Back in the 1990’s there was a show on TNT that would play cult films. I don’t remember the name of it, but it was like what TCM Underground is today. I’m pretty sure that’s where I first saw The Warriors (1979), and it introduced me to Trancers. I fell in love with it. I loved the music so much that even though there was no chance I could find it, I had my parents take me to all sorts of places trying to find the soundtrack. That never panned out. Although, the music is still so burned in my mind that when I watched the horrible Savage Island (1985) this year, I recognized the music. And sure enough, Mark Ryder and Phil Davies composed the music for that movie too. They ripped themselves off. But enough of my personal backstory.
In typical film noir fashion, we are introduced to Jack Deth (Tim Thomerson) and the setup of the film in voiceover narration as he enters a diner at night. Deth is a cop in the future who just finished “singeing” Martin Whistler (Michael Stefani). Whistler uses psychic powers to enslave people and turn them into what are known as Trancers. Hence the title. There are two people in the diner. A man sitting at the counter and an old lady behind it. After ordering some coffee, he checks the guy using a special bracelet to see if he’s a Trancer. Nope, but watch out cause here comes the old lady.
After taking a knife to the leg, Deth defeats her and her body disappears in a burning red light. That’s how all the Trancers die. Then Deth’s superior McNulty (Art LaFleur) shows up. He tries to give Deth some lip about Trancer hunting being out of bounds for him. Deth does what Bogart would have done. He gets in his car, tosses his badge out the window, and drives off. McNulty tells us that Deth was a good cop till his wife was killed by a Trancer.
Cut to a shot of what was Los Angeles, but now called Lost Angeles because it’s underwater. Deth likes going diving out there. McNulty and some other cops show up to tell him that the council needs him. Deth says “fuck them”, but there’s one more bit of information. Whistler is still alive. That gets his attention and he goes to meet with the council.
The council was once made up of three people, but one of them and his children have disappeared. Here’s the deal. In the future, they have the ability to send you back in time, but you do it by possessing the body of one of your ancestors while your own body remains in the present. Whistler has “gone down the line” and killed off one of the ancestors of a council member. The remaining two council members ask Deth to go back in time to protect their ancestors and bring Whistler back to the present to stand trial. They have his body and are holding it for trial. Well, that is until they show Deth the body.
Interesting side note. The two council members are played by Anne Seymour and Richard Herd. Anne Seymour goes all the way back to All The King’s Men (1949). Richard Herd is famous for several things, but probably best known for being some sort of long lost brother to Karl Malden. They really look similar.
Deth is given a picture of Herd’s ancestor, a baseball card of Seymour’s ancestor, and two vials to be used to bring Deth and Whistler back to the future. Then Deth is injected and finds himself in the body of his ancestor Phillip Deth. Oh, they also sent him back with a special watch that gives him a “long second”. That’s what the film says stretches one second to ten, but in movie terms, it’s much much longer than ten seconds. What follows isn’t much plot wise. This movie is just a little over an hour long. But it’s the delivery that makes it fun. The funny lines. The references. The self aware B-Movie filmmaking. And of course, the boom mic popping in from the top of the screen here and there. So what’s first?
Deth kills Santa Claus. When Deth first arrived he was in an apartment with Lena (Helen Hunt). She works at the mall with Santa. When Santa gets that look on his face, then it means only one thing in this movie: he’s a Trancer. After singeing him, he explains to Lena who he is and why he’s there. This is when we find out that trancing only works on “squids”. Earlier we also learned that dry hair is for squids. That’s why Deth put some stuff in his hair to slick it back. We also get one of my favorite lines ever.
Now it’s on to the tanning salon where Herd’s ancestor works. This is where the movie references The Lady In The Lake (1947).
This is also one of a couple of reference the film makes to itself. In the future, it’s July. In the present of the film, it’s Christmas, but it looks like they shot it in July. Well, anyways, too bad for Herd because his ancestor is already a Trancer. He tries to kill Deth by putting him in a tanning booth to burn him to death. Luckily, Lena comes to his rescue, but Whistler is waiting in the parking lot. You see while Deth’s ancestor is just some guy, Whistler’s ancestor is a cop and apparently his men are now Trancers.
Thank goodness for that long second. But enough of what little action there is in this movie because it’s time for a long sequence of jokes. I can’t post them all, but this is probably my favorite.
Now Deth is taken by Lena to a punk rock concert where the band is playing the worst version of Jingle Bells I’ve ever heard. But Deth does get to deck some guy who tries to harass Lena. And then three guys show up to fight Deth unsuccessfully.
The guy in the middle puts Kid N’ Play to shame. After doing some hilarious dancing to the bad music, Deth almost gets laid. Well, I should be more specific. Jack Deth almost gets laid. Phillip Deth does get laid. McNulty shows up in the body of a little girl who happens to be his ancestor and brings Deth back to the present because obviously Herd is gone from the future. Deth convinces Seymour’s character that he can save her so she sends him back just in time to miss the sex.
When Deth can’t find an episode of Peter Gunn on TV, he sees Whistler on the news saying he is going to institute some sort of program to “keep track of the homeless and protect the innocent.” Deth knows this means the ancestor he’s looking for is on “skid row”. This guy is named Hap Ashby (Biff Manard) and he used to be a pitcher. Now he’s a drunk. After consulting the three wise men, I mean the three homeless guys who call themselves the three kings, they then know where to look for Ashby.
The remainder of the film is quite short. They find Ashby. There’s a motorcycle chase. They harass Ashby about taking a shower and cleaning up. Then they set a trap for Whistler so we can have our climax.
Whistler tries to throw her over the side of the building. Deth uses the long second and catches her after getting to the ground before she does. I love that during the slow motion sequence of the long second, the movie cuts not once, but twice to Ashby drinking.
I also love that Ashby puts his pitching to good use to knock Whistler off the roof. By that I mean Whistler is hit by something, climbs out onto the ledge to dangle, then is hit again so he can fall. Seriously, you can basically see him climb out there on his own. It’s pretty funny.
With one of his vials to send people back to the future broken, he uses the remaining one to send Whistler back to nothingness and Deth remains in the past. He decides to stay with Lena since them being together is how he came into existence in the first place. The End.
Well, not really because we get one final shot of McNulty as a little girl and there happens to be six more films in the Trancers franchise. It’s fair to say that I’m not very familiar with them so they’re going to be new to me too.