Cult Cinema: Trancers (1984) - Reviewed


The 1980's were an esoteric cinematic dream, filled with endless horror and science fiction franchises that haunted the shelves of now long extinct VHS rental stores.  One of the architects behind such franchises was Charles Band, the founder of Full Moon Features, the studio responsible for Puppet Master, Subspecies, and Castle Freak.   Prior to forming the production company, Band directed what is quite possibly one of the most iconic films of the decade, Trancers.  Blending neo noir cliches with science fiction horror elements Band's punk rock neon opus is a true rarity.  A low budget genre piece that has genuine heart, surprisingly progressive themes, and an absolutely unrelenting amount of cool.  

Jack Deth is a trooper, a detective from the future adept at killing trancers, zombie like monsters who are mentally controlled by Whistler, a powerful psychic.  When it is discovered that Whistler has travelled back through time to wipe out his political enemies' ancestors, Deth himself is also set back with his own mission: Stop Whistler, no matter the cost.  Danny Bilson and Paul De Meo's script initially appears as a cheap Terminator knock off, however, underneath the retreaded veneer is a cornucopia of interesting concepts.  Genre staple Tim Thomerson gives the performance of his career as Deth, combining elements of Marlowe and Eastwood to conjure a man out of time, no matter which time he is in.  Helen Hunt, in one of her early roles, co-stars as Lena, Deth's time-crossed lover.  One of the most interesting aspects of the script is in how the relationship between the two develops.  It is fresh, it is sexy, and Hunt's Lena is not a woman who needs saving.  She is quick to confront Deth whenever he crosses a line and it is truly smile-inducing to see these characters develop true feelings for one another.  

Ambiance, however, is what truly makes Trancers such a memorable experience.  Mac Ahlberg's grimy cinematography has an almost dreamlike quality, the natural byproduct of so many genres being blended together.  The world of the future is washed out, dominated by darkness while the past is a place of sunshine and promise.  While the plot steals its beats from Cameron’s opus, Band and his crew create a distinct vibe that permeates through every single scene.  There is a haze to this film that is only penetrated by sudden violence and Deth and Lena's forays into the Punk nightlife.   Even Christmas has thematic elements including a rowdy Punk rendition of Jingle Bells, three drunk wise homeless men, and a Trancified-Santa.

Ultimately what makes Trancers such a special film is in how much care the crew has and how much fun the cast is having.  This is clearly a gritty, passion project that doubles as a love letter to independent filmmaking and the result is a scrappy motion picture that refuses to ever admit defeat. What appears on the surface as a cheap carbon copy eventually reveals itself to be a memorable, sci-fi romp that is populated with memorable characters, perfectly cheesy dialogue and ludicrous concepts of time and space. 

Now available for digital rental or on a stunning 4K UHD transfer from Full Moon Features, Trancers is part of the defining DNA of 1980's VHS icons.  Tim Thomerson and Helen Hunt's wonderfully subdued chemistry combined with Band's vision of a Los Angeles undone are sublime compatriots that when mixed together deliver the perfect cult classic.  


--Kyle Jonathan