Forgotten Friday Flick - 'Trancers'
Feeling a tad on the nostalgic side this week, I noted that two selections in my Friday series have an actor in common and it led me to think – what is his best work? Welcome to Forgotten Friday Flick! The actor in question is the one and only Tim Thomerson (the previous selections were "Cherry 2000" and "Near Dark!") and this weeks’ flick brought the fare-haired actor to big B-movie fame. He plays a hard boiled cop from the future sent back in time to stop a madman. Dry hair’s for squids – it’s the 1985 sci-fi adventure..."Trancers."
Jack Deth is a burnt out cop. Having lost his wife and life to the evil mind altering Martin Whistler who is now deceased, he has dedicated his waking moments to hunting down the last murdering cult members mind controlled by Whistler called Trancers. But soon Deth’s superiors begin to grow tired of the rogue cop and give him an ultimatum – take the assignments or take a hike. A blessing or a curse, Deth turns his back on the badge. But it doesn't take long for the cops to come calling and Deth learns that Whistler is not only very much alive, but has transported himself back in time and is using the body of ancestor. Death suits up and heads down the time line to stop the psychic killer once and for all.
So what makes this somewhat quaint little early 80’s before CGI effects flick so immensely effective? Just that – the clever use of tricks and gadgetry to compensate for the fact that the film had no budget. Director Charles Band (who through his creativity went on to create the famed Full Moon Pictures!) spins a fantastic yarn that’s way to notable to ignore. From grappling with trancer-ridden Santas to escaping with the help of a long-second watch that slows down time, Band creates incredibly real feeling world on no money and it’s the epitome of more bang for the buck. (A motto that would help build an empire for Band!) His low budget effects are effective (the shots of New York underwater is super cool!), creature stuff decent (love the red glowing light as they get singed!) and the time travel stuff believable due to brainy use of decent sound editing and performances that sell the story. (Plus how many guys you know almost get killed by a scalding stand-up tanning booth!)
Lead man Tim Thomerson was born to play to old-school detective with a chip on his shoulder. Love his babe in the woods Deth ancestor cop, but fully adored his mean dark-haired future cop with anger and facial scar – two sides of the same coin. It’s the little dramatic nuances and overall sense of fun in Thomerson’s work in this first outing that shows the untapped potential of an actor who commands the screen. Plus his relationships with all supporting cast cooks; early young Helen Hunt as his love interest, Art LaFleur as his barbing boss and especially Telma Hopkins as an engineer with a mystery history with Deth, all come to life when Thomerson enters the frame.
But the combination of Band and Thomerson at their best is the core of why "Trancers" became and still is such a phenomenon. There were sequels that surfaced, but in their jest to cash in could never capture the originality and spirit that the original did in spades without really trying. Thomerson went on to do more B-stuff and roles way beneath his ability, while the seemingly insane Band went off the deep end after Full Moon went bust and became the Roger Corman of the "Demonic Toys" world. (Plus last I heard the two were at odds over some money owing issues!) "Trancers" introduced the world to the novelty that a good story and creative ideas was all one needed to make a film that resonated, even a sci-fi heavy one. At a time when studios now throw money at problems and movie budgets are inflated as ever, there’s something to be learned from those who use obstacles as opportunities.
Cast: Tim Thomerson, Helen Hunt, Michael Stefani
Director: Charles Band
Running Time: 76 Minutes
Release Company: Empire Pictures