Charles Band is a maestro of the B-Movie who started in the ’70s but is best known for being the man behind Empire International Pictures and later Full Moon Picture from 1989 onwards. He worked with Stuart Gordon on most of his early films such as Re-Animator, From Beyond and Dolls amongst others. He is also a noted director in his own right with his direct to video/or DVD features and most notably the first two films in the Trancers series (the first one was released theatrically but was made for the video market) and he is now directing a series of “Evil Bong” films.
Trancers is a low-budget knock off both Blade Runner and The Terminator. It’s been described as a “poundland” Blade Runner and that’s a fair review but that’s much of the film’s charm. Trancers does however has one of the best depictions of time travel known to celluloid; you can inject a drug will you gain the body of ancestor in the past. The main character also has one of the coolest names ever Jack Deth (Tim Thomerson) who is a police trooper who is transported into the body of Rick Deckard esq. detective ancestor. He is after Martin Whistler (Michael Stefani) who can turn people into zombies to carry out his commands by psychic powers but before he could be caught he travels back to 1985. This is how it’s a crossbreed of both Blade Runner and The Terminator.
One of the highlights is like so many ’80s films especially science fiction there have to be some punk rockers of some kind. Helen Hunt…. yes Helen Hunt plays the main punk rock chick who Deth falls for and she lives above the local punk club so she takes Deth down for his first punk rock show. The band is the usual stereotypical punk rock band of the time and are named “The Buttheads” and since the film is set around Christmas time they are doing punked up versions of Christmas classics. Biff Manard has fun with his role as the washed up baseball player Hap Ashby who for most of the filming was drunk like his character.
The Blade Runner comparisons deepen with the fact the car Jack Deth drives in the future scenes was modified by Gene Winfield who built the iconic “Spinners” in the aforementioned film. The design for a film which couldn’t have cost more than a couple million at most is surprisingly efficient with beautiful matte paintings of the sunken future version of L.A which looks like it stepped out of book covers of J.G. Ballard’s The Drowned World. The film’s look is certainly enhanced by cinematographer Mac Ahlberg who shot both Re-Animator and From Beyond so for it visual language is a big step up from most low-budget ’80s sci-fi/horror films.
Trancers has spawned 5 sequels and a mini-sequel to bridge the gap between 1 and 2. Charles Band only directed the second part which is slightly more tongue in cheek then the first (which was surprising critical success) but it’s still a lot of fun. They may not be as artistically satisfying as the real thing such as Blade Runner or The Terminator but for films that run for 85 minutes or less you could do much worst. 88 Films have released Blu-Rays of both films and both have a sizeable amount of bonus features including the previously lost min-sequel Trancers: City of Lost Angels.
Here for your viewing pleasure Alex Cox introduced the first Trancers film on Moviedrome