Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Time Walker

Time Walker (1982)
Dir. Tom Kennedy
Written by Tom Friedman, Karen Levitt, story by Jason Williams and Tom Friedman
Starring… it’s kinda an ensemble. Brian Murphy, Kevin Brophy, Austin Stoker, James Karen...

THE DARK KNIGHT is not the fourth-best movie of all time.

That should go without saying, just like saying that THE MATRIX is not the 18th best movie ever made, nor SE7EN the 22nd best movie ever made. There is no universe where THE LION KING is a better movie than ALIEN, nor one where INCEPTION is better than SEVEN SAMURAI, or INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE is better than THE THIRD MAN. And LOCK, STOCK, & TWO SMOKING BARRELS should not even be in the same sentence as CASINO, let alone ranked higher than it. And I’m not the world’s biggest Fellini fan, but even comparing 8 ½ to THE FORCE AWAKENS demeans us all, let alone claiming it’s 20 rungs down the ladder (in between the two, we also inexplicably find THE TRUMAN SHOW, DONNIE DARKO, and MONSTERS INC).

These things should go without saying. And these things would go without saying, if it were not for the IMDB star rating system, which somehow manages to make every one of those absurd claims. Normally, making that kind of embarrassingly idiotic statement in public would justify, at an absolute minimum, a tearful public apology followed by history’s most enthusiastic act of seppuku. But this is Trump’s America now, and with the dawn of that era, so too die our last vestiges of hope that sanity --or, that failing, at least dignity-- would preclude people from paying much heed to such mortifying nonsense. And so I am forced to say, on the record, in print: No, THE DARK KNIGHT is not the fourth-best movie of all time, Jesus Christ IMDB, you’re drunk, go home, get your shit together.

The problem, of course, is not that anyone seriously thinks SNATCH (#98) is a better movie than RASHOMON (#110). (Yes, I’ll give you a moment to let that sink in). The problem is that SNATCH is the kind of movie that will be watched a by hordes of ignorant adolescent boys who don’t know any better. They have no idea what’s good, but they do internet like it’s their fucking job, which artificially boosts the movie’s rating with piles of unconsidered 10-star scores and rambling, vaguely racist all-caps comments about SJWs, capped off with five or so exclamation marks. Poor RASHOMON can’t compete with that.

A list of movies which are all worse than INTERSTELLAR, according to IMDB. (Not to mention worse than THE DARK KNIGHT, all three LORD OF THE RINGS films, a couple STAR WARSes, THE MATRIX, FIGHT CLUB, THE USUAL SUSPECTS, INCEPTION, for some reason AMERICAN HISTORY X, and fucking FORREST GUMP.)

But that doesn’t surprise you; you know that. No one takes the IMDB rating seriously on any movie that might have made it onto the radar of the great unwashed. We as a society know to ignore what the internet thinks about things, and to ignore even more that silly star rating sitting at the top of the IMDB page. It might as well be a youtube comment on a video with more than 40 views for all the likelihood that you’ll be glad you took note of it.

Except, that’s only really true for movies these doofuses have seen. That covers most big modern releases, which they have strong opinions about even if they’ve never seen them. And it also covers a lot of offbeat movies which still feature a famous actor that might trick casual filmgoers into thinking this was the kind of thing they would be capable of enjoying (witness ONLY GOD FORGIVES’ 5.7 rating, foisted upon it by furious, misled souls who loved THE NOTEBOOK and clicked on the next movie they came across which starred that cute little white boy).

But the more obscure the movie is, the more immune it is from the influence of over-opinionated teenagers and angry old people. In fact, as you really start to get into some ultra-obscure genre movies, something rather wonderful happens: the type of people who see them becomes so incredibly self-selecting that suddenly an IMDB rating actually means something again. 1982’s alien mummy opus TIME WALKER did not force itself upon anyone who shouldn’t have seen it. It did not saturate the entire culture with an inescapable, endless, broad-based marketing campaign. It did not trick your poor grandpa into thinking it would be something he would like because it put Gene Hackman or somebody on the cover. Nobody even saw it when it was new, and now it’s 35 years later. If you watched TIME WALKER, you almost certainly did not do so by accident. You sought it out. Which means, at least on some level, this must have been the kind of movie you thought you might enjoy. And normal people do not seek out Z-grade Roger Corman productions from the 1980’s. If I’m reading comments on TIME WALKER on IMDB, I’m finally looking at genuinely kindred spirits, people whose opinions might actually be germane to my enjoyment of this particular artwork.

