Review: Trancers (1984)

Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #696

Also known as Future Cop
Number of Views: Three
Release Date: November 7, 1984
Sub-Genre: Sci-Fi
Country of Origin: United States
Budget: $400,000
Running Time: 76 minutes
Director: Charles Band
Producer: Charles Band
Screenplay: Danny Bilson, Paul De Meo
Special Effects: John Carl Buechler, Howard Berger, Everett Burrell, Mitch Devane
Cinematography: Mac Ahlberg
Score: Phil Davies, Mark Ryder
Editing: Ted Nicolaou
Studios: Empire Pictures, Lexyn Productions, Altar Productions
Distributor: Empire Pictures
Stars: Tim Thomerson, Helen Hunt, Michael Stefani, Art LaFleur, Telma Hopkins, Richard Herd, Anne Seymour, Miguel Fernandes, Biff Manard, Peter Schrum, Barbara Perry, Brad Logan, Minnie Summers Lindsey

Suggested Audio Jukebox ♫

[1] Eurythmics “Sex Crime (Nineteen Eighty-Four)”

[2] Phil Davies & Mark Ryder “Trancers”

[3] Phil Davies & Mark Ryder “Deth vs. Santa”

1984 was a hugely significant year for this particular lifetime student of cinema. You see, this wide-eyed ten-year-old boy managed to procure his very first VHS toploader and wasted no time whatsoever in putting it to good use. There were a number of movies that stick in my mind from that particular twelve-month period – cult favorites such as John Sayles’ The Brother From Another Planet and Alex Cox’s Repo Man springing instantly to memory. However, one film towered head and shoulders above the rest and it featured a badass killing machine sent back from the future to tidy up the past. Before you go erecting those collars, lighting up a smoke and attempting your very finest Jack Deth impression, I feel obliged to burst any premature bubbles as the motion picture in question was James Cameron’s The Terminator. I’m a shameful tease, I know.

However, while Cameron’s sci-fi extravaganza was downright untouchable, it also opened the blast doors for B-movie filmmakers worldwide to riff on its winning theme. One such wannabee was the great Charles Band, who has since gone on to amass almost three hundred production credits and has provided more than enough guilty pleasure over the course of his career to justify his Jehovah-like standing. Indeed, two of his early directorial efforts had already tickled my fickle pickle by this point and I have fond memories of both Parasite and The Alchemist. This time horror wasn’t on the agenda and Trancers took the sci-fi action route, as mapped out by his high-profile counterpart, Cameron.

Against all odds, it worked a treat and the thing about Band is that he’s never been one to rest on his laurels. There was evidently something about this hard-boiled, chain-smoking future cop that struck an affectionate chord with audiences and the results I’m sure even Band himself never saw coming. To date, Trancers has spawned no less than five sequels, and needless to say, they’re of gradually diminishing quality. That ain’t half bad for a movie made for around $400k and shows just how much bang he got from his limited buck. Understandably it has aged terribly over the years, but as any self-confessed aficionado will concur, that just makes us adore it all the more. Anyone for a short trip down memory lane to a district by the name of Angel City? I promise I’ll have you back here in one piece.

Shrewd choice Grueheads. Okay so the year is 2247 and the metropolis in question has been built on the parts of Los Angeles not leveled by a cataclysmic earthquake centuries prior. The chief threat to national security, Martin Whistler (Michael Stefani) has already been bagged and tagged thanks to the efforts of no messing state trooper Jack Deth (Tim Thomerson). However, a criminal mastermind like Whistler is all about those best laid plans and has already fled back in time to 1985 using an intravenous drug-induced time travelling technique.

This is wretched news for Deth as Whistler’s psychic prowess includes the ability to turn everyday people (named “squids” by Deth) into savage “trancers”, imperceptible to the naked eye and hell-bent on carrying out his every order. Meanwhile, Whistler has managed to latch onto an L.A. police detective named Weisling and is planning to bring the entire system down from the inside, targeting Angel city’s governing body for special treatment.

Determined not to be bettered by his hard target, Deth leaps into the wormhole with both feet and re-emerges under the fresh guise of one of his ancestors, journalist Phil Dethton. Better yet, this means he gets first dibs on Phil’s punk rocker girlfriend Leena (Helen Hunt in the role that placed her squarely on our radars) and it would seem unthinkable not to bone her on his coffee break since she’s clearly gagging for it. That said, the L.A. of yesterday is nothing like the L.A. of tomorrow, and Leena agrees to act as his guide, placing sweaty coitus temporarily on the back burner.

He’s nothing if not prepared and with a name like Jack Deth, what else could we possibly be expecting? Amongst the high-tech gadgetry in his armory are a sidearm backed up with vials of time-travelling drugs to project both him and his perp back to the future, a “long-second” wristwatch, which momentarily slows time to a crawl, converting one second to ten, and of course, a pack of smokes for no reason other than to appear a little more edgy when shooting bad guys. Paired up with his smarts and winning sense of humor, Deth is ready to snuff out some trancers, and with only 76 minutes on the clock, sets off like a rocket-propelled whippet.

Trancers is the very epitome of low-fi entertainment and its theory of relativity is not one that will please any purists amongst us. In Deth’s world, all events in time occur concurrently and time travel is effectively the same as traveling through space. There are no butterfly effects here and its concept renders the numerous paradoxes related to theoretical time travel utterly moot. But that just adds to the intrigue, and let’s be honest, do we actually even care what it’s saying? Of course not, we’re simply here for the ride Deth’s trench coat tails and Thomerson ensures that the pilgrimage is one fraught with perilous pleasure. In addition, the chemistry shared by him and his co-star Hunt effortlessly keeps us gunning for the good guys.

With the likes of Ridley Scott’s future proof sci-fi epic, Blade Runner, and The Terminator forging a path forward into the future, Trancers is more than content just to riff on their vibe and few films from the eighties time travel film canon did so with such boundless enthusiasm. Its countless sequels may have tarnished the brand somewhat, but the originator’s knock-off quality is undeniable. Besides, Deth had me at the “long second” wristwatch. Granted, it may turn masturbation into a laborious exercise, but preset it to the very moment before blitzkrieg ensues and we squids are guaranteed our fair share of knee trembles. Now that is what I call forward thinking.

Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 7/10

Read The Terminator Appraisal
Read Looker Appraisal
Read Ghoulies Appraisal
Read Subspecies Appraisal

Richard Charles Stevens

Keeper of The Crimson Quill

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