Saturday, May 17, 2014

The Trancers Series (1985, 1991, 1992, 1994, 2002)

Trancers (aka Future Cop) is a sci-fi/action movie series from Full Moon Features director Charles Band. It an extremely entertaining franchise, and it's again, one of my favourites!

I have nothing really to add before I get into things, other than talk about the regular length these  movies were-75 minutes. On one hand, 70-5 minutes is extremely short, and these movies and characters are so fun that having full 90 minute movies would be perfect...But on the other hand, movies of this length aren't seen often outside oF Full Moon, so it's pretty neat to watch a film that's this brisk!

Ok, onto the series proper...

Jack Deth is a cop from the 22nd Century, where a cult-leader named Whistler has amassed an army of zombie-like followers. In the past, Jack has fought these Trancers, and eventually killed Whistler, but sometime later, the retired Jack is informed of Whistler's survival by coworker Mcnulty. Jack is brought to the council (the leaders of the future), who are being attacked, as Whistler has 'gone down the line' to the 20th Century-1985-and is hunting their ancestors. With time travel in this universe being through syringes, and inhabiting the body of your ancestor, Jack is sent into the body of Phil Deth. Armed with gadgets, such as the long minute watch (it slows down time enough for Jack to experience ten seconds while only one passes in the real world), Jack goes back in time, where he acquires the help of Lena, a kinda punk girl. Together, they must find the remaining council ancestors, protect them, and destroy the evil Whistler...

Tim Thomerson does a great job as Jack Deth-humorous, wisecracking, and badass. Helen Hunt does a good job as love interest/sideckick Leena, Art LaFleur doesn't get to do much in this entry, but he's good, as is the hilarious Alyson Croft as the 9-year old ancestor whose body Mcnulty assumes.

Despite its super low budget, Trancers does great work with what it has, with some very good shots! And the Trancer make-up is creepy here. The lack of budget does hurt the film, but not as much as it does the final entry in the series.

The score is very good! The main theme is memorable, and the Lost Angeles piece is great, especially given its placement (a few minutes in, when we see the underwater remains of Old Los Angeles). During the night club scene, a punk rock rendition of Jingle Bells plays, and it's simultaneously terrible and rockin'!

What drags Trancers down a peg are the plot holes. Firstly, why doesn't the council send Jack back further in time than Whistler went?

Second, how do the counil members remeber their comrades erased from history? It'd make sense if they say the council are protected from paradoxes by a special machine, hence why the surviving members can remember things they shouldn't be able to, and I'd buy that in this movie's universe, but no such machine is ever said to exist.

And what about Phil, whose body Jack is in? He's stuck in limbo forever?! What the hell?! And this is never a problem that goes away, as Jack is in Phil's body for the rest of the series, with not one mention of how its original occupant is doing.

Then there's Mcnulty. When he goes down the line, he's in the body of a 9 year old girl, because she's the only ancestor that could be found in LA in this time period...But what about one of her parents? They get namedropped, so they are still alive!

Its other biggest problem is the villain. Whistler is a boring one-note baddie, he's not in the movie all that much, and the actor playing him does a pretty bad to middling job. Disappointing for the series' first big bad. And as for the Trancers themselves, the movie's not really clear on what they are. Thankfully the sequels clear it up, but in doing so end up slightly retconning what they are.

Also, a lot of the last third is set in dark dingy alleyways, which wouldn't be too much of a problem if not for the crummy film stock. New print, my ass, DVD!

Despite its flaws, Future Cop, as Australia stubbornly calls it (which, to be honest, is a better title than just Trancers), is a blast! Well worth the twenty bucks it'll cost to buy the six-movie box-set!

Trancers II

Jack Deth has been enjoying life in the past with Lena, but is called back into duty when Mcnulty comes from the future with bad news- Wardo, the brother of Whistler, has escaped to the past and has started up a Trancer farm. An agent was sent back to stop him in the new TCL chamber-a physical time travel capsule-but her ancestor down the line was an inmate in an asylum. At first, Jack has eyes only for the mission, until he learns that the operative is his supposedly dead wife Alice Stillwell...

And people say The Godfather II is one of the only improved sequels out there. Tsk, tsk, it's not that uncommon!

