Before the video rental industry became dominated by big franchises, there were many independent shops with a plethora of unheard of movies, covers bleached by the sun such was the infrequency of their rental. However, many of these films are unsung classics of eighties B-movie cinema, with Trancers being one of the best examples.
Indebted to the likes of Bladerunner and The Terminator, Trancers brings the character of Jack Deth to the screen, a hard-edged 'Trooper', a 23rd century cop who has dedicated his life to 'singeing' trancers, zombie like slaves to the psychic will of criminal mastermind Whistler. Driven to the edge by the death of his wife at the hands of one of these mindless fiends and having finally destroyed his nemesis, he throws in his badge. But the authorities have one more job for him to do. Whistler is not dead, he has travelled back in time to destroy the distant relatives of the ruling council and plans to return as ruler of this altered future. Reluctantly Deth also has to go 'down the line'; in other words, have his consciousness transferred back through time to inhabit the body of his relative residing in 20th century L.A. Once there he meets Lena, who will help him thwart Whistlers plan. However, his mission is complicated by the fact that Whistlers ancestor is a high ranking Police Chief.
Made on a miniscule budget, Trancers is pure entertainment from beginning to end, the reason for this mainly lying at the feet of the legendary Tim Thomerson who raises the level of the film from trashy rip-off to low budget classic. Forget Bruce Campbell, Tim Thomerson is the true B-movie king and he expertly brings the character of Jack Deth to the screen. Part Chandleresque Private Eye, part rebel cop in the Dirty Harry mould, Deth makes for a memorable and instantly likeable hero. He takes no crap from anyone and does things his way, letting nothing get in the way in his pursuit of Whistler. Adapting to the 20th century also gives Thomerson the chance to shine, encountering punk rockers and battling Santa's Grotto employees along the way! Thomerson is ably supported by Art La Fleur as his boss and an early appearance by future Oscar winner Helen Hunt as Deth's guide and inevitable love interest in the 20th century.
As well as the dominating central performance the film is, for a B-movie, well scripted and tightly edited. With a running time of less than an hour and a half it packs in all the story and character efficiently. The influences from other bigger budget films are apparent, such as the time traveller sent to the past to save the future, and the slightly Deckard-like central character but they are filtered through the invention of director Charles Band. He brings a rare fresh approach and gives the film some unique elements and a witty style. The plot is quite clever, with a few neat touches (The retired Deth is recruited whilst diving amongst the sunken ruins of 'Lost' Angeles) and action scenes. The film also has a few fun gimmicks up its sleeve. Who needs Bullet Time when you've got a long second watch, a device that turns one second into ten for the user. As Deth quips: "I could have used that on my last date!" Trancers is peppered with such comic one-liners, many expertly delivered by Thomerson but they also come from the supporting characters. "Security. There's trouble at the North Pole!" being one of the more memorable in a film that is set during the festive season.
With its entertaining take on a well worn formula, memorable synth score and general sense of fun, Trancers is an eighties video classic that gave Thomerson his definitive movie role as Jack Deth. He starred in many other pictures masterminded by straight-to-video king Band, such as Dollman and the excellent sci-fi/WWII movie Zone Troopers, but it is as Trooper Deth that he will be most fondly remembered by aficionados of low budget classics. The movie was successful enough to lead to the making of not one but five sequels (so far). Alas the tradition of diminishing returns applies to all of them, despite the best efforts of Thomerson who was to reprise his role as Jack Deth up until Trancers 6.