The Bottom Shelf: Trancers trilogy

Our round-up of genre DVD and Blu-ray releases this time covers Trancers and Enemy Mine...

Los Angeles. The year is 2005. Future cop Jack Deth (yes, that’s spelt right) has gone back in time to disrupt a shady organisation’s plans to destroy the city and enslave its inhabitants. Full Moon Productions head honcho Charles Band’s third instalment in his ever-diminishing-returns cyberpunk franchise Trancers suffers the old cliché of past visions of a near future, viewed retrospectively being somewhat too near. Brilliantly, this is only one of the less ridiculous moments in the highly entertaining first three films of the six-and-a-bit Trancers series (Jack Deth made a cameo appearance in Band’s stoner curio Evil Bong too, don’t you know), given a nice DVD box-set treatment by 88 Films this month. With the unreconstructed Deth a source of endless cheesy one-liners and sci-fi antics, these are perhaps the best and most enjoyable of Band’s movies, admittedly slim pickings in both categories. Deth’s first outing came in 1986’s Trancers, drawing heavily from James Cameron’s The Terminator, released a couple of years earlier, and Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, two years before that. Considering the disparity in budget, star-power, script and, erm, direction, the biggest surprise with Band’s first film in the series is that it’s actually pret-ty, pret-ty, pret-ty good. Tim Thomerson, our granite-faced private dick hero, is somewhere between Deckard and Sam Spade, albeit swapping the replicant-hunting for Trancer-hunting, Trancers being normal people turned into violent killers by the evil Whistler (Michael Stefani).


Central to the series is the method of time-travel, which involves injecting residents of a bleak future L.A entirely submerged under water with some mystery liquid that transfers their consciousness back in time to inhabit the body of their ancestor. With Deth, he lucks out and wakes up having just frolicked with a young Helen Hunt. With Deth’s cigar-chomping boss, though, sent back to give him his orders, he ends up in the body of a young girl, leading to all kinds of body-swap silliness and gruff police boss lines coming from a butter-wouldn’t-melt visage. With future neon visuals done on the cheap and a decent sense of dystopia throughout, surprisingly high production values lend an air of quality from the studio that brought us the Gingerdead Man and Demonic Toys films.

So, obviously the line “The next time someone sends you an exploding ham, I’m gonna pass the mustard,” confirms Trancers 2: The Return Of Jack Deth as the best in the series, but that’s not all it’s got going for it. Thomerson returns as our hero, alongside Hunt as a Lidl Sarah Connor and Deth’s future L.A wife Alice (Megan Ward) to make for a kind of time-swapping, chauvinistic ménage a trois. Band, returning at the helm, also brings with him an oddly restrained Jeffrey Combs as a hired goon, better effects this time round and big bad Whistler’s brother, the evil boss of an eco-friendly cult, a pasty/pastry-faced Richard Lynch on top form, chewing the scenery like it was a Quorn steak-style slice.

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Trancers 3: Deth Lives (brilliant name by the way) ups the silliness quotient with the inclusion of tough android sidekick Shark, who helps Jack face off against Hellraiser’s hammy Andrew Robinson as Colonel Daddy Muthuh (nothing odd here) and his legion of even-better-made-up Trancers.

With a bad buzz-cut new look for Jack and Hunt’s career taking off enough to ensure just a cameo appearance, this isn’t quite peak Trancers (if there is such a thing), though provides some enjoyable fight scenes, the usual halloumi one-liners and the added threat of Jack becoming the thing he hates most (no, not Michael Gove): one of Muthuh’s trancers. This was the first Trancers pic where Band took a back seat, though there remains plenty of that trademark Full Moon goofiness to go around.


Providing the horror-themed filler in this month’s science fiction sandwich (I like to think a real-life equivalent of this would feature Smash, 3D printed edible plastic bread and, erm, cyber-corned beef) is Island Of Death director Nico Mastorakis’ distinctive 1985 take on the standard slasher flick, The Zero Boys, out on Blu-ray.

With a perhaps not-as-effective-as-he thinks hero named Mad Max, an opening sequence spoofing First Blood and all the phallic imagery and Freudian references any self-respecting viewer could ask for, Mastorakis’ film is all about the role of macho men in modern society. Oh, and a cabin in the woods/stabby owner.

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Opening with a weird fancy dress shoot-out (complete with a Jewish villain dressed in Nazi garb, obvs) occurring in a ghost town, where, let’s say, snakes, cock-shooting and pistols all get a prominent role, The Zero Boys isn’t quite as clever as Mastorakis seems to think, suffering from an uncertain tone and every usual slasher failing. Kind of a sub-Deliverance with a wonderfully cheesy score from none other than the great Hans Zimmer presumably grafting as a jobbing film composer, though, this schlong-heavy treatment of an overly-familiar plot is more than worth a ride (so sorry).


We finish this month’s round-up with the Blu-ray release of what was the unasked-for reunion of Jaws 3-D actors Dennis Quaid and Louis Gossett, Jr (sadly the juvenile great white shark was busy filming D.A.R.Y.L) in Wolfgang Petersen’s 1985 big-budget megaflop Enemy Mine.

Whether the film’s lack of success stemmed from its unexpectedly meditative tone for a sci-fi action flick or, for this writer’s money, ostensibly male alien pregnancy wasn’t de rigeur at the time (bear in mind that the – ahem – ground-breaking Junior was still nine years away), a more recent viewing reveals an intelligent, hell, important even, film way better than the standard meathead fare it lost out to. So yeah. In a bleak future, with director Petersen’s ambitiously epic visuals rendered beautiful in lovely HD, Quaid is a human space fighter pilot stranded on a hostile planet, coincidentally at the same time as Gossett, Jr’s heavily made-up reptile-man, whose X-wing craft is also buggered. Turns out the two races are mortal enemies, which is more than a little awkward to say the least, but to survive, the two must work together whilst learning valuable life lessons and admirably keeping straight faces against all odds. Both Quaid and Gossett somehow wring dignity from a potentially deeply undignified situation, evoking real pathos and even prompting the occasional instance of forgetting the movie’s general silliness.


Like Zero Boys, Petersen’s film, essentially an existential alien western somewhere between Dances With Wolves and The Martian, challenges traditional Hollywood ideas about masculinity in an agreeably high concept way and skilfully restages the cowboy/Native American/civil war dynamic for an entirely new audience. Sadly classed in the category of failed blockbusters way ahead of their time (Heaven’s GatePopeye), Enemy Mine is equally deserving of reappraisal.

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Oh, and it’s got a mini-sarlacc, a great futuristic score from Jean Michel Jarre’s dad Maurice, and Brion James (Blade Runner’s “Wake up! Time to die!” go-to bad guy), if philosophical meandering doesn’t float your boat.

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