"Q - The Winged Serpent"

A scene from 1982's "Q - The Winged Serpent," a low-budget genre film directed by Larry Cohen, now released on Blu-ray. (Courtesy of Shout Factory / August 22, 2013)

Let's hear it for Larry Cohen, the best and most prolific writer/director of low-budget genre films in the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s. Since 2000, he has been active as a writer, penning “Cellular” (2004) and “Phone Booth” (2002), among others. His most famous films are “It's Alive” (1974) and several blaxploitation films, including “Hell Up in Harlem” (1973), but they're only the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

My favorite Cohen film — followed closely by “The Stuff” (1985) and “Original Gangstas” (1996) — is 1982’s “Q — The Winged Serpent.” Like many of Cohen's films, the cinematography is raw, as befits its urban backdrop. Q, we learn early on, is Aztec bird god Quetzalcoatl, who, called upon by modern-day acolyte, holes up at the top of the Chrysler Building and flies around the city, slaking his thirst and hunger by flying away with various New Yorkers who have been unwise enough to romp on the roof. He often decapitates them along the way.

The only one who knows what's up is mealy-mouthed coward Jimmy Quinn (Michael Moriarty), an unsuccessful jazz pianist who moonlights as a driver for heists. When he realizes that he holds the information to save the city, he demands a million bucks, much to the disapproval of his girlfriend (Candy Clark) and two cops (David Carradine, Richard Roundtree).

This is a suspense film with an often comic tone, lifted to another league by Moriarty's performance as a believable antihero; that is, he's not evil or vicious, he's just a whiner and a coward. The new Shout Factory transfer is acceptable; the main extra is Cohen's commentary track. He's filled with great anecdotes, but it would have been more consistently interesting if he had had another commentator as a foil.

"Q — The Winged Serpent" (Shout Factory, Blu-ray, $19.97)

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ANDY KLEIN is the film critic for Marquee. He can also be heard on "FilmWeek" on KPCC-FM (89.3).