Man-o-man did I ever love me some Trancers flicks back in my misspent youth…but I haven’t laid eyes on any of these scintillatin’ sci-fi thrillers in many a year. To that end, I was pleased as poison punch when the first three films in the Trancers series arrived on my demonic doorstep courtesy of those sexy lil’ devils at Full Moon Entertainment! So, let’s kick back, pop open a brew or twenty and dive into the first feature…
Trancers (1984): In a Blade Runner style future (replete with voice over narration), Jack Deth (Tim Thomerson) is a bounty hunter hot on the trail of master criminal Whistler (Michael Stefani); a bad motherfucker who can hypnotize folks turning them into zombie like creatures called Trancers (‘natch). Said trail leads our hard boiled hero back in time to 1985 where Whistler has traveled “down the line” (a process by which an individual can possess the body of their ancestor) to kill the ancestors of the City Council (those that provide law and order) therefore erasing their existence. Once in the past Deth manages to blow away Santa Claus (a shopping mall St. Nick turned Trancer), hook up with an insanely young punk rock lovin’ Helen Hunt, and fall victim to Whistler’s execution squad (which he avoids thanks to a gadget from his time; a wristwatch that features a “long second” where Deth can move freely as the world around him stands still). But the danger is far from over as Whistler intensifies his plans to destroy Deth and the Council…will our hero and his beloved sitcom star girl friend survive the outre onslaught?
Trancers is quite frankly the epitome of what folks mean when they say “They don’t make ’em like that anymore!”. The film is a delirious blend of sci-fi, time travel, zombie action, and film noir; and it was that kind of anything goes, bat shit crazy lunacy that made independent genre cinema so much fun in the 1980’s…real high concept, low budget affairs full of heart, and big on entertainment value! Along with the fantastic comic book style story and action, Trancers features some top shelf acting as well with Thomerson making for a great tough as nails hero, Hunt as a lovable gal Friday, and Stefani as a pitch perfect teeth gnashing, ultra suave villain!
This release is worth your hard earned cash on the strength of the feature alone, but Full Moon have included some great bonus material as well! First up is an audio commentary by Director/Producer Charles Band and Thomerson. This is a fun listen and the friendship between the two is evident with Thomerson rapid firing the anecdotes while chiding Band about his vague memories of making the film. Following that we get a documentary on the making of the film, a still gallery, and a brief series of archival interviews. Next up is the feature that is most exciting to me…the Trancers segment from the unreleased Empire anthology Pulse Pounders from 1988 (titled Trancers: City of Lost Angels). This story concerns a dangerous female prisoner who escapes her confinement and goes down the line to hunt Jack Deth. This is one hell of a great treat for Trancers fans as it not only bridges the gap between Trancers and Trancers II , it also brings back most of the cast from the first flick!
Next up we have:
Trancers II (1991): Six years have passed since Ol’ Jack Deth (Thomerson reprising his role) traveled back in time, defeated Whistler and took up residence with his girlfriend (now wife) Lena (Hunt also returning) in 1980’s L.A. and things are peaceful on the Trancers front…peaceful that is until Whistler’s brother Dr. Wardo (genre legend Richard Lynch) picks up where his brother left off…creating zombies (by using his environmentally minded dummy corporation Green World to cover up his Trancer farm…who’s crops are harvested from bums and mental patients) and trying to eliminate the ancestors of the City Council. That’s enough static for our man Deth right? Wrong! Complicating his life further is the sudden appearance of his deceased wife Alice (Megan Ward) who was saved from her fate by a trip “down the line”…imagine Lena’s delight (and Jack’s headache dealing with it all)! What follows is a whirlwind of Trancer singeing action, spraying blood, drunken bum baseball, random fire truck collecting, and exploding hams (if I had a dime for every time I’ve had to contend with one of those…)…
Trancers II is that rare breed; a sequel that is every bit as good as the original! The returning cast all seem like they are having the time of their lives, and the new members of the ensemble (including the aforementioned Lynch and Ward as well as Martine Beswick, and Jeffrey Combs and Barbara Crampton in cameo roles) are more than up for the task of embracing the over-the-top lunacy and tongue in cheek style the series thrives on! Adding to the fun is a narrative that ups the ante in terms of gadgets, set pieces, smart assery, and effects (the new Trancers feature bulging veins and leak a black fluid) which makes the whole affair an insanely entertaining good time!
As with the first entry, the feature film is fantastic, but the extras here add a ton of value! First up is an audio commentary with Band, Thomerson, and Ward. This is an energetic listen, due mainly to the upbeat contributions of Ward and the encyclopedic memory of Thomerson regarding the shoot (except they continually confuse co-star Beswick with Superman II‘s Sarah Douglas). Following that we get a segment of the original VHS releases’ Videozone look behind-the-scenes (a real nostalgic treat for those of us that rented the film in the early ’90’s), a photo gallery, a blooper reel, and a collection of trailers for other releases from Full Moon (and one for the film at hand as well).
Finally we have:
Trancers III: Deth Lives! (1992) We find Jack Deth (Thomerson) B.D. in his new role as a private dick specializing in cheating spouses sticking their privates where they don’t belong since there are no more Trancers to eliminate. Of course that doesn’t last long as a mandroid named Shark (because he looks like a robot shark ‘natch) arrives from the future to bring our boy back to fight of a Trancer army, which is probably a welcome relief from dealing with his failing relationship with Lena (Hunt). Once there he finds a shattered resistance movement (shades of Terminator) lead in part by his first wife Alice (Ward). In order to cut the insurgence off at the source, Jack is sent back to when the new Trancers first made the scene…the amazing year 2005! Jack soon discovers that the U.S. Government is turning Marines into super soldier Trancers courtesy of the batshit insane Col. Daddy Muthuh (a scenery devouring Andrew Robinson)…and how does he find this out? Why, by a news story written by a re-married Lena of course! Can Deth save the future by kicking ass in the past, which is actually the future as far as the setting of the first two film’s are concerned (my head hurts)?
Trancers III ups the game once again; this time featuring the inclusion of a top-secret evil governmental project, monster machine hybrids (Shark, played by R.A. Mihailoff, becomes the film’s stand out character), more marital woes for Jack, and the possibility that Deth himself may be Tranced! The cast is excellent and totally committed to the off-kilter action at hand (as always), the narrative is brisk and action packed, and best of all the Trancers get another visual upgrade, appearing even more monstrous and zombie-like thanks to the legendary KNB effects house (who’s work has been featured in Misery, Army of Darkness, The Mist, and hundreds more).
As with the other two releases in the series, there are an assortment of bonus features included on the Blu-ray as well! First up we get an audio commentary by Thomerson, this time joined by Writer/Director C. Courtney Joyner. This is an excellent listen comprised of non-stop facts and anecdotes in a totally engaging manner. Following that comes a Videozone segment on the film’s production, a new doc on the making of the film, and trailers (not including one for this film however??).
Full of comic book conceits, action, comedy, and monsters; the Trancers series is one hell of an enjoyable time in front of the ol’ boob tube! This is the way independent genre cinema should be; full of huge ideas (regardless of budget or the skill to pull it off effectively), a game cast, and tons of heart!