Tuesday, 23 April 2013


Back in the mid-80s, Science Fiction fans discovered a gem of a low budget sf film called Trancers and took it to their collective hearts as did fans of oddball cult movies everywhere. 

Set around 250 years in the future, a megalomaniac called Whistler has found a way to mentally dominate suggestible people into obeying his will and, when the need arises, turning them into frothing at the mouth homicidal maniacs. Our hero is Trancer-hunter Trooper Jack Deth, trenchcoat-wearing, heavy-smoking, hair-greasing (who can forget his immortal line "Dry hair's for squids."?), tough cynic. Deth is played by former comedian Tim Thomerson who should be as big a cult name as Bruce (and if I have to add a surname, you're reading the wrong blog -"The toolshed!") but for the fact the he either didn't get the breaks or he was happy making a modest living from low budget crap, though he has had minor roles in major movies and works regularly on TV. But, dammit, he should be huge!

Anyway, our bad guy has gone back in time ('down the line') to the then present day LA inhabiting the  body of an ancestor from which he intends to kill the ancestors of the ruling council. Deth follows him and finds himself very conveniently incarnated in an ancestor who looks identical. His ancestor's new BF is Helen Hunt before she became Oscar-winning Helen Hunt!! Deth is helped by a cigar-chomping cop from his own time ('up the line') whose incarnation is a pre-adolescent girl. The young actress (Alyson Croft), I should add, is absolutely terrific in the part and also appears 6 years later in the first sequel and in same role and is even better. Croft seems to have worked steadily in TV ever since.

So Deth, to whom LA is Lost Angeles where he goes to sit and contemplate on the shore of the drowned city, has to find his way around, find and save the council's ancestors, and survive the attacks of Whistler's trancers. Just to make things harder, Whistler is incarnated as the police chief.

Add in a barrel-load of characters, sharp dialogue, and a good pace, with limited but effective special effects and you have a load of fun.

Alas the picture quality was pretty poor which rather spoiled things. The good news is that it improved with each successive film. The bad news is that the Trancers sequels also follow the law of diminishing returns.

It took six years before they made Trancers 2 which, despite being pretty much a rerun of the first film with a similar cast and a different villain, isn't too bad and is worth a look. In Trancers 3, the basis of what trancers are is changed into a combination of drugs and mental domination to create super soldiers. Helen Hunt now appears in little more than an extended cameo (contractual obligation perhaps?). 

In Trancers 4 it all changes again as Jack in accidentally transported to a medieval world (aka a castle and a forest in Bulgaria) where trancers are more or less soul-sucking vampire types. It also includes the Castle of Ultimate Terror which, as you can imagine, is a prime case for contravening the Trades Description Act. It does have one very funny moment. In previous films Deth has a watch which can activate a long second whereby he is speeded up by a factor of ten. On this world it slows him down resulting a scene where the villains stand and amusedly watch him moving in slow motion.Despite being written by the well-regarded novelist and comic book writer Peter David, it's still pretty crap.

Trancers 5 (or, as it should be called, Trancers 4 pt 2) follows on directly to no great improvement.

Then I learned of a Trancers 6 which didn't have Tom Thomerson in it. I checked it out and found it going for around £15 which was too much for something that was probably crap anyway. Not long after I saw it on Ebay with a starting bid of £6.00 (plus £1.20 postage). I put in the minimum bid and promptly forgot about it until several days later when I learned I'd got it.  Well, despite having the original writers, it is, as you'd expect, not much cop. The acting is poor, the budget looks tiny, and, brief clips from older movies aside, no Thomerson. Instead the lead role is taken by the now-adult daughter whom he fathered on Helen Hunt in his ancestor's body. A mousy astronomy enthusiast, she's immediately transformed when Deth takes over her body. Not physically, you understand, just her attitude. And here the actress, Zette Sullivan does a very good job. Despite being an elfin five foot nothing she manages to convince as Deth. Apart from one earlier minor role in an erotic movie, I can find nothing else about her. Did she get lost in drugs or become a soccer mom or what? She definitely had promise and is the only really good thing in it.

So, my recommendation: skip this lot, buy Trancers, and maybe Trancers 2, as separate discs.

Here's a selection of stills I've nicked from Google Images.

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