Through the transformation of the glorious WTF-Films into the even more glorious Exploder Button and the ensuing server changes, some of my old columns for the site have gone the way of all things internet. I’m going to repost them here in irregular intervals in addition to my usual ramblings.
Please keep in mind these are the old posts without any re-writes or
improvements. Furthermore, many of these pieces were written years ago, so if
you feel offended or need to violently disagree with me in the comments, you can
be pretty sure I won’t know why I wrote what I wrote anymore anyhow.
In what should be the 23rd Century (although the film also calls it the 25th,
so who knows), the delightfully subtly named future cop Jack Deth (Tim
Thomerson) spends all his time mopping up the remnants of the mind-controlled
zombie slave troops (so-called "Trancers") of his dead arch-enemy Whistler
(Michael Stefani). His obsession is quite understandable, because Whistler
killed Deth's wife, but still costs the cop his job.
Deth spends his new-found free time diving in the submarine ruins of Lost
Angeles, until the Future's ruling council has need of him again. That point in
time comes sooner than expected. For some reason the film is unwilling to
explain, Whistler is still alive and has somehow managed to find his way into
the Los Angeles of 1985 to do the Terminator thing. Obviously, Deth is the best
man for the job to protect the council's ancestors and bring Whistler back
It looks like (the film doesn't bother to explain this point either) you can
send dead matter back through time as you wish, but can only transfer the
consciousness of people into the bodies of their ancestors. As luck will have
it, Deth's and Whistler's respective ancestors both look exactly like they do,
so Deth can go on a merry hunt through Los Angeles without having to look at a
strange face in the mirror.
Jack ropes his ancestor's one-night-stand Leena (future Academy Award winner
Helen Hunt, not as completely annoying as she would soon become) into working as
his native guide - and of course future love interest. To make life a bit more
difficult for him, he is only a lowly reporter, while Whistler's new body is a
Police Detective without rank but with considerable influence.
Once, before his unhealthy obsession with living dolls overwhelmed Charles
Band's complete output as a producer and overrode even the small interest in
making watchable movies he might have had, the producer/director/writer/etc was
trying to be a small-time Roger Corman, just with less talent and imagination.
At least, Band had enough clout to rope in promising talent (see
Reanimator). Trancers was made in that still promising phase
of Band's career and is probably his best work as a director.
Of course, keeping in mind that I am talking about the future director of
The Gingerdead Man and Dangerous Worry Dolls here, one has to
keep one's expectations at a realistic level, which is my long-winded way of
saying that, while words like "style" or "intelligence" just don't belong into
the man's vocabulary as a director or producer, Band's work here at least
doesn't suck completely. He points, he shoots, he doesn't embarrass himself.
The movie's script by Danny Bilson and Paul De Meo, the pair responsible for
the rather delightful "Tim Thomerson is Sergeant Rock and meets aliens" film
Zone Troopers, has more logical flaws than my attempts at doing
arithmetic. From the wildly inconsistent way time paradoxa work (people whose
ancestors are killed and their own children disappear, but everyone still
remembers them?) to the fact that the film really should have ended after about
30 minutes - a point where Deth has ample time and opportunity to get rid of
Whistler - there is not much that stands up to even the mildest of scrutiny.
Worse, the film never explains any of its concepts that need explaining. My
remarks about the way time travel works are based only on conjecture, for
example. Still, I can't say that I cared much about logic or needed explanations
while actually watching the film, because what the film lacks in
artfulness, it makes up for in (sometimes consciously ironic) low budget film
charm. Following Deth, we flit from one obvious and silly situation to the
This is the sort of film that doesn't need to spare the killing of a
department store Santa Claus for the grand finale, because it also has a
(terrible, of course) punk rock club, little girls with the souls of gruff
police chiefs and our hero riding a motor scooter instead of a motorcycle to
throw at us. Among other things. But most importantly, Trancers not
only shows us those things but does its best to let them be fun, by not taking
itself serious. Not taking yourself serious in the good and entertaining way
must be a lot more difficult to achieve than it looks like or most films that
try for the effect wouldn't be as bad. The difference between Trancers'
version of this brand of fluffiness and the bad sort as incorporated in Troma
films or Band's later Full Moon Productions lies in the fact that it still takes
its audience serious. Where a Troma film winks at itself in a mirror, this is a
film still winking at us sitting in front of it.
While I usually just can't stand Helen Hunt, I do approve of the fact that
the film doesn't make her character completely useless and only be there to be
rescued by Thomerson and wear troubling fashion. She's useful, she has moments
of being sensible, she's as much as you can hope for in a cheap SF actioner.
And she's next to nothing compared to the film's true trump card, the utterly
awesome Tim Thomerson doing the perfect square-jawed cynical hero with
delightfully silly one-liners (personal favourite: "Dry hair is for squids")
while having at least one toe in the territory of a parody of a perfect
square-jawed cynical hero, which, let's be honest, is the only way those guys
can ever be made sympathetic. Somehow, Thomerson even makes Deth kinda cool.
A few years later, Band would go on to turn Trancers into a confused
franchise of films that have nothing to do with each other beyond Thomerson, but
none of the later films is even vaguely watchable, so this is the one to watch
if one wants to see Thomerson doing what Thomerson does best.