I first saw Trancers as a videotape rental in high school, which I suppose dates me somewhat. My standards as a teenager weren’t terribly high, so at the time I thought it was great. The film was was ludicrous but I loved it all the same. Mental time travel to an ancestor? The Long Second Watch? A guy named Whistler with hypnotic powers? Come on.
Now, decades later, does the movie hold up?
Yes. Yes it does.
It’s a low budget movie. But to paraphrase a former Secretary of Defense, you go to production with the budget you have, not the budget you wish you had. So there are parts of it that look cheesy. Can’t be helped. It’s not the budget that makes a movie, but the care put into it, and in the case of Trancers, a lot of care was put into it.
There’s not one performance in the film that takes you out of the story, which is one of its greatest strengths. Tim Thomerson plays protagonist Jack Deth with perfect, down-the-line seriousness, which makes him stand out in what is already kind of a silly movie. His charisma and imposing physical presence make you believe in the role. Helen Hunt is appealing as Lena, appropriately scared and vulnerable when necessary. She deserves great respect for returning in the sequel. The movie wouldn’t have worked anywhere near as well without Michael Stefani as Whistler: with his staring eyes and creepy smile, he’s the bad guy this film needed.
The story’s uneven, and an interested viewer could spend days picking holes in the plot. But why would you want to? The bizarre dystopia of Jack Deth’s time, with its Council of Elders and half of L.A. sunk into the sea, where real coffee is prized like gold but everyone smokes tobacco (at least, I assume it’s tobacco), when mankind has colonized other planets but hasn’t conquered death at the hands of a madman and his zombie army: it’s extremely imaginative. What the writers don’t show but hint at makes you fill in the blanks yourself. The Trancers themselves are sort of like zombies but with a bit more volition, making it relevant to our current zombie-obsessed culture. Why can the future cops send Long Second Watches into the past but not people? Don’t worry about it: just watch the movie. If members of the Council are eliminated in the future when Whistler kills their ancestors in the past, how do we know they even existed? Just…just stop asking so many questions, already.
Yes, we did dress a lot like they did in the 1985 depicted in the movie, and most of us thought it was cool. Thing is, we could wash out the hair spray and take off our square-ended neckties, but today’s tattoos are rather more permanent, and those facial piercings leave literal holes. In your face. I’ll take a pair of Jordache denims over skinny jeans any day of the week (in part because I can’t fit into skinny jeans).
Whether you’re a newcomer to Charles Band’s oeuvre or looking for a piece of sci-fi horror nostalgia, I’m pleased to report that you won’t be disappointed in Trancers. Get out there, find yourself a copy, and get watching. Your New Coke’s getting warm.