January 29, 2013

Retroview: Trancers (1985)

A Retroview Review. 
Luke here, traveling back to the year 1985 via his futuristic past-viewer (read: netflix), to discover that things in the past may not be what they appear to be...
Before seeing Trancers, I was only peripherally aware of Charles Band and Empire Pictures or Full Moon Productions/Entertainment/Studios/Features/Pictures, having unwittingly seen, or at least seen around, the most famous of the movies both (all?) of these companies have unceremoniously pumped out. Super quick history: Sitting somewhere slightly above Troma-quality, since 1973, big hits associated with Band have been Puppetmaster, Re-Animator, The Dungeonmaster, Troll, and TerrorVision. I'm certainly leaving off someone's favorite Brad-Brand movie, but after a quick perusal of his list, that's about it. Well, those and today's feature: Trancers. These movies are lovingly crafted B-horror and B-Sci-fi, destined to be introduced by our man Vincent Price on a midnight movie program. Trancers is no different. Not the most serendipitous movie ever made, but darn close.

Trancers follows the ridiculously named Jack Deth (Tim Thomerson), future cop, as he tracks down international madman Martin Whistler (Michael Stefani), who is capable of psychically controlling people, turning them into his personal zombies (the titular Trancers). Whistler used a form of "technology" that allowed his consciousness to be transported back in time into an ancestor's body, allowing him to kill the ancestors of the heads of state, ensuring that they are never born. Deth is sent back to the same time Whister is, 1985, to save the remaining heads of state's ancestors. While there, Deth meets Leena (Helen Hunt!), Deth's ancestor's current flame, who helps him navigate the mysterious world that is 1985 LA.

The premise opens up more plot holes than the tears in the space-time continuum that were surely ripped open when Deth and Whistler were sent back. But that's kind of not the point of this movie. It's a cheesy, self aware, campy SciFi romp meant to hit all the marks a major motion picture would (e.g. comedy, romance, action), but visually revelling in the fact that it's done on a low budget. This formula alone does not make a good, or, rather, fun movie, as can be seen by the 200+ other movies to which Band's name can be traced. You need a cast that can sell their parts, and a script that can bear the weight of the movie's other short comings.

Thomerson's Jack Deth is a total bad ass rouge cop, and Stefani's Whistler is a wide eyed, power hungry megalomaniac. At first I was worried that Helen Hunt was going to play Leena as this powerless damsel, but as the movie progresses, she comes into her own, kicking ass, effectively telling Deth to shove his orders, and doing her part to protect the future. Everyone acts hard enough to skirt the line between awesome and over-the-top, without ever getting to the point where it becomes a chore to watch them interact.

The story itself is surprisingly well structured, with elegant conflict set ups and an impressive amount of showing as opposed to telling. There are times when it'd be nice to have an explanation as to how the future gadgets (which are totally not deux ex machina) work, but the movie doesn't really go into it, and I find myself not really caring how it works, because it isn't so far fetched that I can't make up my own explanations, which is refreshing.

Trancers sits comfortably between Demolition Man's Camp and Terminator's Scifi, with a splash of Suburban Commando's "fish out of water" shenanigans. Maybe a little Time Tunnel/proto-Quantum Leap philosophy too. It is a fun movie which rightfully has spawned 5 sequels. All of that said, I think I'm over-hyping this movie. It is no masterpiece. It's a nice movie with a fair helping of goodness all described above, but I don't think I'd ever go to bat for it if someone claimed that it was garbage. I can say I had more fun watching it than I have a few of the lesser known Band-Brand movies, and a heck of a lot more fun than even the more commonly known Troma movies, despite the fact that I think I hold Troma movies in a higher esteem because of exactly how trashy they are. It is a perfect example of ambitious, good humored, blue collar movie makers doing their thing and squeaking by on a low budget.

---Luke Hunter James-Erickson

Side note: Helen Hunt was one of few mainstream actors or actresses to kind of get their start with a Band-Brand agency (one of the most notable ones I could find was Viggo Mortensen!). She returned after her gaining popularity to star in two Trancers sequels. I can only assume that she felt guilty or something.

Second Side note: I don't know why this poster exists, but here it is (my guess is it's the original name of the movie. The Internet probably has an answer for me, but I'd like to stay in the dark on this one):

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