Trancers (1984) directed by Charles Band, was released after the initial run of Blade Runner (1982) which ushered in a whole lineage of near future Sci Fi films that copied the formula set by it. Trancers was a typical low-budget entry into this near future Sci Fi series of feature films, which to its credit, also had four sequels made with ever diminishing running times. It also made a cult film star of actor Tim Thomerson who with his silver hair and laconic one-liners, his future cop character, Jack Deth, became a Video Shop poster boy for this neat little sci-fi cop thriller. I first watched Trancers on VHS, rented from the local Granada Video Store on my high street in South London. Along with repeat watchings of the Mad Max films, Trancers became a staple film watch in my teens and demanded repeat viewings as often as I could. Though mainly set in L.A. c.1984 as time travelling allowed for a smaller production, Trancers looses none of it’s enthusiasm to be a bigger film than the budget allowed. The film also screened on BBC2’s Moviedrome, then hosted by director Alex Cox, who selected the film to be screened because ‘it was a film that does great work with it’s minute budget…’ So I had the pleasure of both listening to Alex Cox’s take in the film and to watch it again but on terrestrial television. Trancers still holds up as a definitive 80’s movie for me and a fantastic piece of low-end sci-fi fun. Combining the gumshoe private eye, with a time travelling storyline, Thomerson makes the character of Jack Deth his own and enjoys playing him as you can tell when watching Trancers.
The plot begins with Jack Deth (Tim Thomerson) a private police officer in the year 2247 who has been hunting down Whistler (Michael Stefani), a criminal mastermind who uses psychic powers to turn people into mindless Trancers and carry out his orders. Before Whistler can be caught, he escapes back in time using a coma like time-traveling technique. Whistler’s consciousness leaves his body and travels down his ancestral bloodline arriving in 1985 and taking over the body of an ancestor, a Los Angeles police commissioner named Weisling. Once Deth discovers what Whistler has done, he destroys Whistler’s body which effectively leaves him trapped in the past with no body to return too. Deth then uses the same technique to chase after him through time the same way. Deth ends up in the body of one of his ancestors a Phil Dethton in the same year 1985.
With the help of Phil’s girlfriend, a punk rock girl named Leena (Helen Hunt), Deth goes after Whistler, who has begun to Trance other victims. Whistler plans to eliminate the future governing council members of Angel City, the future name of Los Angeles with the elimination of their ancestors in 1985. Deth arrives too late to prevent most of the murders and can only safeguard Hap Ashby (Biff Manard), a washed-up former pro baseball player, who is the ancestor of the last surviving council member, Chairman Ashe (Anne Seymour). Deth is given two drug phials to get himself and Whistler back to their future.
During the finale, one of the drug phials in Deth’s gun breaks, leaving only one vial to get home. Deth is forced to make a choice, kill the innocent Weisling/Whistler, or use the vial to send Whistler back to 2247, which would strand Deth in the present. He chooses to inject Weisling/Whistler with the phial, saving the Weisling’s life but condemning Whistler to an eternity without a body to return to. Deth then decides to remain with Leena in 1985, although observing him from the shadows is McNulty, his boss from the future, who has traveled down his own ancestral line, ending up in the body of a young girl.
As Sci-Fi films go, Trancers has all the ingredients of a top end feature film but with a next to nothing budget. It still manages to be a very competent piece of film making. Band knows his limitations but with the material he has to play with he created a fun piece of Sci-Fi hokum. Tim Thomerson is great as Jack Deth, channeling a sub-Philip Marlowe impersonation and Helen Hunt, in an early role, does well with the limited character arc she is given to play. Trancers plays well to the audience’s expectations, doing very well on the home video market as well as it’s cinema run, truly earning the title of a cult film.
On a pristine BluRay release, Trancers still holds up well, though the SFX looks older and dated, it is still cool piece of popcorn cinema and also continues to entertain, even after 35 years, Trancers transports you back to those great days of renting and enjoying this film form the video store and enjoying the constant re-watches. A total nostalgic and shameless guilty pleasure.
Jack Deth is back… and he’s never even been here before!