Although the Trancers (review) straight-to-video franchise has developed a religious cult following over the past several years, these carbon-dated VHS oddities have never received an acceptable DVD release. Previous transfers have been cropped, grainy, or blurry, with out-of-place fades that indicate missing footage. With several inadequate DVD incarnations already littering the landscape, New Video is offering yet another shitty option with Trancers: The Ultimate Deth Collection, which packs the first five Tim Thomerson-led films into one 5-disc set, along with some extra features and bloopers.
The New Video transfer (particularly in the case of the original film) is just as godawful as previous releases, ugly and smeared, making a veritable mockery of director Charles Band’s inventive lighting and lavish colors. Despite a decided lack of quality offered by New Video’s recent release, the Trancers films remain a cultural touchstone that are rarely mentioned (even on this site), and are always worth revisiting.
Let’s take a look: Trancers (1985):
Tim Thomerson plays Jack Deth, a sarcastic “future cop” sent back in time to 1985 Los Angeles to stop a cult leader from transforming weak-minded citizens into zombie-like creatures called “trancers”. An adorable Helen Hunt plays his skeptical but totally smitten love interest. Editor Ted Nicolaou would go on to direct the Subspecies franchise for Full Moon.
Memorable Deth-ism: “I’m from another time, another world. I don’t even know what you people eat for lunch.”
4 out of 5 Skulls
Trancers II: The Return of Jack Deth (1991):
This sequel features even more awkward Thomerson/Hunt make-outs, more of the crappy synth score, and more body switching, as Deth tries to take out Whistler’s evil brother with help from his dead wife, who happens to be inhabiting the body of (yowza!) Megan Ward. Jeff Combs and Barbara Crampton have cameo roles.
Memorable Deth-ism: “The day you don’t surprise me is the day I’ll be surprised.”
3.5 out of 5 Skulls
Trancers III (1992):
Easily the worst entry in the franchise, Jack Deth is now a private detective in present-day L.A., on the verge of divorce from Hunt. Naked titties and stifled make-ups from KNB can’t save the borderline incoherent storyline, which involves….some bullshit I couldn’t really follow. Hunt appears briefly, but quickly bailed on the Trancers franchise to pursue a legitimate career on NBC’s Mad About You.
Memorable Deth-ism: None
1 out of 5 Skulls
Trancers IV: Jack of Swords (1994):
Jack is supplanted to a medieval world called Orpheus, where evil Lord Caliban and his nobles rule with impunity. The trancers adopt a more vampiric slant in this entry, as Caliban and Co. prefer to drain their peasant population of life force in order to survive. As Jack works alongside the cleavage-enhanced leader of an underground resistance called the “tunnel rats”, the film manages to provide its fair share of “Huzzah!” moments. Also tries (and fails) to make the butterfly knife hip again.
Memorable Deth-ism: “En garde, motherfucker.”
3 out of 5 Skulls
Trancers V: Sudden Deth (1994):
Filmed consecutively with Trancers IV in Romania––Jack is still trapped on the medieval Orpheus––the final Thomerson-starring entry is strangely misogynistic. Seriously, within the first five minutes alone the narrator has mentioned the “bitch leader of the tunnel rats” and that Orpheus is a world “where women don’t know their place”. Before a final confrontation with Lord Caliban, Jack Deth must face his fears in the “Castle of Unrelenting Terror”, which seems to consist of a massive orgy followed by a face-off with his doppelganger.
Deth-ism: “I’m beginning to think that a woman isn’t a real woman unless she makes you want to smack her in the chops.”
2 out of 5 Skulls
Supplanting logic and reasoning with silly dialogue and invigoratingly cheesy action, the Trancers films are textbook entries in the “so bad, it’s good” sub-genre. Admittedly, it’s a difficult franchise to respect, but in the end, this is one likable fucking saga. Thomerson embraces his role with the perfect amount of sarcastic bemusement, and the whole 5-film endeavor is simply too silly not to love. It’s been given a raw deal where an acceptable DVD release is concerned, but the Trancers franchise remains worth remembering.