Trancers is a 1985 sci-fi movie that I first became aware of thanks to Alex Cox and his brilliant TV show, Moviedrome. If memory serves, he introduced this with comparisons to Terminator and his main criticism was that everyone in it looked like their clothes were too well laundered.
Trancers is a great film. A proper ’80s cult classic and I’ve seen it dozens of times but not recently and so it had that familiarity but with enough time passed that I’d forgotten some key points.
It tells the story of Jack Deth (played by Tim Thomerson in one of his most badass roles ever), a film noir detective cliche who is clearing out 2247 America of Trancers, a group of psychically controlled zombies who blindly follow Whistler, a criminal mastermind who is apparently dead at the start of the film.
After a nice introductory Trancer destruction scene, we see Deth attempting to ignore his police captain before being told that Whistler is alive and has used some sort of dubious time-travel technique to put his consciousness into the body of his ancestor, Weisling, who just happens to be a police detective himself. But in 1985. Uh oh!
Deth is sent back to the body of Phil Deth, a journalist, where he meets Phil’s girlfriend, Leena (played by Helen Hunt before she became a major star). After the initial weirdness, where Leena is trying to figure out why Phil’s personality has completely changed, she gives Deth a lift and soon becomes witness to her first Trancer attack when a store Santa Claus suddenly goes all killer zombie on Jack before getting neutralised by Jack’s gun.
From this point on Leena becomes entangled in Jack’s mission and they become romantically involved. Thankfully the romance takes a back seat to the action which is fantastic and frequent as the plot predictably sees Jack’s plight get more and more desperate as Weisling gets his new police-flavoured Trancers out looking for him.
Trancers is a great film that has spawned far too many sequels (five and counting). I generally hate films that use time travelling in their plots (apart from Terminator of course) and Trancers often appears to get a bit caught up in its own story before finding a way out. There are plenty of times where you’ll be like ‘hang on, why has this happened’ but there always seems to be an answer around the corner and ultimately you have to accept that the film is right.
It’s pretty cheesey though, with Deth in particular seeming even more dated than the two century jump back would indicate. The noir feel and cliches come thick and fast.
“Last January, I finally singed Martin Whistler out on one of the rim planets. Since then, I’ve been hunting down the last of his murdering cult. We call them “Trancers:” slaves to Whistler’s psychic power. Not really alive, not dead enough. It’s July now, and I’m tired. Real tired.”
Yes, it’s all a bit obvious at times but the story’s twists and turns, combined with strong performances by Thomerson and Hunt make this film a real ’80s gem. Get onto it, people