The Forgotten Franchise of Trancers (1984-2002): (Ch)Op-Ed #14 Part One

Trancers is a movie that doesn’t get enough love. A timeless Sci-Fi/Horror classic, the franchise, yes you read that right, the franchise consists of 6 ½ movies! A half, you’re asking? Well, we will get to that soon enough. Let’s dig in. 

Trancers (1984) Empire Pictures 

Synopsis: 

A gruff bounty hunter travels back in time to 1980s Los Angeles to stop a twisted criminal who can transform people into zombie-like creatures. 

IMDb: 6.0 

Rotten Tomatoes: 83% 

Tagline: Meet Jack Deth. He’s a cop from the future trapped in the present, and he’s chasing a 23rd century menace in 1985. 

Charles Band directed the film for Empire Pictures, and he and his father, Albert Band, ran the company from 1983 to 1988. In that time, they released Ghoulies, Troll, Re-Animator, From Beyond, and Trancers. After Empire Pictures collapsed, they formed Full Moon Pictures, of which the rest of the films would be released through.  

Everything about this film is perfect. The retro-synth soundtrack. The special effects, which are dated and low budget, but spectacular for what they are. Whether it be the matte paintings, the makeup effects on the Trancers (which are heavily influenced by zombies), or the time warping slow motion stopwatch. 

Tim Thomerson, a mature and charisma oozing 34-year-old ass kicking smooth talking son of a bitch, and a baby 80s Helen Hunt, a mere 21 years old here, are the two main characters in the movie. They become lovers (or already are depending on which timeline it is), which is a bit of a stretch considering their age difference, but Jack Deth is such a cool motherfucker, if I was baby Helen Hunt, I would ride that Trancer killing baloney pony until the universe AND all of time was safe. 

So many cool concepts and ideas in the film; the long second watch; the time traveling into a blood ancestor; the twists and turns of the ancestors of other characters, whether it be the homeless man, the police officer, or the little girl with a mouth on her; and the language and slang is fun and imaginative. It’s original. And a cool breath of fresh air. 

And did I mention this is a Christmas movie? We have a Trancer Santa for crying out loud! What more do you want? 

Can you tell I love this movie? If you haven’t seen it, do it today! All of the films are on Tubi! You have no excuse! 

At 76 minutes long, it goes by in such a flash that you’ll wish there was more. And trust me, there is plenty more to go around. 5 ½ films worth, to be exact, you squid! 

9.0/10 Stab Wounds 

Trancers 1.5: City of Lost Angels (1988) Empire Pictures 

Synopsis: 

A trained female assassin escapes a maximum-security holding cell and travels to 1988 to kill Jack Deth. 

IMDb: 6.2 

Rotten Tomatoes: N/A 

Released on DVD, and later as a special feature for the Trancers Blu-ray in 2013, this 25-minute film was originally part of an unreleased 1988 anthology film directed by Charles Band entitled Pulse Pounders. 3 shorts were produced, the Trancers sequel, a Dungeonmaster sequel, and an original story based on H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Evil Clergyman.” All segments have been released, as well as the restored anthology. 

Rehashing the characters, music and look of the original, Charles Band continues the story where we left off, shortly after a prologue in the 23rd century. Even McNulty’s young girl ancestor reprises her role in this!  

Thomerson and Hunt (in what amounts to a very small cameo) are having issues and seem to be breaking up. It seems that ol’ Jack Deth is just having too much fun and not working enough. IMMEDIATELY after Hunt leaves him, he’s all too eager to make out with a damsel in distress. But what can you do when you ooze machismo like Jack Deth does?  

Due to its nature of being in a “lost film,” the quality of the sound and video is questionable, but it’s still enough to be enjoyable. It’s the closest we will get to the original masterpiece, so no complaining. But it’s short. It has the spirit of the original. It continues the story and bridges the gap between the first and its sequel. It feels a little cheap considering the story is kind of undone in the end, but it does the trick. It’s not necessary viewing, as it adds nothing to the story, but for completists like me, it’s free on Tubi, so why not? 

5.5/10 Stab Wounds 

Trancers 2: The Return of Jack Deth (1991) Full Moon Entertainment 

Synopsis: 

6 years after a time cop returns home from battling future alien zombies, his settled life is turned upside down when a mad scientist creates more. 

IMDb: 5.3 

Rotten Tomatoes: 25% (Audience Score) 

Tagline: Time waits for no man… unless his name is JACK DETH! 

Once again directed by Charles Band, the sequel brings back Thomerson and Hunt (now married and living in a mansion with the now-rich Hap Ashby), as well as adding genre vets Jeffrey Combs (Frighteners, From Beyond, Re-Animator), Barbara Crampton (From Beyond, Re-Animator, Fraternity Vacation) and Richard Lynch (RZ’s Halloween, Puppet Master 3, Scanner Cop).  

The movie starts with a short recap, explaining that 6 years have passed. All the main characters return here, even McNulty’s little girl ancestor, now grown into a teenager, and we add a few characters in Whistler’s brother (Lynch), and Jack’s dead wife, rescued from the brink of death to help with the coming Trancer War, played by Megan Ward (PCU, Encino Man, Glory Daze, Joe’s Apartment), essentially looking like a poor man’s Phoebe Cates. Her ancestor is in a mental ward where brother Whistler and Jeffrey Combs are trying to turn people into Trancers. 