Except not in this case, I guess. Honest to God, TIME WALKER turns out to be not as bad as I was expecting from its miserable 2.9 IMDB rating. 2.9 is low. THE DEADLY BEES has a 3.4. ISHTAR has a 4.2. Fucking TRANCERS 5: SUDDEN DETH [sic] has a 4.9! How bad do you have to suck to get beaten by a fifth Full Moon Video DTV sequel starring Tim Thomerson? Jesus Christ, there are, like, four phrases in that sentence which would each individually be disqualifying. And yet TIME WALKER somehow managed to do even worse. 2.9 is bad even by mummy movie standards, which are the lowest standards yet devised by science.

Happily, that 2.9 rating seems uncharacteristically harsh. TIME WALKER is not remotely close to the most worthless or boring Mummy movie I’ve seen, although of course, as a mummy movie, it is both worthless and boring. But it has several advantages over its brethren. For one, it’s all set in America and only baaarely about Egypt in any explicit way, which means less racism. That’s a plus. For another, the “Time Walker” quickly turns out to be some kind of pissed off space alien infected with a fatal goo that quickly eats humans alive, particularly when exposed to X-Rays (which happens more often than you’d think, apparently). Also an obvious advantage. Third, because he’s an alien, he doesn’t have to rely on being conjured by some modern day stereotype and he doesn’t give a shit whether or not some lanky 70’s blonde co-ed with big tits looks exactly like an ancient Egyptian princess. Instead, he just wants his fuckin’ crystals back, and he doesn’t care who he kills (or doesn’t kill) to get them.

Allow me to explain. Or, at least allow me to explain to the extent that any explanation is offered in the movie. The “Mummy” in question is discovered in the tomb of 13th century BCE Egyptian Pharaoh Tutankhamun (“King Tut” to those SNATCH fans we talked about earlier), which is inexplicably being discovered in 1982 by “California University of the Sciences*” professor Doug McCadden (Ben Murphy, “Shaving Student,” THE GRADUATE, uncredited). I remember that event happening pretty differently, and I especially don’t remember an earthquake revealing a secret room with a secret mummy and a lot of secret skeletons, but who am I to question TIME WALKER?

Seems legit.

Professor McCadden brings the secret mummy back to campus to be thoroughly probed and gawked over by a gaggle of socially akward grad students, including the nefarious Peter (Kevin Brophy, HELL NIGHT, whose last name really sounds like an annual prize awarded to the fraternity member who managed the most keg stands that year). Peter recklessly X-rays the mummy and discovers, when developing the photos, a secret compartment within the sarcophagus containing five mysterious crystals and a strange mechanical device.

Now, he’s just made one of the greatest scientific and archeological discoveries of all time, so he does exactly what any of us would do: He pockets the crystals and tries to pawn them down the street. When he’s told by the pawn shop owner that they’re worthless, he protests, “but they’re 3,000 years old. They’re ancient, man!” apparently not at all concerned about raising suspicions regarding why a dorky grad student is pawning five 3,000-year-old jewels. Unmoved, the jeweler sends him on his way, and after eviscerating the man with a perfectly honed bon mot (“Clown!”), he comes up with another plan: just sell ‘em to fellow students for 20 bucks a pop.  

This is problematic for two reasons. First, it means we have to be introduced to five or six hundred identical cracker ass college kids who come into possession of the crystals and will assume the role of victims in our film. Second, it mean the original owner of those crystals, awakened from his 3,000 year slumber by all those devil-may-care rounds of x-rays, must rise from his tomb and float around in mummy-vision, finding his stolen property and either brutally murdering or completely ignoring the current owners (it apparently makes no difference to him either way; he's not out for revenge or anything, so if getting his crystals and not murdering their current owners is even slightly easier, he's perfectly happy with that).  