I'm not sure if the budgets were different, but Trancers II all-round looks better, in part due to it being in high quality, unlike the first movie.  The effects are also an improvement, although the Trancers from now on look more monstrous, rather than in the original, where most of them were pale, clammy, and had darkened skin all around their eyes. This isn't an issue though, as I like their looks regardless.

The plot here is decent, although I wish certain things like the future drug, or the asylum aspect, were played up a bit more. The movie itself is a fun time, with good action, and very well written scenes mainly the goodbye at the end.

The climax leaves some loose ends (Trancers on the loose), which I assume are resolved in-between this and Trancers III, as they're not mentiond there, as if the problem was already resolved ages prior.

There are a few problems with the script, however. One that almost is is the fact that the villain is Whistler's never-before-been-mentioned brother. But the movie knows this, and has a pretty funny scene with Mcnulty at the start as he reacts to all the news that's being heaped on him at once.

Onto the actual problems, Jacks original body is 'calcfied', as he's been in the past too long. This doesn't really make sense, as if that was going to happen, why didn't Mcnulty and co. just call Jack back to the future semi-regularly, and send him back once he did a bit of exercise and living in his original body? Also, it's pretty depressing, as unless Jack had kids before the events of the first film, it means his family line is permanently dead!

The acting is all fine. Tim Thomerson is great as usual, Helen Hunt and Biff Manard likewise, and Megan Ward is good, although her delivery is a bit shaky at times.

Wardo is a decently written villain, and Richard Lynch does a pretty good job. Not one of his best roles, but he's still good. Jeffrey Combs, however, is pretty wasted. He's just a random main henchman, nothing special. Barbara Crampton has an extended cameo, which is pretty decent.

Art LaFluer is only in the film as Mcnulty for a few minutes, and Alyson Croft takes on the role for much of the film, which is great, because I really like her. She's pretty hilarious, and does a fine job. I'm especially glad that the makers of this film got the same actress. It was nearly seven years later, and they could have easily gotten a new actress, but they didn't, which I like. Unfortunately, like another certain actress playing a man in a woman's body in this series, Croft's filmography is extremely small. By the way, what must teen Mcnulty's parents be thinking, what with their 15 year old daughter vanishing for three days!

Full Moon have always been a cheap bunch, hence a lot of the score to both Trancers II and III are recycled from the first movie. I don't mind though, as it is a very good score, and it gives the movies a Trancers feel. It only becomes a minor issue if you're watching the movies all one after the other. Watch 'em over a week, and you should be fine.

To finish, Trancers II is a great time, and a sequel that's superior to the original!

Trancers III

Jack is struggling with life, as his marriage with Lena is on the rocks, and his private detective agency is floundering. Without warning, he's suddenly dragged back to the future by a robot, Shark. The future has been devastated by a Trancer war, and Alice, Raines, and newcomer Harris instruct Jack to go back in time to destroy the Trancers at their source, so the apocalyptic future can be erased.

Sent to 2005, Jack is instructed to find Lena, who's been investigating a shady government organization, with the aid of a runaway, Private R.J. Garrett, who tells Jack of the twisted Colonel Daddy 'Mother', who's been trancing his soldiers in order to turn them into the best, most fearsome soldiers ever....

Trancers III is by far the bleakest entry in the series, but it's never depressing, and the tone works great here!

It's pretty depressing that Jack and Lena end up divorced, but at least Jack's still got Alice...for now. I wish that the film would've at least explained why their marriage was breaking up at the start. Also, Mcnulty has been killed (offscreen), which would suck, but given the end to the movie, I assume that gets reversed. But we never see an alive Mcnulty, I assume because Art Lafleur was unavailable. And finally, I wish things turned out better for R.J.

The plot is very good. Well-written, and very brisk, at just over 70 minutes-And there are no plot holes this time round! Woohoo! Although since Jack destroys the Trancers at their source (that's not really a spoiler, unless you assumed Jack dies a horrible death, and the Trancers win), I can only wonder what it means for the rest of the series. Did Alice never die? Was Whistler never evil? Did Jack ever need to go back time now? etc...

The good sequels all do something different with the Trancers, and this is no exception, as they're smarter, more in-control (but still ferocious), and tougher than ever. Although I can't see the Trancers having any practical applications in military engagement that isn't hand-to-hand, as the 6th movie is the only entry in the series where they can't be killed by just a couple of pistol shots.

