After the sad news that Art LaFleur had passed away I thought today would be a good day to post a tribute to him by revisiting the Trancers franchise from Full Moon Entertainment and Charles Band. The Trancers franchise (Tranchise?) was a glorious escape from reality with a sci-fi, tech noir-ish fantasy vibe starring Tim Thomerson, Helen Hunt and Art LaFleur.
The franchise is currently on Tubi (although I think the first one is leaving soon… or may have left already) if you are interested in checking them out but if you’ve already seen them then here’s my thoughts on the franchise below.
Plot: A gruff bounty hunter travels back in time to 1980s Los Angeles to stop a twisted criminal who can transform people into zombie-like creatures.
When we talk about awesome action pictures set during Christmas, we usually forget the greatness of Trancers, the original and best of the franchise. Our hero (the amazingly monikered) Jack Death, perfectly played by Tim Thomerson is sent back through time into the body of one of his ancestors (don’t ask) to stop a madman called Whistler from creating an army of Trancers who are essentially zombies. Deth arrives in the 80’s and meets up with Leena (Helen Hunt!) and the pair work together to stop Whistler.
So what does this have to do with Christmas? Well in arguably the highpoint of the film Jack has a fight with Santa Claus (who is in fact a Trancer) in a mall but we also get Christmas music, including a punk version of Jingle Bells. If you aren’t killing zombies is it even Christmas?
My favourite scenes from this movie are the ones set in the future as we get some wonderful neon lighting and practical effects.
Trancers also has an awesome synth score which I still listen to regularly and there is even a 10 hour loop of it on YouTube.
Thomerson is at his grizzled best here smoking regularly, wearing a trench coat and spouting epic one-liners like “Dry hair’s for squids. Now come on. Let’s get outta here.”
I love movies which embrace their silliness and the Trancers franchise does just that keeping the tone light and fun but also giving us plenty of action to keep us engaged.
The late Biff Manard played as Hap Ashby and apparently he was genuinely drunk on the set and according to some IMDb trivia “Tim Thomerson had to literally man-handle Biff because he had no idea what he was supposed to be doing or where to go”. I remember Ashby from The Flash TV series in the 90’s and he was always likeable on screen.
Art LaFleur nearly steals these movies as McNulty, Deth’s boss who also goes back in time usually into the body of a girl which provides plenty of laughs.
Overall, Trancers is wonderfully bonkers with Tim Thomerson making for a roguish but sympathetic badass, plenty of action scenes and funny dialogue to make this worth revisiting this Christmas.
Trancers 1.5: City of Lost Angels
Plot: A trained female assassin escapes a maximum security holding cell and travels to 1988 to kill Jack Deth.
Set between the first and second movies City of Lost Angels is a short 24 minute movie that has Jack being hunted down by a female assassin called Edin Shock (Velvet Rhodes) and is a worthy addition giving us not only some nice action scenes but also adding some extra character moments between Jack and Leena (Helen Hunt).
It is once again directed by Charles Band and I feel that it’s him that makes the first few movies as good as they are. I love his visual style and he understands the world he has built as well as the characters.
Once again the performances are better than you’d expect and Jack Deth has some awesome one-liners. So if you haven’t seen this before it’s on Tubi along with the rest of the franchise.
Trancers II: The Return of Jack Deth
Plot: 6 years after a time cop returns home from battling future alien zombies, his settled life is turned upside down when a mad scientists creates more.
Part 2 of the franchise goes even sillier and is played for more laughs but I feel it lacks the action of the first although it does still have its moments.
It has a scene which makes me laugh out loud every time and it’s when Deth is doing the voiceover at the start talking about Hap making money so he could collect firetrucks… it then cuts to Hap’s house and he does indeed have several fire trucks. They of course come in useful at the end but it’s a great gag and hilariously random.
Surprisingly Helen Hunt returns as Leena who is now married to Jack but now she has competition because Jack’s wife Alice has now returned despite being dead because they went back in time to her younger self and then sent her back to help Jack… I think.
There is a nice supporting cast including Jeffrey Combs, Richard Lynch as main villain Dr. Wardo and horror legend Barbara Crampton.
This still has the same goofy humour but the action highlight is at the end when (spoiler alert) Wardo is killed with a pitchfork… nice!
I also only noticed this when I watched this movie the other night but during one scene you can see the shadow of the boom mic quite clearly.
It still has the same music score with its cool synth but I do miss the future scenes and flashy neon this time.
Overall, Trancers II is still a good time but it’s definitely not quite as action packed as the original movie.
Trancers III: Deth Lives
Plot: A time cop is sent back to the 23rd Century to finish his battle against zombie-like beings called Trancers, with the help of his wife and an ex-con.
The third entry in the franchise has a bit of a different tone with more gore and nudity which is no bad thing. It’s as funny as the first two but there are some punch ups and shoot outs as well as more neon goodness to stare at.
Tim Thomerson once again returns as Jack Death and this is also the final movie in this franchise Helen Hunt would star in. I really am a big fan of hers; she always comes across as very natural even in material such as this.
