Sunday, December 04, 2016

Trancers 4: Jack of Swords – review

Director: David Nutter

First aired: 1994

Contains spoilers

Full Moon pictures are best known on TMtV for their Subspecies series of films (and spin offs). But as well as those there is the long running Trancers series (actually the first Trancers film was made by Charles Band via Empire Pictures, and the series later became part of Band's Full Moon stable).

Trancers is a sci-fi noir series… actually it is cheesy B movie fair and the first couple of films, featuring future cop (and Trancer hunter) Jack Deth (Tim Thomerson, Near Dark, Live Evil & Wicked Lake), were cheesy good fun with a time travel aspect. The Trancers themselves are mind controlled zombie-like creatures. The third film nearly killed me off, to be honest, but this fourth film saw a change in pattern and I owe a thank you to Leila who told me about films 4 and 5.

the time machine
Jack has defeated the Trancers and is working for the Council (the rulers of 2353) and is going through time sorting out issues with the time lines. Having been a misogynist pig to a woman, Lyra (Stacie Randall, From Dusk Till Dawn 2: Texas Blood Money), in a bar he goes back to work and discovers she is the new tech maestro. She gives him a plasma gun, a cut through anything knife and the new version of the long-second watch. The long-second watch is a gizmo that will slow time around the user, stretching a second for everyone else to ten seconds for them. He aims to go back through time on a new assignment but is attacked in the time machine by a solenoid stowaway and the machine flips to another universe.

a trancer dying
The land he arrives in – called Orpheus but looking suspiciously like Romania – is a land where magic works and – he slowly discovers – his tech doesn’t (or at least not properly). Within moments of arriving he is checking out a scream and sees a cloaked figure, Borgia (Adrian Pintea, Vlad), leaning over a woman. Now, Jack does call the man a bloodsucker but also recognises him as a trancer and, as he fights his foe, the victim, Tessa (Rona Hartner), warns him to be careful as the trancer will drain him dry. Eventually he impales Borgia on a tree branch – the trancer turning various glowing colours before vaporising.

Now, the trancers did vaporise on death anyway so it is the feeding that make these ones different. Like their zombie-like alternatives these change their face into a more monstrous visage, however these seem to have more control in this state and feeding allows them to revert back again. The feeding is where the film sends mixed messages. They are called vampires by Jack, they go for the neck and call humans ‘meat’. However it is clear that they are draining lifeforce – and their victims glow white, through blue to red. At red they die and the draining of life force makes these energy vampires.

tunnel rats
There are rebels – the tunnel rats – who seek out Jack as his coming has been prophesised by a monk called Farr (Alan Oppenheimer). There is talk of a disembodied wizard called Oberon who the leader of the vampire trancers, Caliban (Clabe Hartley), fears. Caliban has two primary goals – to get his ‘meat’ sympathising son Prospero (Ty Miller, Slaughterhouse Rock) to feed and to convince Jack to tell him how to get to Jack’s universe. To this end, he uses a slave woman who looks exactly like Lyra to tempt him to the darkside (as it were).

Tim Thomerson as Jack Deth
The story is simplistic but the film has pluses. Tim Thomerson reminds me, in many respects, of Bruce Campbell and this outing has overtones of Army of Darkness – which was released two years before and took the Evil Dead franchise into a medieval/fantasy setting. His portrayal of Deth sets the misogyny bar deliberately high and revels in the B-ness of it. The one liners perhaps don’t flow as thick and fast as previous outings – though you have to appreciate any film with the line “en garde Motherf*cker!” It perhaps doesn’t go as comic as Army of Darkness but the comedy is there and flows through the Jack Deth character.

Mark Arnold as Lucius
The tunnel rats are entirely undeveloped, bar the character Shaleen (Terri Ivens), and the acting rather wooden too. However the nobles (as the vampires are referred to) all seem to ham it up to the max. Especially Clabe Hartley as Caliban and Mark Arnold as his lieutenant, Lucius. Indeed Lucius could well be a prototype for the character Kraven in Underworld, though this performance outstrips the later one by a country mile. As for the vampires, beyond being tough to kill – unless you’re Jack Deth – and draining energy, the only pieces of lore seem to be that they have no reflection and they came from another world themselves.

It isn’t great, if we are going to be honest, and it is as cheesy as the most pungent Camembert but it is good fun. The edition I watched for review was in a set of the first five films. 4 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

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