible. Battling not only those adjustments, but certain signs of filtering, Q is a mess of tinkering. During a museum scene, the proprietor guides Carradine through an Aztec exhibit wearing a striped suit. Digital tools remove those stripes in medium shots, returning them when motion subsides. Much of Q is presented as watercolor, hues smooth and grain mushy. Pan shots struggle to rest, often hit with image smearing well outside motion blur norms.
Source damage is heavy, concealed at a partial level of completeness. Severe tears or marks are diminished to a faded state of being, still there in the frame, if less of a nuisance. Still, it is odd to see damage acknowledged with only a half fix applied. Dirt and scrapes are persistent regardless, and of course, doubled for bothersome plate shots of Q itself.
Q has not been rendered unwatchable so much as unnatural. Resolution seems adequate and snippets of definition are visible where applicable. For the abundance of questionable filters employed, ’80s era New York is preserved in those extensive aerials with enough fidelity to (barely) prove passable. Shout’s AVC encode affords necessary bitrate levels too. [xrr rating=3/5 label=Video]
Blue Underground often hastily pushed technology to spread their lurid low rent selections into artificially wide 5.1 or 6.1 mixes, Q one of those remaster recipients. Shout sees things differently, with an uncompressed 2.0 spread which makes abundant use of stereo channels. Conversation drifts into the left as Moriarty awaits sentencing while in custody, and creature roars travel. During Q’s climactic shoot-out, bullets show range as they ping into appropriate channels. Closing ambulance doors slam to the left and right.
While dialog fidelity is pure and quality inconsistencies are avoided, Q is awful when it comes to balance. Scoring overpowers Moriarty’s words at 36:31, and Carradine’s lines are lost to gunfire as he takes cover for the finale. Without challenge, say conversations which make up Q’s bulk, problems are minimal outside of low volume mixing. Any secondary element is begging for complications. [xrr rating=3/5 label=Audio]
Larry Cohen’s solo commentary track is carried from DVD, as are two trailers, one of them a teaser. [xrr rating=2/5 label=Extras]