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Jack Deth is BACK… (again): Trancers is still worth a look

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You can’t find a review of Trancers that doesn’t write it off as an amalgam of Blade Runner and Terminator. And to whoever first made that comparison, thank you SO much for taking the broader view. Because nothing ever in the History of Things has ever taken inspiration from anything else. Just ask James Cameron.

Tim Thomerson is Jack Deth, a police detective from the 23rd century who goes back in time to 1985 when everyone under the age of 30 had a six-inch blue Mohawk and wore leather pants with a day-glo orange life preserver vest. Deth is chasing after Whistler, a sort of cult leader who can turn unsuspecting citizens into mindless, kill-crazy zombies (the titular “trancers”) by staring at them, like, really hard. Deth has a personal stake in all this, too, because one of the many people Whistler is responsible for killing is Deth’s wife, Alice.

In addition to tracking down Whistler, Deth is also charged with finding Hap Ashby, former-professional-baseball-player-turned-skid-row-bum, and ancestor of Ashe, one of the high council in Deth’s time. Whistler, in a grand display of non-non-heinousness, is assassinating the council by killing off their predecessors and causing the council members to vanish in the future.

Between “singeing” trancers, Jack gets to make out with Helen Hunt a lot, although every time they have sex, he’s not there, having been scooped back to the future to update his bosses. See, Jack doesn’t physically travel in time; his consciousness is sent “down the line” to a relative in the past, in this case, the unwitting Philip Dethton, a newspaper man and wanna-be poet who hooked up with a department store elf named Lena (Helen Hunt) the night before.

There’s something seriously tragicomical about this from Phil’s point of view: He goes home with Lena, has a night of ethereal sex, and then his consciousness is kicked out to make room for Deth, returned to him only during those times when Deth is pulled back up the line, coincidentally during sex with Lena. Phil’s life at this point becomes an endless succession of sex scenes. Go Phil.

Trancers was popular enough to spawn four sequels, though only the first two are worth looking at. Trancers II sees the return of Deth’s wife, Alice, and the ever-awesome Richard Lynch in the role of Dr. Wardo, Whistler’s brother. Trancers III brings about the dissolution of Deth’s relationship with Lena, and the introduction of an android sidekick named Shark. As one IMDb reviewer rather confusingly put it, “These films keep getting better and better, Trancers 3 is good but not as good as the second one but better then the first one, thats so far.” The mind boggles.

After that, they get pretty weird. Production moved to Romania as Deth is sent to a futuristic alternate dimension that looks a lot like the distant past. There are swords and sorcerers and castles and carrier pigeons and weird vampire/trancer creatures called Nobles. Deth fights them for two movies until, in Trancers 6, he enters the body of his own daughter (there really is no other way to say that) to accommodate Thomerson leaving the franchise.

Thankfully, 2013 saw the return of Tim Thomerson as Jack Deth in a short film called Trancers: City of Lost Angels. Filmed before Trancers II, it was meant to be part of an anthology called Pulse Pounders (featuring another HP Lovecraft tale from Stuart Gordon called The Evil Clergyman, released on DVD in 2012). In it, Deth is trying to make a life for himself as a private eye in Los Angeles in 1988, with Lena still by his side, when he learns that an assassin named Edlin Shock has escaped from prison and has followed him back in time seeking revenge.

Hybridization of popular sci-fi movies aside, Trancers has pretty much everything you want in a futuristic sci-fi noir picture: guns, dames, a hard-ass detective who thinks he’s in a Mickey Spillane novel, and frothy-mouthed zombie-like things. It’s worth a look.

(Trancers: The Ultimate Edition was released on BluRay in July through Full Moon. It includes a brand new audio commentary by Tim Thomerson and producer/director Charles Band, a new featurette, rare star interviews, the complete Trancers: City of Lost Angels short film, and a stills gallery. Trancers (aka. Future Cop) 3, 4 and 5 are available now through Beyond.)

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