The Trancers look a little different, and they are definitely far from great, but they’re serviceable. The story is a little weird. I mean, nobody even knew Whistler had a brother. And I don’t understand why everyone is living together in a mansion. It just feels a little too neat and lazy. The music is the same, still having that retro-synth score that is 100% 80s. I miss the scenes of post-apocalyptic L.A. as well as the neon glow of the future in part 1, but that’s what happens when you’re on a tight budget, I guess.  

Objects can now be transported back into the past, but McNulty screws it up, and the landing spot is on the front lawn of the mansion. So, they have to put up a tent to keep it hidden. Pretty fun stuff. 

Sidebar: I just love seeing Tim Thomerson riding on a golf cart shooting Trancers. 

The acting can be rough in some of the smaller roles, but Thomerson just steals every scene he’s in. He chews up every cheesy line and makes it sound cool. He just has that charisma that makes Jack Deth such an iconic character in horror. 

The stuff with Alice in the mental ward is a bit tedious and pointless at times. It honestly feels like filler. And her “escape” is ridiculous and random. The love triangle between Jack and his two wives is incredibly entertaining, albeit happening too late in the movie. And the less said about that embarrassing final shootout with the slow-moving tractor, the better. 

Overall, the writing overall is a bit…… not good, and that’s more than likely due to the writers not returning for the sequel. Only C. Courtney Joyner would write more than one film, as he wrote III and 6. While we’re at it, for fans of Lynch, Combs, or Crampton, feel free to skip this. They’re barely on screen and Crampton is a talk show host on TV that is nothing more than a cameo. But any appearance by Babs is always welcome.  

4.5/10 Stab Wounds 

Trancers 3: Deth Lives (1992): Full Moon Entertainment 

Synopsis: 

A time-travelling cop, Jack Deth, from the future is taken back to the past to be given the task of destroying the Trancer program before it has a chance to get out of control, sending the world into a state of chaos and war. 

IMDb: 5.2 

Rotten Tomatoes: 24% (Audience Score) 

Tagline: Three times and you’re Deth! 

The first film not to be directed by Band, C. Courtney Joyner (Lurking Fear) took over the reins at the behest of Thomerson. Andrew Robinson (Hellraiser, Dirty Harry, Cobra, Child’s Play 3) stars here as the new Big Bad. 

I absolutely adore Helen Hunt, and the fact that she starred in two (three if you count Trancers 1.5) sequels, is just mind boggling. A veteran of several mainstream movies with the likes of Eric Stoltz, Patrick Swayze and Wesley Snipes, she stayed with the franchise until 1992, the same year smash hit Mad About You with Paul Reiser debuted on TV. The producers were hesitant to ask her to return due to her rising stardom, but she happily obliged, having stayed close to several members of the cast and crew. 

Telma Hopkins (Family Matters, Gimme a Break!) plays Ruthie, the Engineer, for the final time in III, as she doesn’t reprise her role in any of the sequels. Neither McNulty, the adult male or the 1980s-1990s little girl relative, would return for III or any other sequel. Hap Ashby also did not appear in this or any other of the sequels. 

In 1992, Private Detective Jack Deth is on the ropes with his wife, Lena, and the couple might just divorce if they can’t patch things up over dinner. Before this can happen, his future wife, Alice, sends a monster back to jack him back to 2352 to explain his new mission: Go to 2005 and end the Trancers once and for all! Oh, and in 2005, Lena is married to someone else and holds all the secrets to the impending disaster! 

Like the previous entry, the acting is a bit spotty outside of the main cast. The effects have gone down yet another level, too, with the Trancers looking more like they wear a plastic mask instead of decent makeup. They’re less gooey and more clean, if that makes sense. They also apparently don’t bleed or show bullet wounds, since every one that gets shot has no evidence at all of being wounded.  

2 points that frustrate me. First, Jack is held on a table, tied down by metal clasps. But when he is rescued, RJ comes in and whips them off like Velcro belts. It’s hilarious if you watch closely. Secondly, you know in movies when the good guy is dying or turning bad, and they ask the main character to kill them, please? The main character says no and always finds a way out of it? Not Jack Deth. He just shoots you in the gut and leaves you for dead.
Andrew Robinson chews some serious scenery in this movie, bordering on over the top at times. He plays his character much like he played the grimy and dirty Frank Cotton in his brother Larry’s skin in Hellraiser. It’s nice to have a big-name baddie get some decent screen time and not just a glorified cameo. Hunt also shows off her maturity and acting prowess in this film, performing leaps and bounds better than in the previous entries. Her play off of Thomerson, as a happy woman without Jack in her life, makes for a great dynamic and emotional ass kicking. 

Overall, it’s a much better entry than the previous one, despite its budgetary constrictions. It’s fun and packs a real emotional gut punch. I don’t feel like Thomerson is as much fun in this one, but he plays the man who has lost both of his women, for crying out loud! The sets are generic, and the effects are fairly poor, but the spirit is strong in this one. 

6.0/10 Stab Wounds 

Three more films are coming at you in part two of the article. Be on the lookout for it! Or just pretend Trancers is just a trilogy….. 

 

About RetRo(n) 54 Articles
I like the 80s, slasher films, Italian directors, Evil Ed, Trash and Nancy, Ripley and Private First Class Hudson, retro crap but not SyFy crap, old school skin, Freddy and Savini, Spinell and Coscarelli, Andre Toulon, and last, but not least, Linda Blair.