Trancers (1984)

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Way back in a mystical time known as “The 80s”, Charles Band’s Empire Pictures launched a series of instacult-classic flicks such as Ghoulies, Re-Animator, From Beyond, Troll, and TerrorVision.  It would still be a few years before Empire Pictures sadly went out of business and morphed into Full Moon Pictures, at which point Charles Band’s obsession with diminutive killers fully consumed him. But, before all that happened, Charles gave us the B-movie goodness that is Trancers.

Jack_Deth,_Trancers_characterTrancers is the story of Jack Deth (Tim Thomerson), a renegade cop from the future who plays by his own rules. In this version of the future, the city of Los Angeles is now “Lost Angeles” and has been submerged underwater. Jack amusingly scuba dives through the city to visit it’s landmarks. His mission though is to eliminate a cult leader named Whistler. Whistler is able to turn humans into zombie like creatures called “trancers”, and it’s Deth’s job to track them down. His mission is made personal after Whistler killed his wife.

Trancers-1Jack’s mission is complicated after Whistler finds a way to time travel back to the modern day (1984) by transferring his consciousness into the body of his ancestor. Jack Deth is ordered to go back in time as well to hunt him down before Whistler can enact a plan to eliminate the ruling government of the future by killing their ancestors.

Jack travels “down the line” into the body of his ancestor (who coincidentally looks just like him), but is a shady photographer who’s recently bedded a punk scene girl named Lena (Helen Hunt). Jack Deth has to convince Lena of his mission after killing a mall Santa Clause who was turned into a Trancer. What follows is a series of misadventures as the two travel Los Angeles to foil the evil Whistler’s plans. What follows is lots of 80’s cheese, one-liners, and low-budget action to keep viewers entertained.

Trancers is like a low-budget amalgam of The Terminator and Blade Runner, and much better than it has any right to be. While Blade Runner’s influence on Trancers is undeniable (especially with Jack’s slicked back hair and brown trench coat), it’s important to note that The Terminator wasn’t an influence at all. The Terminator premiered on October 26th, 1984 and Trancers was released two weeks later on November 7th. It’s one of those weird movie coinky dinks, like the Jawas in Star Wars looking like the dwarves in Phantasm.

trancersClocking in at a brief 76 minutes, Trancers makes the most of every moment. There is very little filler or padding in this film. The script is tightly written by Paul De Meo and Danny Bilson, who would later go on to write the sequel to Trancers, as well as The Rocketeer, before going on to work with the videogame company THQ before it went under.

The biggest feather in Trancer’s cap is the casting. It’s leads, played by Tim Thomerson and Helen Hunt are insanely likable, and there is a real chemistry between them that makes their love affair and the film work. They are both talented thespians and play well off of each other. Watching Trancers in the modern day brings back a lot of nostalgia, but it’s also neat to look back at Helen Hunt before she hit it off with Mad About You, and also to see a bunch of character actors hamming it up. Some of them have sadly passed on, while others are still working today.

The late Biff Manard plays drunken ex-baseball player Hap Ashley, whom Jack has to save from being wiped out of existence by Whistler. He becomes the heart of the film as he ends up owing his life, rehabilitation, and sobriety to Jack as the series progresses. Manard would re-team with Trancers scriptwriters on the 90’s TV version of The Flash.

Trancers-McNulty-Alyson-CroftArt LeFleur (Cobra, The Santa Clause series), makes an appearance as McNulty, Jack’s supervisor who tries (unsuccessfully) to keep Jack under control. He can’t do it though because Jack is a hard nosed renegade who plays by his own rules. In one of the best jokes of the film, McNulty travels back in time to check on Jack’s progress, only to find out that his ancestor in this time period is a nine year old girl played by actress Alyson Croft. Alyson Croft would reprise the role almost ten years later in Trancers II. She has had a lengthy resume, starring in just about every major TV show from Dallas to Shameless, over the past thirty years of her career. You go girl!

Trancers-SceneTim Thomerson, arguably should have had a better career, but ended up mostly being famous for his work with Charles Band’s companies. He ended up helping bringing Band’s obsession with toy sized killers to fruition as he would later portray a 13 inch cop from outer space named Brick Bardo in Band’s Dollman series. Brick Bardo would go on to fight Band’s other small killers, Demonic Toys in the aptly titled Dollman Vs. Demonic Toys. He also had bit parts in larger films such as Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and remains working to this day. He eventually stopped playing Jack Deth after Trancers 5, and we are all grateful he put an end to it, especially after what the series would become.

Charles Band is now stuck begging people for money on Kickstarter to make films about demon possessed bongs and is no longer interested in making films with people who can act, or working with writers who wish to tell actual stories.

Thankfully before any of that happened, everyone involved in Trancers reunited for it’s sequel Trancers II: The Return of Jack Deth.

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