He’s a future cop lost in the present…and he’s hunting a 23rd century menace in 1985.
“Last January, I finally singed Martin Whistler out on one of the rim planets. Since then, I’ve been hunting down the last of his murdering cult. We call them “Trancers:” slaves to Whistler’s psychic power. Not really alive, not dead enough. It’s July now, and I’m tired. Real tired.”
In 2247, Trooper Jack Deth tracks down ‘trancers,’ those who have succumbed to the psychic manipulations of Whistler, a criminal who enslaves the weak-minded ‘squids’ to do his bidding. In his spare time, he dives the submerged Los Angeles for relics of the past.
When it is revealed Whistler has traveled to the past after he was thought to be dead, the High Council engages Deth to follow him to 1985 by inhabiting the body of an ancestor (think Quantum Leap.) There, he jumps into the life (and bed) of Lena (Helen Hunt) who serves as his guide to the 80s, pursuing Whistler and dodging supervisor McNulty.
The movie is a sci-fi take on 1930s film noir detective stories with a concept that was somewhat recycled for Quantum Leap, which came along only a few years later. There is a James Bond ‘Q’ type scene where Deth is issued his gadgets, and a pretty cool ‘bullet time’ sequence long before The Matrix made this a trope. Punk rock clubs and Honda scooters are prominent symbols of the 80s that make appearances.
Versatile actor Tim Thomerson is Jack Deth. Before becoming a B-movie icon, Thomerson originally had been a stand-up comedian with a history of playing numerous comedic roles on TV such as (TV’s second) transgender character Gene/Jean on Quark, hairstylist Gianni on Angie, and on The Associates, The Two of Us, and Gun Shy. Thomerson became a Charles Band regular, reprising Jack Deth on a series of Trancers movies, starring in Zone Troopers, Near Dark, Cherry 2000, and Dollman. Helen Hunt appeared in her first leading role. Richard Herd, Anne Seymour, and Michael Stefani also appear. The production allegedly tried to get Bette Davis for the Anne Seymour role, but she turned down the film.
Filmed around LA for about $400,000, the movie was briefly theatrically released but didn’t perform well. It was re-released under the title Future Cop (not that Future Cop) but it wasn’t until its debut on home video under the original Trancers title that it gained a successful cult following. Some of the effects are quite decent for this budget, especially the ‘long second’ shots done with a 600fps high-speed camera.
Point Dume in Malibu was also used as a location, recognizable from Planet of the Apes and Iron Man.
The original story had sat on Charles Band’s desk until it was given to writers Danny Bilson & Paul De Meo. If those names sound familiar, they were the team behind the 1990s The Flash, 1996’s The Sentinel TV series, and the underrated The Rocketeer from 1991.
Trancers was directed by that purveyor of 70s/80s low budget sci-fi and horror, Charles Band. Not only was he responsible for inflicting the infamous Laserblast on a pre-MST3K, post-Star Wars public; more importantly, he was an early pioneer in the home video business. Starting his own distribution label, Meda (later ‘Media’) Home Entertainment, he gave us the ludicrous over-sized VHS boxes of films like Zombie, I Spit On Your Grave, and Demoniac, and pioneered the home video sell-through market with titles they would sell for $19.95.
Not only was VHS box art used to sell video store customers on a rental title, but it was also used to sell movies to video stores via catalog, with video store buyers sometimes knowing little more than what was on the cover of the box. The box art was even used to sell video distributors on a title before there was even a movie to put in the box! Band was known to present catalogs of box art for unproduced film titles to video distributors to see which ones they were interested in distributing on video, then would have his team of directors and writers get to work on making the very movies the video distributor bought from looking at the box art.
Later his film production companies Empire Pictures and Full Moon Entertainment would make theatrical as well as direct to video movies. Full Moon would bring us franchises such as Puppet Master, Subspecies, as well as Trancers.
Jack Deth will return…
Socially Distant Cinema is a column that will regularly point you to content from the 70s/80s currently available on various platforms that may bring you some entertainment during these periods of physical distancing...and beyond.