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There are certain actors that do the same thing so consistently — and so well — that you figure that’s just gotta be what they’re like in real life, right? I mean, guys like Clint Eastwood and Robert Mitchum must be tough as nails because you really can’t picture them as being otherwise. And Linnea Quigley absolutely, positively screams at the top of her lungs at, say, her own shadow, or a mouse running across her kitchen floor, right?

Anyway, the list of Hollywood stars and starlets who have pretty much made a career out of essentially playing the same part over and over again to the point where you figure said repeating character’s mindset and mannerisms have become woven into their very DNA as people is flat-out endless, is it not? My point here being — to the extent that I have one — that Ben Murphy, best known for his starring turn on TV’s Alias Smith And Jones, has always struck me as being  more than a bit of a dickhead.

That’s probably tremendously unfair to Mr. Murphy, who for all I know could be the nicest guy in the world. Maybe he volunteers down at the local soup kitchen and is kind to animals. But somehow I kinda doubt it. He just radiates a little too much smugness and self-satisfaction. He seems like one of those guys who’s convinced he’s just that much cooler and more together than everybody else. If I needed help, he’s not somebody that I’d call. Not that I have his phone number, anyway (you can rest easy, Mr. Murphy, on the very off-chance that you’re reading this).

And nowhere is Murphy’s casual arrogance more magnificently displayed than in 1982’s Time Walker, where he plays a professor at something called the California Institute Of The Sciences — which is, as we’re assured by the school president’s right-hand lackey, an accredited academic institution — named Doug McCadden who is, well — more than a bit of a dickhead.

Seriously. You wanna punch this schmuck in the jaw right outta the gate. Or right outta the tomb, as the case may be, since the flick begins in Egypt, in the tomb of King Tut himself, where McCadden has made the archaeological find of a lifetime — a burial sarcophagus containing a mummy that he promptly flies to southern California.

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The problems start right away, as you’d expect. One of Professor Doug’s over-eager students accidentally X-Rays the mummy with 10,000 times the normal level of radiation. There’s a weird green fungus covering the mummy’s bandages that turns out to still be alive — and deadly. The mummy’s buried with some weird unknown gemstones that have a habit of glowing every now and again. And then the mummy itself disappears right when McCadden is about to unveil it to an assembled throng of fourth-estaters.

Yeah, of course all these things are connected — the mummy shambled out of his casket on his own after all that radiation woke him up, he’s really a visitor from outer space, the fungus is from his home planet, and the gemstones all fit into some kinda magic homing beacon that he intends to use to get back to Alpha Centauri or wherever.

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Look, I won’t kid you — as far as mummy flicks go, this one’s pretty much a snoozer. Big, slow, and bandaged runs around semi-terrorizing the college kids for a bit, and there are some effectively atmospheric shots (the one with the mummy staring up at a full moon that I reproduce below is pretty solid, for instance), but on the whole it’s just way too fucking obvious how all this is gonna play out, even though director Tom Kennedy thinks he’s laying out quite a multi-layered, mysterious little new age-y puzzle  for our edification. Like Murphy’s pompous and aloof professor (oh yeah — yawn — he’ sleeping with one of his students/research assistants, played by Nina Axelrod, as well), there’s an overall sense here that this movie thinks it’s somehow above what it really is — just another “monster  on campus” flick. Roger Corman picked this one up for distribution via one of his many short-lived outlets, and you’d think he’d have had the sense to market it in the traditional exploitation manner that he was undoubtedly as master of, but instead the film’s promo posters and trailer emphasized the faux-intellectual/even-more-faux “mystery from beyond time and space” bits, and on the whole it really doesn’t work. If Corman had chosen to  hustle this off in a more direct, “mummy-chases-co-eds” manner, not only would it have have felt more genuine, who knows?  I might have even have enjoyed the whole thing more.

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The key word there, of course, being might have — the story’s still as slow and plodding as its titular “time walker” , and even an appealingly lurid promo campaign probably couldn’t have saved this flick from itself. The acting’s pretty risible, on the whole, as well, with the only notable exceptions being Kevin Brophy as a “frat rat” kid who’s something of a con-artist/two-bit huckster and Shari Belafonte-Harper (this is actually  her first film) as the campus radio station DJ/school newspaper photographer — and I’m probably giving her a bit of a break because of her looks.

In all honesty, though, a lot of it, at least from my perspective, really does come back to Murphy — a “hero” character that you actively want to see get killed, slowly and painfully, by the mummy just isn’t a great guy to choose to revolve your monster movie around. This is something you’d think you’d pick up on right away in basic filmmaking 101 — but evidently that’s not a course they offer at the California Institute Of The Sciences.

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Time Walker is available on DVD from Shout! Factory on a two-disc set called “Vampires, Mummies, & Monsters,” part of their “Roger Corman’s Cult Classics” series. It’s presented in a pretty good-looking widescreen transfer, the soundtrack is a solid-enough 2.0 stereo remaster, and extras for the film include the original theatrical trailer and on-camera interviews with the aforementioned Kevin Brophy and producer Dimitri Villard. While none of the four films — the others being Lady FrankensteinThe Velvet Vampire, and Grotesque — are exactly “classics,” even by Corman standards, it’s pretty fair to say that this is the lousiest of the bunch. Which is a bit of a shame, really, as there’s some — I repeat, some — slight potential buried under all those dusty old bandage-wrappings.

But not a lot. Let’s be honest — monsters running around at colleges and/or high schools were pretty well played out by 1982, and trying to lay some 2001-style, “head trip” bullshit on top of a worn-thin premise isn’t likely to fool anybody. I’d have enjoyed Time Walker a lot more if Kennedy, Villard, and Corman had chosen to play up what it was rather than spending all their time and energy trying to dupe us into thinking it was something it wasn’t.

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