Monday, March 07, 2016


Trancers (1985) came out on HBO and was where I first saw it, but was also released on VHS.   It was a low budget movie, sort of modeled  something like Terminator with Arnold Schwarzenegger.  It was a time travel film, but to aid in their time travel, they were injected with a drug.  Now granted Terminator is a much better film, and I actually prefer the original over the sequel, Terminator 2: Judgement Day.  At any rate back then if one film had some kind of success, you could pretty much expect to see many spinoff/ripoffs.  I remember seeing Trancers all the time at Blockbuster.  I have to admit it does have a cool cover.   Actually it's not that bad of a film either, if you can deal with the low budget and some of the neon cheesy lighting.  I  think it may be the first role I'd seen Helen Hunt in.

Trancers is the story of Jack Deth (Tim Thomerson) a character with a very pulpy name,  who lives in the year 2247.   He travels back in time to Los Angeles, 1985 to prevent the murders of some ancestors of the council members.  While tracking down the evil Martin Whistler (Michael Stefani) he falls in love with Leena (Helen Hunt, who looks around 20 years old in this film, and about a fifth of Thomerson's age.  Ok, weird and a bit creepy).  Jack has a personal vendetta against Whistler and his army of trancers because Jack's wife was recently killed by a trancer. 

The movie is your basic B-movie action story--a guy, a girl, and somebody who chases them around trying to kill them (does that plot sound similar to Terminator?).  This simplicity actually adds to the quality of the film.  Trancers succeeds in taking some silly and unoriginal ideas and turns them into an enjoyable piece of entertainment.  I say entertainment since Trancers is somewhat lacking in the artistic merit department.

To add some madness to the mayhem,  Jack has to face a rabid Santa Claus, a rabid diner waitress, a rabid surfer, and some rabid cops.  Whistler creates an army against Jack and Leena by trancing innocent civilians.  Trancing is a mind control technique, which forces Whistler's trancers to obey
only his will.  Of course, being tranced looks just like being rabid to me.

Jack's mission is basically to protect the life of Hap Ashby, a former pro baseball player who is now a homeless person.  But one of Ashby's descendants will be a major political leader in 2247.  Whistler wants to singe Ashby to keep his descendants from being born.  (Hmmm, that sounds familiar.)

I won't spoil the ending for you, but I will say that everything is wrapped up and a few new twist are introduced.  In few films does the protagonist have to battle for his life against a candy cane wielding Santa Claus.  Yes, a scene like that actually works in this film.

Trancers, however, has never received the critical acclaim it is due, if indeed it was due any.  When Time Magazine did a muli-page article on Helen Hunt some time back, however, it failed to mention Trancers as being among her film credits.  (Illuminati, conspiracy theory perhaps?)  Most critics have dismissed it as being an imitation of Bladerunner and Terminator. 

It is not Bladerunner.  It is not Terminator.

It is Trancers. 

Oh by the way, Trancers went on to have six more sequels.  Six!  There was also a "lost" half hour sequel episode, Trancers:  City of Lost Angels,  set between the first two films.  It was released via in September 2013.

By the way if you haven't seen Trancers, and would like to partake in its majesty, you can find it on Veoh here. 


At 12:23 PM, Blogger Richard Bellush said...

I trust there wasn’t also a character named Jane Lyfe.

I haven’t see this or its sequels, but sometimes B films have a sense of fun that makes them superior entertainment to the high budget features. Making a similar point, sf author John Scalzi about a decade ago commented that “Battle Beyond the Stars,” which was a “piece of crap 1980 B-movie produced by Roger Corman” was more fun than Star Wars I, II, and III. He said that the makers of “Battle Beyond the Stars” deliberately aimed for entertainment and succeeded, whereas Lucas didn’t aim for it; rather, he had his own vision that he wanted to bring to the screen and didn’t much care whether the viewers found the result entertaining, even though many of them do. Actually Scalzi’s phrasing was somewhat more scabrous than that: “‘Star Wars’ is George Lucas masturbating to a picture of Joseph Campbell and conning billions of people into watching the money shot.” A little harsh, dude.

At 9:41 AM, Blogger El Vox said...

Yes, a tad cliche with the character names, eh?

I haven't seen any of the sequels and prequels. I assume they get more diluted as the series went along, like most movies do, however, I'm surprised it spun off that many. I assume too that most of that took place during the VHS/Beta and Blockbuster, mom & pop era when they needed a bunch of movies to display and rent to their customers. It's funny about nostalgia. There are VHS collectors around that love buying some of these B-movies, particularly the horror crowd. There was even a documentary about the phenomena called Adjust your Tracking, that was fairly interesting.

At 6:24 PM, Blogger Roman J. Martel said...

Ah "Trancers" is a lot of fun. For a low budget direct to video flick it actually is pretty creative in the way it tries to make the whole thing seem bigger than it is. I really like Thomerson in the role of Deth. He's pretty darn sarcastic and delivers the lines perfectly. And Helen Hunt is really cute in her Christmas elf costume. This is a fun alternative Christmas movie in my book.

If I'm not mistaken Hunt appears in a couple of the sequels too!

I had a pal who loved these movies. I remember him saying the sequels weren't too bad, and did some fun stuff with the story and world they created in the first movie. And the director Charles Band has a pretty solid B movie resume and was one of the key producers at Full Moon Pictures - one of the great direct to video studios of the VHS age.

At 9:00 AM, Blogger El Vox said...

This is kind of a crazy thought because I think if you are a movie or TV fan Netflix and some of its rivals like Amazon or Hulu have made it so much easier at being able to access whatever type film or series you'd want to see. No less DVDs are a much better medium to watch a film over tape. Granted they may not have everything, and some nights you might want to see some particular film, that just doesn't exist on any of those venues. There are a couple of old, cornball SF films I've kind of had the yen to watch like Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone, with Molly Ringwald in an early role. I think NF may have it, but I'll have to queue it in the hard copy disc. Of course too, that's one of the reason to still purchase a physical DVD. I still do that, in fact, I bought three Steve Martin DVDs the other day.

But the crazy thought is, I sometimes still get nostalgic about Blockbuster (and even the VHS/Beta era) and some of those Mom & Pop stores. Perhaps it was just you were with friends and you'd go in those stores to look around for something to watch, and you'd get nutty in them by finding the grossest film in them and taking it up to a friend and say, hey let's watch this one! Sometimes you were just out on a Friday or Saturday night and would stop in one just to look around, there was still a social aspect to it because other people would be in it too. The same is true for record stores.

I recently saw a documentary on Tower Records, which was really pretty good. It hit that sweet spot for nostalgia. I think one about Blockbuster would be interesting as well.


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