Can you believe I had never seen Trancers? In addition to being a popular cult movie that's right in my It-Came-from-the-'80s wheelhouse, it's one of the most famous titles (and eventually franchises) in the Full Moon/Empire library. How did I manage to miss it for almost 30 years?
This wasn't going to be my next Full Moon Fever column. It was going to be Gingerdead Man, as I'm hoping to bounce back and forth between the "classic" titles and the newer stuff that better represents where Full Moon is at in 2014. But it's 1985 week at F This Movie! in honor of F This Movie Fest 3, and I was thrilled to find out that not only did Charles Band direct a movie in 1985, but that the movie was motherfucking Trancers. Finally, all my wrongs could be righted. Righted? Rightten. Righted.
There are a lot of aspects of Trancers that feel derivative at first. The title sounds like Scanners and the premise -- future cop needs to hunt down a bunch of things passing as human -- might sounds a bit like Blade Runner, an influence that's also evident in the movie's neon-soaked future-noir production design and even Jack Deth's tan trenchcoat. The movie may also borrow elements of The Terminator in its time travel games -- that the way to wipe someone out is to go back and time and kill his or her parents, an ingenious premise played out by James Cameron just one year prior. But unlike last week's Full Moon Fever movie Oblivion, this one is more than just pastiche. Trancers is its own cool thing: a small genre movie that wants to be big, introducing underwater cities and future tech and spanning multiple centuries (though in the interest of budget, most of it takes place in present-day 1985). Whereas some of the newer Full Moon titles are much smaller in scope -- small monsters, single locations, static photography designed to be viewed at home -- Charles Band's productions of the '80s and '90s felt like real movies, meant to be seen on big screens, even when they weren't.
For a movie called Trancers, there aren't very many Trancers in Trancers (it was also released as Future Cop, a title that's more accurate but also way too on-the-nose). Jack Deth really only encounters two and a half Trancers in the movie. That's not a lot of Trancers! At least one of them is a Santa Trancer. Trancers makes up for the absence of Trancers by always being cool and fun, but it was something of a surprise to see a movie I assumed to be about a guy hunting Trancers only to find out there is very little Death-on-Trancer action. I'm guessing there's more in the sequels; by my count, there are five more Trancers movies after this (though the sixth one has little to do with Band, I think, and Tim Thomerson appears mostly in stock footage from the previous films). I'm curious to see how subsequent movies answer the question of how more Trancers are created, since it's established here that they are specific to Whistler's hypnotic powers. I'm actually looking forward to finding that out.
Cowboys & Aliens and now seeing Trancers, in which people lay down in beds hooked up to IV lines as their bodies lie still and their consciousnesses are transported somewhere else reminds me a LOT of some very similar images from Inception. Did Christopher Nolan really steal from Trancers? Probably not, but let's give credit to Charles Band for having multi-million dollar ideas years before Hollywood ever catches up.
Trancers is a cool fucking movie. It has a cool character in Jack Deth (even his name is cool). It has a cool concept. It looks cool; Band put a lot of thought into the film's visual aesthetic, from Deth's noir cool to Leena's punk rock cool to the vintage car to the neon lights at night. It's not a classic in the traditional sense, because Band doesn't make "classics." He makes cool fucking movies. Those are the ones that make an impression on us genre fans. The ones we keep coming back to year after year. In that way, a cool fucking movie like Trancers actually does become a classic.
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