The characters are pretty well-rounded, and the acting is all good. Tim Thomerson is great as usual, Helen Hunt and Megan Ward are decent in their extended cameos, as is Stephen Macht and Telma Hopkins. Melanie Smith does a pretty good job in one of her first acting roles (she's since retired and become a yoga instructor, which is a hilarious coincidence, as you'll see later).

Andy Robinson is great as the ultra-sleazy Colonel Daddy Mutha. He's by far the best villain in the series! Little wonder the 6 film box-set credits Tim Thomerson, Helen Hunt, Megan Ward, and Robinson! I like to think that was the reason he was the villain actor they chose for the cover.

The effects are very good! The Trancer make-up is still good and prety creepy, the violence is fine, and Shark the Mandroid looks great, and is badass!

This ties with Trancers II as being the best movie in the series, and its well worth the watch.

Trancers IV and V

Trancers III really tied up the series, and felt like a definitive ending, but a 4th and 5th movie were made anyway. Some believe that these two were unnecessary cash-grabs, and say that III was the last good film in the series-Something I don't agree with that at all! Yeah, it was the last entry in the series to truly have the Trancers feel, but that's no problem, as IV and V are deliberately very different. The two movies, more fantasy themed, are basically a 2-part miniseries, like other Full Moon sequels (Puppet Master IV and V for example).

Jack Deth is back in the future   After a routine assignment taking down an alien invasion, something wrong happens in the TCL chamber on the way back, and its flung into another dimension. Now in Orpheus, a medieval world filled with Trancer nobles who control the populace by force and keep them alive as feeing stock, Jack must find the Tunnel Rats-the resistance movement.

The evil Caliban, a sorcerer and head of all the nobles, seeks out Jack once he learns of his arrival, and faces oposition from his rebellious son Prospero, who rejects his people's sadistic ways. Jack soon gets his help too in finding a way back to Earth...

First things first, Trancers III was about Jack going back in time to destroy Trancers at their source. 'In movie 3 of six?! HA!' you might be saying, but you know what? The Trancers ARE all gone for good after the events of the last film! They're only here because Jack goes to an alternate dimension!

The plot, written by acclaimed comic/Star Trek/other stuff writer Peter David, is a load of fun, and definitely makes for a worthy duology follow-up to the original trilogy.

The Trancers here are very different than in previous films, which, along with the setting, make these two sequels a very original follow-up

While Puppet Master 4 and 5 felt like incomplete halves, Trancers IV and V feel separate. They're the same overarching storyline, but the plots are self-contained, which is much better than having 50 minutes of filler, 20 minutes of action, then a cliffhanger for movie 5.

There's lots of humour in these two films, and it never misses its mark. There are some funny lines courtesy of Jack-"Time is fluid, and I'm the guy who makes sure the glass doesn't get knocked over." and the jawdropping "A real woman's the kind who makes you want to smack her in the chops. Not doing it means you're a real man.", the recap at the start of V by the evil Lucius is very funny, and the watch scene is hilarious. Lets just say that certain things are reversed in this dimension...

The acting is all good, though most recurring actors are gone at this point. Stephen Macht was Harris in the previous movie, so it doesn't feel like all the original cast has been ditched, but Megan Ward and Telma Hopkins are sorely missed, as is Art LaFluer and Alyson Croft. Fantasy stalwart Alan Oppenheimer is decent in his short role, and Terri Ivens' performance starts off pretty bad, but she gets her footing and fares better as the movie go on. Clabe Hartley's performance as Calaban is especially good, and he's the second best villain in the series!

The effects are decent. Most wounds are just smeared fake blood, but quick cuts, and/or heavily slathered on red stuff helps it to not look fake. The Romanian-shot locale is pretty great, and fits the script perfectly. This is the good kind of Romania-filming, not the painfully obvious "Oh, we swear this is America, audience!" situations (Romania being a much cheaper filming alternative).

Probably the only problem I have with these two movies are the music. The traditional Trancers music is absent, which is fine, but what music there is is pretty unmemorable, and downright boring in the case of the theme which plays over the opening credits-It only starts getting decent after two-and-a-half minutes!

By the way, one little thing. I always forget that aliens exist in the Trancers universe. No wonder, as the only mention of them is that Whistler was killed on a dfferent planet, and some stuff in IV. If only the series showed a bit more of non-Trancer threats.

