The Aztec god Quetzalcoatl, which is really a winged dragon-like lizard, takes up residence in the art-deco spire of the Chrysler Building, and goes out now and then to feed on window-washers and tourists and rooftop sun-bathers. The human remains puzzle Detective Shepard (David Carradine) and Sergeant Powell (Richard Roundtree), who are already mired in a case about a series of bizarre ritual murders apparently by a secret neo-Aztec cult.
A cheap, paranoid crook named Jimmy Quinn (Michael Moriarty) is involved in a botched diamond theft. Trying to hide from the police, he stumbles into the creature’s lair atop the Chrysler Building. When his fellow robbers come after him because he lost the diamonds, he leads them to his so-called hiding place at the top of the tower and the creature disposes of his enemies. He decides to extort money from the city in exchange for directions to the creature’s nest, in which there is already an enormous egg.
Quinn makes a deal for a million dollars. He leads Detective Shepard and an assault team to the top of the building, where they shoot the egg, killing the embryo inside. But since the creature wasn’t there, the city takes back the million dollars. The creature kills several people and returns to the tower. It kills several cops but is riddled with bullets and falls to the street. Then, Shepard shoots the serpent’s crazy priest Kahea (Shelly Desai) as he tries to kill Quinn. Elsewhere in the city, another egg hatches.
The film was written, directed, and co-produced by Larry Cohen. It was shot on location in and around the Chrysler Building. The building’s owners got an $18,000 fee for permission, and the film did for the Chrysler Building what King Kong did for the Empire State Building. The movie cost a little over a million dollars to make. The special features were done with stop-motion animation by Randall William Cook and David Allen, but they’re not terribly good. It grossed only a quarter million dollars but received fairly good reviews. It’s fast paced—perhaps too fast-paced—but is campy and charming and pokes fun at monster movies. It made more money in video later.
Because Larry Cohen, fired from a big budget film, didn’t want to lose his expensive hotel room, he hired the actors and wrote a shooting script in six days. The film he was fired from was beaten at the box-office by Q, which is some pretty sweet revenge. The window-washer losing his head on the Empire State Building in the beginning was William Pilch, the building’s actual window-washer. Because they couldn’t fit the egg in the Chrysler Building’s attic, they filmed the scene in an abandoned police building and left it behind. A year later, the New York Times wrote about anthropologists discovering the strange artifact. Afraid he might get in trouble, Cohen kept mum. The great poster was painted by great fantasy artist Boris Vallejo.
Bruce Willis wanted to play Shepard, but he was an unknown. A young Eddie Murphy was rejected for the role of Powell for the same reason. Too bad. By the time the movie came out—certainly by the time the video came out—they might have become name stars. David Carradine took the role without having received a script, because he was broke. His wife plays his wife in the film. His brother Bruce plays the human sacrifice in the third act. The film inspired Korean director Bong Joon-ho to make The Host, which is also quirky and fun. Cohen claimed that Roland Emmerich stole the plot of his Godzilla remake from Q. The swat officers at the climax were played by steeplejacks, who had no fear of heights. Ejected shells from the machine-guns being fired at the top of the building were caught by a construction-debris canopy farther down. Cohen hoped for footage of crowds reacting to the gunfire, but nobody noticed.