THE WRAITH (1986)
“Roadblocks won’t stop something that can’t be stopped!”- Sheriff Loomis (Randy Quaid)
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If there ever is a flick that screams “80s”, it’s Mike Marvin’s The Wraith. From it’s delightfully 80s fashions and hair, candy colored cinematography and heavy metal soundtrack (tracks listed below), this film is a ton of fun simply for the nostalgia alone. The story takes place in a small Arizona desert town were a thug by the name of Packard Walsh (Nick Cassavetes) rules over a vicious gang of car jockeys. Aside from racing, their hobbies are stealing cars, bullying townspeople and even murder when it comes to anyone even looking at the object of Packard’s twisted attention, Keri (Sherilyn Fenn). But Packard starts to lose his grip when mysterious stranger, Jake (Charlie Sheen) comes to town with eyes for Keri…and a mysterious car shows up as well, that starts taking out Packard’s gang. Are this stranger and this car connected?…and what do they have to do with the death of Keri’s previous boyfriend, Jamie (Christopher Bradley)?
Written and directed by Mike Marvin, this is a goofy…though taken fairly seriously…flick that is a mix of The Car, The Terminator and The Crow, though it predates the latter, with it’s protagonist avenging his own murder, by three years for the graphic novel and twelve for the film. It’s basically a series of fast paced car chases set to blasting heavy metal with each contest ending in flames and twisted wreckage. The film is a lot of fun, if you can get past the awkward performances from some of the supporting cast and the cheesy dialogue, such as the snippet above. There is never an explanation as to how Jamie is able to return…in a blaze of cheesy 80s animations effects, no less…and why he looks like Charlie Sheen or has a pimped up Dodge. There are some other very strange elements here that are never explained, such as the victims being dead yet showing no bodily damage, as one would in a car crash, and whenever The Wraith claims a victim, one of his metal arm or leg braces disappears…WHAT? Who cares as long as we’re entertained and The Wraith does that, scatterbrained plot or not. When we are not getting heavy metal blasting on the soundtrack, there is a perfectly 80s electronic score by Michael Hoenig and J. Peter Robinson and that candy colored cinematography is photographed by Reed Smoot. An almost perfect example of the kind of low budget flick that dominated the mid to late 80s and could still be seen in a theater where flicks like this belong!
The main cast is fun and give their parts their all. Charlie Sheen is suitably mysterious as the handsome stranger that comes into to town to woo Keri. As The Wraith, the character is in a suit of space-aged armor, so Sheen is only on screen sporadically in the scenes with Sherilyn Fenn and Matthew Barry, who plays Jamie’s brother Billy. Fenn is a little wooden, but looks incredibly hot as Keri. She claims not to be Packard’s girlfriend yet is too frightened to walk away from him…until dreamy, mysterious Jake shows up. She and Sheen do have a bit of chemistry on screen. Cassavetes is a perfectly slimy, psycho villain and we can’t wait till he and the avenger with the futuristic Dodge meet on the highway to Hell. Randy Quaid is fun as the tough guy Sheriff, who is the only one who stands up to Packard, as is Clint Howard a hoot as one of Packard’s eccentric goons. As for the supporting cast, here is where some of the acting gets really shaky and provides some unintentional laughs. 80s horror fans can also keep a look out for a familiar face, as there is also a small role from Intruder and Night Of The Creeps star Elizabeth Cox as the girlfriend of a guy who loses his car to Packard in a race.
The Wraith is a blast of 80s fun and while it wasn’t a big hit back in the day, it has earned a following as a cult classic. Sure the script is a bit on the goofy side and a lot of things are never explained, but the film is entertaining enough to get passed all that, especially now with the delightful and bountiful 80s nostalgia. The film is a remembrance of the type of flick they don’t make anymore…outside of some recent homages…and is a real good time especially when accompanied by some of your favorite brews.
3 nostalgically fun wraiths.
Track Listing from the Soundtrack CD
1. Where’s The Fire – Tim Feehan
2. Those Were The Days – Honeymoon Suite
3. Hearts Vs Heads – Stan Bush
4. Hold On Blue Eyes – LaMarcha
5. Young Love, Hot Love – Jill Michaels
6. Secret Loser – Ozzy
7. Never Surrender – Lion
8. Bad Mistake – James House
9. Wake Up Call – Ian Hunter
10. Matter Of The Heart – Bonnie Tyler
Songs featured in the film but not on the CD
1. Smokin’ in the Boys Room – Mötley Crüe
2. Addicted to Love – Robert Palmer
3. Scream of Angels – Nick Gilder
4. Power Love – Lion
5. Rebel Yell – BillyIdol
…and Clint Howard, just because…