The villain this time is played by Dirty Harry’s Andrew Robinson and has the awesome name of as Col. Daddy Muthuh. The movie is for the most part surprisingly well acted which helps you buy into the silliness of it all. I love the crazy addition of the android Shark who doesn’t get used enough.
There is a cool barfight earlier on and the idea of the Trancers becoming an army is an interesting one.
We still get that cool synth score and there’s plenty to enjoy even if it’s not quite as entertaining as the first two.
Overall, Trancers III is a fun entry in the series with Andrew Robinson making for an entertaining antagonist and Tim Thomerson proving as likeable as always.
Trancers IV: Jack of Swords
Plot: Lost somewhere in the future, lawman Jack learns he’s lost his wife to another and lands in a new, dangerous dimension, where evil Lord Caliban rules.
I don’t really like this one that much as you can tell the budgets are getting even lower and it feels cheap but there are some enjoyable moments.
This time Jack is sent to an alternate universe called Orpheus where he has to face off against the evil Trancer wizard Caliban (Clabe Hartley). There is lots of overacting and dodgy English accents but there’s one scene which makes this movie worth watching and that’s when Jack uses his time stopping watch which normally makes everyone else in the room move slowly so he can escape dangerous situations. This time it slows Jack down while everyone else is normal and it reminded me of Ace Ventura making it the highlight for sure.
Keep your eyes open for a young Lochlyn Munro who even back then played the two faced character he is still regularly cast as today.
Once again there are some punch ups and sword fights but this is the first entry that ends on a cliffhanger leading straight into Trancers V.
Thomerson does the best he can with the material but aside from that one scene the script is generally bad with few memorable lines.
Overall, Trancers IV is essentially the slow decline of the franchise but that one scene with the watch makes it worth it alone.
Trancers V: Sudden Deth
Plot: Jack’s back for one more round with the Trancers. Jack Deth must attempt to find his way home from the other-dimensional world of Orpheus, where magic works and the Trancers were the ruling class (before Trancers 4, that is). Unfortunately, Jack’s quest to find the mystical Diamond in the Castle of Unrelenting Terror may be thwarted by the return of Caliban, king of the Trancers and once thought dead.
Continuing right where Trancers IV ended Trancers V: Sudden Deth (Personally I would have called it Deth Rides a Horse) once again takes place in the alternate universe of Orpheus with Jack Deth stuck there and some of the Trancers still remaining including the hilariously monotoned voice Lucius (Mark Arnold) who narrates the first 10 minutes of the film which is just bringing us up to speed with what has happened previously so you can skip that and then the movie is just an hour and 20 minutes long.
Clabe Hartley returns as Lord Caliban who wants to destroy Jack and take back his castle after his defeat in part IV. Once again we get some sword fights and punch ups but this is another forgettable entry. It doesn’t even have anything like the slow motion scene from part IV to recommend it but if like me you’ll need to watch it all to get the complete story.
Tim Thomerson once again works with what he can and is even more stubborn and grumpy than ever although I liked the scene where he tells the girl Lyra that she needs to learn to love herself before loving someone else.
There are some fun moments and I’d happily spend the rest of my days in the Castle of Unrelenting Terror as it doesn’t seem like a terrible way to go…
Sadly the score is cheap and keyboardy sounding and doesn’t use the familiar themes from the first three films which is a shame.
Overall, Trancers V: Sudden Deth is another subpar sequel that is really just for fans of the character Jack Deth lacking anything that you’ll remember once it’s over.
Plot: Trancer hunter Jack Deth travels through time and awakens in the body of his daughter. And now he must save himself (her body) and the world from a new a deadly breed of Trancers.
So we come to final Trancers movie and they really shouldn’t have bothered as Tim Thomerson isn’t even in it; they poorly edit a video together as if it’s him speaking but it’s just clips from the previous movies spliced together. If you can’t get your main star to come back then maybe that’s the movie Gods telling you not to bother. Instead the main protagonist is Jack’s daughter Josephine (Zette Sullivan) but Jack has been sent back to save her from death so we get Zette Sullivan doing her best Jack Deth impression and to be fair she‘s actually not bad and manages to capture Thomerson’s attitude.
Alas practically everything else about this movie is terrible and I really wish they had left Trancers as a trilogy; these final 3 films aren’t great at all so I wouldn’t recommend them unless you’re really curious.
This at least does bring back the main theme tune and it has a few fight scenes and kills but it all looks so cheap that it’s never remotely thrilling and I was just wanting it to end so I can finally finish this franchise.
Overall, Trancers VI doesn’t have much to recommend it so I would say just watch the first three movies (and Trancers 1.5) then pretend the other movies don’t exist. At least parts 4 and 5 have Thomerson but this movie doesn’t even have that so why bother?
So that was the Trancers franchise; is anyone even still reading this? If so kudos to you. The first few movies are a lot of fun and it’s Tim Thomerson, Helen Hunt and Art LaFleur who make them as good as they are but it’s definitely the law of diminishing returns with the sixth entry really not worth your time. R.I.P. Art and see you down the line.