Trancers IV and V are great fun, and they're not ripoffs of Army of Darkness despite the concept. Definitely worth watching!

Trancers VI

Lets finish off the series by talking about this lifeless mess, shall we.

A technician in the future notices that Josephine Forrest-Jack's daughter-is in danger. He has Jack sent down the line into her body to protect her, and uncover a sinister Trancing scheme...

Made in a bad time for Full Moon (productively and creatively), Trancers VI fails to live up to its sometimes subtitle Life After Deth. This is a movie the breathes no new life into the franchise, but instead managed to kill a series that had already been over for eight years. There's no decent script, no Tim Thomerson, and no hope. Abandon it all ye who enter here.

This would be pretty meh on its own, but compared to the other movies, it's really bad. It takes nothing in a new direction, and its continuity is a mess in regards to the other films.

The acting, save for one performance that I'll get to later, ranges from ok, to pretty bad. Tim Thomerson 'appears' in archive footage, which is painfully obvious, especially as both his age and hair colour/style, as well as the angle and lighting fluctuate between the different clips. As for the actor on the other end, it's pretty hard to watch someone interact with footage you know is completely unrelated, especially when you remember the dialogue from watching the other Trancers movies.

The story here is pretty meh. There's nothing special, the concept is a retread of the original, and the plot is pretty dull and boring. The first twenty minutes aren't half-bad, but from then on, things become more and more of a slog.

The other big issue with the movie is that it's cheap. Really cheap! The future consists of a windowless room with a few loose cords, blinking lights, and a bed covered in tin-foil. Things would look better in the present day scenes, but Trancers VI is shot on crummy film, which adds the cheap feel tenfold. Being shot-on-video doesn't necessarily mean bad quality, but if a film is bad, then it's a death knell. While the type of film they use isn't quite on that level, it's still pretty amateur.

The effects are pretty shoddy. The Trancer prosthetics is decent, although it doesn't compare to the make-up in previous entries. Unfortunately, there's also some dreadful CGI! It's not the worst I've ever seen (aside from THE scene, that is), and it's understandable, given the void of a budget, but still unacceptable. What's pretty funny is that in this film's advanced future of 2022, computers look like this...

...No wonder some people who review this film think it's set in 2002!

The choreography sinks the film to depths even lower. It's really bad! It's high school level stuff!

There is, however, one saving grace to this miserable little affair, and that is Zette Sullivan! Don't know who that is? Take a look at her IMDb page and you'll know why I'm not surprised.

Sullivan plays Jack 'Jo' Death, and while her acting isn't perfect, it's still quite good, and she makes the most of her role, doing the best she can to make this dreck watchable. Obviously she doesn't succeed, as nothing could save Trancers VI, but at least there's one bright spark here. Her best moment by far is her one-liners-"Welcome to your future, asshole" after she takes down one of the main villains, and the next one comes a while after Jack had his smokes taken away by a security guard, who chided 'her' about how smoking is the leading cause of death in women under 30. At the end, Jack comes into the villain's base, points his gun at the neck of the guard, who's in the middle of having a smoke-"Did you know that being an asshole is the leading cause of death in both men and women?".

It's truly a shame that Sullivan was never in anything else after this. The rest of her filmography comprises of an eight-minute short film, and a sexploitation film I haven't been able to get ahold of called Sexual Intrigue. At least she was in practically every scene of this 80 minute movie.

From what I've been able to gleam from the net, she's retired from acting I guess, and is currently the owner of Sacred Movement Yoga, in Connecticut.

If it were anyone else in the lead role, I'd tell you to skip Trancers VI like the plague, but as it stands, this deserves a watch solely because of its lead actress. Just make sure to watch it before the other entries in the series when you're having a Trancers marathon!

Wrap up

So there you have it-the Trancers series.This is definitely the best thing Full Moon ever put out, in my opinion! They're almost all great, and absolutely worth your time!


  1. Great article for an awesome series! It's always great to see Trancers appreciation. I'm a fan of Sullivan's performance in part 6, too.

    Have you seen the City of Lost Angels short from 1988 that Full Moon put out last year? Get all the Deth you can!

    - Cody

  2. Thanks!

    I've heard of it, but not seen it. I'll have to get on that soon.

  3. I recently got on a Full Moon kick, but have yet to watch any of the Trancers. I was hoping to do a marathon. Good now that I have been warned about #6.