Trancers (1984) — Future cop hunts zombie maker in the past

“I’m from another time, another world. I don’t even know what you people eat for lunch.”

Justin’s rating: He actually makes “Deth” work. Somehow.

Justin’s review: It’s time for another cult movie series marathon! I’ve been eyeing the Trancers series for years, knowing little more than the name, the cool cover art, and the fact that there are six films in total. I’ve heard it described as a mix of Blade Runner and The Terminator, which sounds pretty A-OK to me and definitely something that belongs on this site, so let’s do this!

The hero we most definitely deserve is dour Jack Deth (Tim Thomerson), a police trooper from the 23rd century who’s been hunting down a powerful psychic named Whistler who killed his wife. Whistler used his mind-control powers to create a cult full of “Trancers” — home-made zombies — out of weak-willed individuals. Frustrated by Deth’s decimation of his gang, Whistler uses Quantum Leap-style time travel technology to jump back into the body of an ancestor in the 1980s and eliminate the family lines of all of his future opposition. Naturally, Deth jumps back too into his sleazier relative, and the chase is on.

So already we have cyberpunk, time travel, potential paradoxes, film noir, a jamming synth score, bounty hunting, and zombies. How have I never watched this before?

In the past, Deth teams up with his ancestor’s one-night stand, who happens to be Helen Hunt back before twisters and age ravaged her. Leena (Hunt) and Deth careen through Los Angeles fighting all of Whistler’s trancers and trying to take the big guy down. The only problem? Whistler’s relative happens to be a police lieutenant himself, giving him innate authority and power.

Fortunately, Deth has a few ticks up his sleeve as well, including a device that gives him the ability to radically slow down time for a “long second.” Otherwise, it’s up to his grizzled determination and Leena’s street smarts to bring this psychopath to justice. They also take a break to get to know each other and party a bit, because this is the ’80s and Helen Hunt is far too cute as a 21-year-old punk chick. It *is* a little jarring to see Thomerson paired with her, as he was 38 going on 58 at the time. Their romance is… well, to me, it’s squicky. Your mileage may vary.

One additional little surprise about Trancers is that it’s a Christmas movie. Of sorts. Well, it’s set around Christmas, what with Santa zombies, the Three Wise Winos, and punk rock Yuletide tunes. I guess that’s close enough. It’s more than Die Hard did, at least, and that counts in a lot of quarters.

Yes, Trancers has fingerprints of all other types of famous movies all over it, not to mention a familiar ’80s back alley-in-L.A. look to it. But it’s also got its own B-movie charm that did a lot with all of these mashed-up elements in 76 minutes, creating a kind of savory stew of geeky delights. It was certainly a lot of encouragement to keep on going through this marathon, so we’ll see where Jack Deth goes next…

Didja notice?

  • The future requires a whole lot of neon and cafes that cook dry ice
  • Trancers dispose of themselves in a red cleansing light
  • The guy marching out into the waves in a suit made me chuckle
  • Spandex leotards — yup, you’re back in the ’80s
  • Dry hair IS for squids, whatever that means
  • Helen Hunt in a Santa suit is the Christmas visual we all needed
  • Santa’s gone rogue!
  • The kids are so delighted that Santa’s fighting
  • Death by tanning bed!
  • The long second is pretty cool
  • The guy who time travels back into a little girl is hilarious
  • Scooter jump through the window!
  • Drunk people love it when you forcibly trip them for a shower

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