Of all the horror monster subgenres, the mummy movie might be the most difficult to pull off in a modern setting. As visually striking as mummies are, their scariness is limited by their slow mobility and the Egyptian lore component of their mythos limits how portable the story line is to different settings.
Thus, Time Walker deserves credit for coming up with a high-concept take on this subgenre that finds a clever way to transplant its familiar narrative hooks in a present day terrain. The premise revolves around the discovery of a hidden chamber in King Tutankhamen’s tomb by a California-based professor and archaeologist, Prof. McCadden (Ben Murphy). He brings it home and his boss, Dr. Rossmore (James Karen) rushes him into presenting it to the press… but the mummy has disappeared when they decide to unveil it. The mummy was accidentally revived when a fratboy lab tech, Peter (Kevin Brophy), gave it too high a dose of x-rays and he slipped out unnoticed in the dead of night.
Prof. McCadden works with colleague Dr. Melrose (Austin Stoker) and cop Lt. Plummer (Darwin Joston) as he realizes the mummy is alive but things get worse. It seems Peter also lifted a set of crystals from the tomb that he tries to sell and later distributes amongst his friends. The mummy needs those crystals for an unknown purpose and he sets out to chase down everyone who has them. The danger of tangling with the mummy is enhanced by the fact that it has a strange fungus in its wrappings that is corrosive to human flesh. Everything builds toward a surprise ending that reveals the mummy’s origin and why he needs those crystals so badly.
Unfortunately, Time Walker’s execution isn’t as clever as its premise. The script offsets its ambitious plot hooks with the kind of limp, sketchy characterizations and pedestrian plotting you’d expect from a slasher movie. In fact, it often plays like a slasher movie with a mummy substituted in for the usual psycho killer. The film also telegraphs its twist ending long before it reaches its finale, as the storytelling is a bit too spare to keep the Twilight Zone-esque revelation concealed.
Editor-turned-director Tom Kennedy has a solid grasp of pacing but his direction tends toward a t.v. style blandness. That said, there’s a nice professional sheen to the film despite its low budget: crisp photography by future Hollywood d.p. Robbie Greenberg and an orchestral score by Richard Band hint at a sense of atmosphere that Kennedy can’t quite maintain. Explotation fans will want to note that there’s a few surprising bits of gore and a flash of nudity, both unusual for a PG movie.
The strongest attribute of Time Walker is its cast. T.V. star Murphy is convincing in an archetypal professor role and fans of Assault On Precinct 13 will be happy to see two of its alumni, Stoker and Joston, appearing together on screen again. Brophy turns in a memorably hammy performance as the film’s frat-boy catalyst, though it’s annoying that he never really gets punished for his misdeeds. Elsewhere, Motel Hell star Nina Axelrod pops up in a good-sized supporting role as Susie, Murphy’s girlfriend/assistant — one of the best scenes has the mummy stalking her through a building at night — and fans of Friday The 13th Part 2 will be amused to see that film’s Jason, Warrington Gillette, appearing sans flour-bag mask as a hunky college student who has his eye on Susie.
To sum up, Time Walker is a minor-league footnote in the mummy genre. Its storytelling skills aren’t sharp enough to pull off its ambitious premise but it’s not a bad time-killer if you’re in a patient mood. At the very least, the cast of familiar faces will amuse b-movie buffs to make it interesting for one viewing.