That makes our title character a little more active than the usual mummies, and also makes it slightly more plausible for him to be a physical threat, since his very touch is deadly and so he doesn’t have to resort to punching like most mummies do (remember, he sports some kind of killer radioactive fungus which melts you). The mummy suit is pretty good, too, giving you all the classic wrappings you’d want, despite his extraterrestrial origin. Plus, he hovers and has a headlight in his chest, which is obviously a staple on Pimp My Mummy, and always makes it look like victims are about to be menaced by a floating motorcycle (I can neither confirm nor deny that the Wallflowers’ 1996 alt-rock standard “One Headlight” is based on this movie). Unfortunately even with all that going for it, most of the movie is pretty boring and time-wasting, with waaaay too much stupid meaningless horsehit with the students and their subplots and way too little Time Walker attack. The acting and production are, in general, actually much more competent than you’d imagine, but that doesn't make them good or interesting either.

Still, the movie is generally affable enough to never end up completely dead in the water. There’s some goofy lines (“this conversation isn’t going the way I hoped,” laments an unfortunate student as his would-be girlfriend rejects his offer of free space crystals) and some of the baffling characterization you’d want in a movie like this. Most notable is Peter’s ridiculous plan to hawk the priceless crystals to frat brothers (who he really has to browbeat in order to rouse any interest), but there's other stuff too. There's this guy Parker (Robert Random, TV’s Iron Horse, VILLAGE OF THE GIANTS), a mysterious engineer who’s in nearly every major scene, but for some reason never seems to say a fucking word (very rarely he’ll mumble something so he definitely can talk, he just chooses not to.) I don’t know what his deal is, but it’s that sort of oddness which provides a movie like TIME WALKER some much-needed piquancy. And of course, it goes without saying that our heroic professor is banging one of his students, and the movie doesn’t find that odd or unappealing at all. What can I saw, it was an age of innocence.

Infrequently but occasionally, a couple legitimately good scenes or ideas also slip in there. Most of these involve the mummy’s deadly body-melting goop (though not enough -- too expensive?), but there’s a smattering of good mummy images, and a couple intentional chuckles here and there (that idiot piece of shit Peter goes to a mummy-themed frat party, which is pretty funny and yes, does cause at least one case of mistaken identity). Oh, and I like the concept that the jewels actually have secret information engraved in them, which gives their blatant McGuffinness a little more color.

It still needed a little less filler in between that stuff, though. It’s never unbearable, but it is pretty uneventful, which is a pretty big sin in a movie with such modest highs. If you can make it to the final minutes, though, things get appreciably outrageous and it ends with the ballsiest “to be continued” cliffhanger in cinema history (alas, history does not seem to have taken them up on their offer of more adventures in Time Walker land) and the one truly magnificent burst of bad acting in the film. It’s hardly a pot of gold at the rainbow’s end, but at least it does make some gesture towards paying off the unusual setup (undead space alien mummy just wants to go home, and doesn’t care who he has to melt to make that happens). I don’t know if that adds up to “worth it,” but for a movie which does not exactly inspire confidence in its ability to stick the landing, it’s a lot weirder and more memorable than one could realistically hope.

Director Tom Kennedy (Post Production Editorial Department, US Version, ADDIO ZIO TOM, Editor, SILENT NIGHT BLOODY NIGHT) was mostly an editor (this is his sole directorial feature), which makes it kind of strange that the movie is perfectly acceptable scene by scene, but is, as a whole, a disjointed mess. Or anyway, it seems strange until you learn from the special features that when New World Pictures president Roger Corman saw the film, his only comment was to cut 15 minutes to save $25 in print-shipping costs. That might have resulted in some of the oddly fragmented narrative, although going by what they left in, the world didn’t really lose a lot by saving 15 minutes of screentime. Also worth mentioning: the story was co-written by Flesh Gordon himself, Jason Williams (producer here and director of NUDE BOWLING PARTY, whose career probably peaked in 1989 with his acting role as “Jason’s Friend” in SOCIETY).

One thing I don’t understand: why link this to King Tut? Our Time Walker is supposed to be found in “King Tutankhamen’s Tomb” (as the on-screen titles but not the dialogue inform us), and we later find that he actually killed the boy king (hence his long internment by vengeful Egyptians). But, uh, wait, King Tut is a real thing, and none of that happened. Why not just make up your own ancient Egyptian? Is this an alternate universe where they opened Tut’s tomb in 1982? It’s clearly set in the present. It’s like if they made a movie about the sinking of the Titanic, but then set it in 1969 and claimed a bigfoot was responsible. I mean, it's just such a well-known (I think?) cultural event that fictionalizing it so completely is a perplexing experience. I’m OK with stupid --hell, I’m paying for stupid-- but that’s just confusing.

