The Flying Serpent
AKA: Killer With Wings
Professor Andrew Forbes has recently found the location of the fabled Montezuma’s treasure. But along with the crates of gold, he’s also discovered the fabled Aztec flying serpent known as Quetzalcoatl, which has been guarding the treasure for the last 300 years. But instead of advertising his monumental discovery, Forbes has instead decided to keep it all for himself and he doesn’t seem to care what methods he has to use to keep it that way, even if that means killing one of his oldest friends in order to keep his secret. So when his buddy Dr. Lambert gets a little too close to his discovery, Forbes gives his friend one of the Quetzalcoatl’s prized feathers and manipulates the creature into killing the man.
But his plan to keep his discovery hidden spectacularly backfires, when Lambert’s body is found drained of blood and his mysterious death turns into a local media sensation, garnering the attention of mystery writer and amateur detective Richard Thorpe. Thorpe plans to do a week-long radio show around the process of investigating the mystery, and all the publicity brings even more curious detectives, and worse, amateur treasure hunters to the area. Forbes tries to chase them off with even more creature attacks, but as more people are found dead in the New Mexico desert, the closer Thorpe gets to discovering Forbes’ dastardly secret.
I’m gonna be honest. I watched this rather short 1946 movie after reading that it was the film that 1981’s Q: The Winged Serpent was based off of. But those stories all state that Q is some sort of remake of The Flying Serpent. A loose remake, some of them may state, but still a remake nonetheless. But now after having watched both films, I feel like that assertion is almost like saying that every film involving a shark that was made after 1975 is also a loose remake of Jaws. Some of them very well may be, sure. But certainly not all of them. Because beyond being the only two horror films that I can think of that use a Quetzalcoatl as the story’s main monster, the two movies actually have nothing else in common. Like at all. I don’t know about you, but as far as I’m concerned, there’s gotta be at least a couple more connections before a movie can roll up and claim “remake” status.
If anything, The Flying Serpent is itself more likely a remake of an earlier film, 1940’s The Devil Bat, starring Bela Lugosi. In that film, Lugosi plays a doctor who seeks revenge on the company he worked for when he’s cheated out of the profits for a product he created. To get revenge, he mutates some bats and trains them to develop an irrational hatred towards the scent of a certain aftershave, which he gives to all his intended victims. As far as assertions of remakes go, I’m more willing to give this one a pass, as the film’s are remarkably similar, right down to how the doctor gets his comeuppance in the end. But the films are so similar, and were made so close together, that it’s probably more accurate to simply call The Flying Serpent a rehash of the earlier film, rather than a remake. Both movies were distributed by Producers Releasing Corporation, which was one of dozens of low-budget production companies that eventually appeared up in Hollywood on Gower Street, which at the time was not so affectionately called “Poverty Row”. Most of the companies that popped up on that ill-fated street came and went in the blink of an eye. But Producers Releasing Corporation managed to last around 8 years by producing a lot of B-movie horror flicks. The Devil Bat was one of their earliest, and by far their most successful film, so as the studio started to flounder, perhaps it was only natural that five years later they went back to a familiar formula that brought them some level of success. So they essentially reworked the story, gave it a fresh coat of paint and hoped for the best. But it didn’t work, and everybody noticed, and the studio dissolved around a year later. Perhaps if they had tried to make the Quetzalcoatl a more intimidating or majestic foe, instead of a dachshund-sized rubber toy on a string, people would have been more forgiving.
But alas, the movie pulls the classic low-budget scheme by pulling a bait-and-switch on the viewer by promising them “Ancient Terror” and then delivering a creature that I’m sure even audiences in 1946 thought that they could have easily taken out with about as much effort as it would take to slap a paper airplane out of the sky. Poor Quetzalcoatl looks like a floppy rubber toy that has absolutely NO weight to it, which makes all of its attack scenes feel all the more unbelievable. I’m supposed to believe this flimsy little thing actually managed to subdue half a dozen people, rip out their throats AND drain them off all their blood? Yeah, sorry movie, but I ain’t buying it. It also doesn’t help that this thing seems to change sizes more sporadically than Ang Lee’s Hulk. When you first see the creature it initially looks to be the size of a cow, which is a MUCH more frightening concept as far as large flying lizards are concerned. But then when you actually see it and it starts attacking people, all the hopeful terror drains away into utter disappointment. I mean, they didn’t even bother to make it look like the almost Griffin-like monster portrayed on the movie poster. The Quetzalcoatl from Q actually does a better job of imitating this poster. But here it kinda looks more like a very cheap, rubberized Archaeopteryx put together by a middle school class. Or maybe just a slug with wings. Not that I had high hopes for monster effects from 1946, but at least when they made Devil Bat they made the monster actually look like a friggin’ bat.
Seriously, WTH is this supposed to be?
But piddly, disappointing monsters aren’t even the movie’s biggest issue. No, that accolade is reserved for the plot which, if you bother to spend more than a couple seconds thinking about it, ends up not making a friggin’ lick of sense. Professor Forbes’ entire motivation in the film is to keep people away from the archeological site he’s excavating, and thus the treasure he’s found. But everything he does seems designed to do the exact opposite. He lures his friend, himself a renowned scientist, to the area so the Quetzalcoatl can kill him, but then does nothing to hide his mangled corpse from detection, an act which is almost guaranteed to bring nothing but attention to the area. Then he continues to compound the issue, because instead of lying low while all the reporters are snooping about, he sends his little minion out to kill even more people, and then has the gall to act surprised when a treasure hunter finally shows up after all the continued publicity. But the most confounding part of all is that the discovery of this all important treasure didn’t happen, like, a week ago. No, this dude has been sitting on that pile of gold for five years. FIVE YEARS! He had half a freaking decade to figure out how to get rich off all that gold and instead of hocking it on the black market and securing himself a couple million bucks and a nice early retirement in the Caribbean somewhere, he decided it was more prudent to sit on it and spend all that time building an elaborate prison for his new bloodthirsty pet, which he somehow also managed to also trap and contain. I hate it when movies throw villains at me and tell me they’re evil, only to realize the bad guy in question isn’t really evil, but just insanely stupid.
I cannot quite articulate how disappointed I was in The Flying Serpent. The premise sounds fun on paper, but the plot makes little sense and the monster they try to hype up is so lame that if it wasn’t so pathetic looking it’d almost be funny. I’d say the acting is okay for a movie like this, not great but certainly better than what I expected. But most of the side characters end up being annoying, and the film’s poor attempt at a comedic duo boils down to an employee and his greedy, physically abusive boss. The movie is just kinda a clunky, dull drag all around and as a result ends up feeling much longer than its brief 59 minutes. If you’re a fan of early, low-budget horror movies and you absolutely must watch it, then this film will make your short time on this earth feel just a little bit longer. But if you’re just looking for a horror movie with Quetzalcoatl as its main star, then go watch Q: The Winged Serpent instead. Even with all of its problems, it’s easily the better film.
The Flying Serpent is available on a variety of streaming services.
The Flying Serpent is also available on DVD.