Blu-Ray Review: Trancers (1985)

88 Films’ ace Blu-ray of this B-movie gem gets the thumbs up. 

Jack Deth (Tim Thomerson) – a grizzled, Dirty Harry (1971) esque detective from the twenty-third century – is sent back in time to 1985 in pursuit of his archenemy, Whistler (Michael Stefani). With his consciousness now inhabiting the body of an ancestor, Deth teams up with a sassy punk chick, Lena (Helen Hunt), as he attempts to stop Whistler and his sinister army of mind controlled, zombie-like fiends – the eponymous trancers – once and for all…

It’s among the greatest B-movies ever made: a tough talkin’, rocket powered quickie from the undisputed king of the modern cut-price schlocker, Charles Band.

Producer. Director. Huckster. Svengali.

And in a forty year plus career packed to the gills with glorious genre goodies, TRANCERS is one of a handful (along with Tourist Trap (1979)Puppet Master (1989), and the Stuart Gordon-helmed double Re-Animator (1985) and From Beyond (1986)) that has transcended from cult to untouchable, unarguable classic status.

Never a showy director, Band’s ruthlessly efficient, meat n’ potatoes style suits Trancers to a T. It’s a perfect fit for Paul DeMeo and Danny Bilson’s zinger-filled, rat-a-tat script, which is a pulpy, hard-boiled delight that’s performed with deliciously droll sincerity by the film’s cracking cast. ’60s TV veteran Stefani – whose first and only feature film credit Trancers would be – is a suitably creepy antagonist, while a young, pre-Oscar win Hunt is a wonderfully spunky foil.

It’s Thomerson, though, who’s Trancers’ core and his sharp, no-nonsense characterisation of Deth is every bit as sci-fi-conic as Kurt Russell’s Snake Plissken or Arnie’s T-800. A role Thomerson would return to five and a half more times across Trancers’ of varying quality sequels, and one that he’d ape in Band’s similar Dollman (1991) saga six years later, his Deth is a hypnotic anachronism; a man as out of place in his own time of 2247 as he is in ours (well, 1985 anyway). He’s a Noir guy in a science fiction world, a “Bogart from the future” as DeMeo and Bilson explain in Cybercrime: one of several tasty extras on 88 Films’ spiffy new Blu-ray.

A fifteen minute making-of piece by Ballyhoo Motion Pictures (who’re currently prepping Celluloid Wizards in the Video Wasteland, an upcoming, feature-length doc chronicling the exploits of Band’s ’80s outift, Empire), Cybercrime is a breezy but solid watch that, while a mite scant on detail due to its brevity, does benefit from the input of Band and Thomerson, who also pop up for a wonderfully knockabout commentary track.

With the above and a bunch more of their bountiful spread cribbed from Band’s own fully-loaded American disc, Trancers is quite the package from 88 Films. It’s certainly the finest release in their catalogue of Band-rooted delights. 88’s usual Full Moon trailer reel and a lovely lil’ stills gallery are accompanied by a cute, two minute ‘Rare Interviews’ segment – replete with clips of Thomerson, Hunt and Trancers II (1991) and III’s (1992) Megan Ward – and, best of all, the twenty-four minute Trancers half-quel, City of Lost Angels.

Produced as part of Band’s long-thought-lost Pulse Pounders (1988),  the first of a series of sadly-never-realised anthologies designed to sequelize previous Empire hits, City of Lost Angels has been ripped, cleaned up, and finally completed from a recently discovered VHS workprint of the impresario’s doomed portmanteau, found in a box of old tapes in Band’s Los Angeles office. It is, naturally, of scuzzy but perfectly watchable quality – a nostalgic treat for those of us who grew up watching this kind of charming fluff on clunky ol’ cassette. And though its tale of a burnt-out Deth fending off a time-hopping female assassin isn’t  especially good, a returning Thomerson, Hunt and the peerless Art LaFleur as police chief McNulty mark it as required viewing for Trancer-philes and B-buffs. And heck, it’s just nice to have it finally available.

Elsewhere, there’s footage from the City of Lost Angels premiere at last year’s Chicago’s Flashback Weekend, with Band giving the brief skinny on Pulse Pounders’ not-quite-making, and – teasingly – a stunning, one minute promo of the compendium’s Dungeonmaster 2 segment. With Pulse Pounders’ gleeful Re-Animator-riffing Lovecraft short The Evil Clergyman (1987) surfacing on 88’s equally tidy Blu of the harrowing and nightmarish Castle Freak (1995), here’s hoping they and, of course, Full Moon find an appropriate home for this neat-looking mini follow-up to Band’s endearingly daft 1984 fantasy soon.

Although 88’s serviceable sound mix isn’t anything to write home about, after years of so-so open matte DVD transfers all taken from Vestron’s old laserdisc, the  Blu-ray is nothing short of astounding in the picture quality department. It’s a touch soft on occasion but, by and large, the HD master from Trancers’ original 35mm negative is a wow-er considering the film’s meagre budget and vintage. Free from overpowering DNR, Trancers retains a gorgeously film-y texture, and the vibrant, neon-soaked futuristic vistas of the late, great cinematographer Mac Ahlberg – a Band, Stuart Gordon and John Landis mainstay – are truly a sight to behold.

Highly recommended.

Trancers (1985) Blu-ray


 

TRANCERS is out on UK Blu-ray now via 88 Films.

Altered from a version previously published on screamhorrormag.com.

Follow Matty on Twitter @mattybudrewicz

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