Anyway, my point is that TIME WALKER ain’t good at all, but it’s also no 2.9-star wasteland. I’m obviously far too busy and important to get bogged down rating movies on IMDB, but if I were the type to do so, I’d give it a 5.5: worthless and time wasting, to be sure, but tolerable enough for the only kind of person who would even consider watching a movie like TIME WALKER. And to put my money where my mouth is, I’ll add one more challenge: if anybody ever took these guys up on their adorably misplaced offer “to be continued,” I’d watch the shit out of TIME WALKERER  or whatever.** I’m serious kids, let’s do this Time Walk again.

*played on-screen by California State University Northridge.

** Hey has anyone ever made a movie about Pod people invading upper-crusty WASP-y churches? It would be Called EPISCOPALIENS, and I think it would be pretty good.


Good Kill Hunting

Nothing Can Stop Him. Not Even Time.
Uh… well, like all beings who experience time in a linear fashion, I guess our boy goes technically walk through time. Just in one direction, and at the same rate as all the people around him.
No, good God no. Although with all the unnecessary characters and subplots here, you might be tempted to wonder. But no, it was based on a story co-written by the guy who played Flesh Gordon (that’s Flesh, not Flash)
No, although the ending openly invites one.
Mummy / Alien
James Karen is in there somewhere, he was in RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD and THE WILLIES and stuff. And Austin Stoker and Darwin Joston from ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 are also around. None of them does anything interesting or good though.
Yes, a quick scene where a sleazy perv peeps through a window at a woman taking her shirt off, and guess what, the camera does the exact same thing.
There’s a Mummy, but I think he’s just a real old alien, I don’t think he’s undead in this case
No, which is a welcome break in mummy-movie tradition
Some Egyptian statuary, but nothing too creepy.
Flesh-eating goo, Mummy turning into alien
Yes, that fucking piece of shit Peter peeps on his girlfriend’s roommate changing through her window. Get this, his girlfriend catches him! But she quickly forgives him when he gives her a pretty necklace, and seems to think that makes everything fine. And yet this worthless fuck never gets what’s coming to him (maybe that’s what will “be continued”?) Also, later, the Mummy does the same thing with the same girl, in a scene where she confusingly puts on her alien necklace in order to get naked and take a shower.
If you’re going to steal priceless ancient alien artifacts and try to hawk them, you should really have a better plan in mind than “sell them to your frat brothers for $20”

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Programming Note: Where is your 2016 "Best Of" review, you lazy sack of cheap hooch and sustained despair?

Hey folks, we're very nearly done with our 6-month long catalogue of all the horror movies I watched in October. But a few of you have been asking me about my annual "Best of year" list, which gets moved further and further back every year but has been a staple on this site for quite awhile now. I know some of you really don't care a lot about anything which is preceded by the words "Jess Franco" or contains the tag "70's Euro Art Horror" and are really just in this because I sometimes review real movies too, and patiently wait for this time of the year when I usually get back to those. I appreciate that. You deserve an explanation here.

The truth is, this is all Trump's fault. His unexpected victory really bummed me out, and took the wind out of my sails for a few months afterwords, which translates to this: I spent November through mid-March drinking cheap booze and watching trashy 80's movies and occasionally going to marches. Alas, that meant I missed out on a bunch of movies in the theater which I thought had every chance (or at least SOME chance) of ending up on my "best of" list, and didn't feel comfortable writing something up without having given most of the prospects a fair chance.

But never fear! I'm back on the wagon now, and trying to pull together the shattered remnants of my former life. I'm gonna be catching up on a bunch of 2016 flicks I missed their first time around, and once I feel like I've made a decent survey of the cinematic landscape of a very, very bad year, I'll come around and do a typically comprehensive review. It might be a month or two, but it'll be out eventually. In the meantime, I got one or two more Chainsawnukah 2016 reviews, and then I'll be moving on to a film history series I'm really excited about, which will hopefully entertain you at least as much as last year's record low-rated Burke-And-Hare-athon. Also I got an increasing book-length "cultural history of mummy fiction" that I started way back last year and will have to drag back out at some point. So, while the future of the world looks grim, at least you'll have something to read on the bus ride to the gulag.

In the meantime, hold tight and thanks so much for reading!