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The Wraith Mixes Vengeful Ghost Story with Drag Racing

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This is more like things that go "Vroom! Vroom!" but at Things That Go Bump we aren't afraid to venture into sci-fi/action if some of our favorite horror/suspense elements are in place.


(Image © Alliance Communications Corporation)

Remember when Charlie Sheen was a young, up and coming actor? This one was in the middle of his Oliver Stone phase and probably in between cocaine binges and hooker parties and you probably missed it unless you were digging through the bargain bin or up late one night watching the SyFy channel.

Basic Plot Summary (Spoilers Herein)

This all happens somewhere in Arizona during the hair metal '80s. The plot is pretty simple. Basically, The Wraith is The Crow with cars, '80s hair metal, and hot women. Allow me to elaborate a bit.

A gang races people for cars and terrorizes locals. The gang is comprised of one person with a real name — the leader, Packard Walsh (played by Nick Cassavettes) — and a bunch of other misfits ranging from the super nerdy (Clint Howard's character) to just downright mean or weird. The ones with nicknames don't have real names which is the first clue that they are going to die (except Clint Howard — can't kill Opie's brother).

A new guy in town (Sheen) shows up on a motorcycle and makes new friends with other locals. He has a lot of scars on his back. (We'll come back to that.) One is the brother of the a guy killed by the gang (this is revealed through flashbacks in redlight). Sherilyn Fenn (super hot as always) is the obession of the leader of the gang and the former girlfriend of the guy who was killed.

The gang sees a super fast black car (Dodge M4S pace car) and challenges it to a race (without seeing the driver). We later learn this car is driven by The Wraith — the Wraith who's dressed in part Indy-car driver suit/part spaceman get up — a ghost of sorts sent to stand up to the bullying ways of the gang. The super fast black car not only outruns the gang member in the race, but turns around, and hits him in a head-on collision. A massive explosion takes up the screen.

We see the cops (including Randy Quaid as sheriff) investigate. The dead gang member looks like he was pulled from a hot tub though his car is destroyed and burnt to a crisp. There's no evidence of the other car (except the mysterious arm brace of the driver that appears and disappears in the wreckage). This repeats until almost the whole gang is killed in one race or crash after another. Quaid's sheriff sneers and harasses the gang trying to catch "the kid using his car to kill people" all to no avail.

After all the gang is killed (except Clint Howard's character), Packard tries to run away with the girl of his obsession (who has figured out who killed her old boyfriend) only to be challenged to a race by the Wraith car. This race goes longer than the others but ends in the same fiery crash with Packard dead. Sheen (who we all know is The Wraith by now) switches back to his alter ego and returns to say good-bye to his brother (leaving him the black car that does "special things") and to get his girl who finally acknowledges she knows his true identity. Cue up the hair metal rock song and they ride off into the desert moon.

Analysis

The plot here is nothing groundbreaking or new. However, it is very well executed for a film of limited resources. Aside from the special effects (the black car cost an estimated $1.5 million in 1986), there isn't much spent in the way of sets or dressing, which gives you a feeling of watching a real place. The complete lack of real authority or adults adds the typical '80s social commentary of the generation with "missing parents" who, when left to their own devices, will form a society all their own. The gang members are a well-mixed bunch of stereotypical "bad dudes" who are portrayed well by the cast, especially Cassavettes. At times, Fenn plays the typical hot girl airhead, but she also shows some processing and strength rarely assigned to female roles in this genre during the time period. Sheen is who is always was in those days and is on screen for very little of the film (not sure if he was wearing the Wraith suit or not).

I can't go on without talking about the soundtrack to this movie. Ozzy Osbourne, Billy Idol, Motley Crue, and a host of others from the MTV rotation make the cut and provide an almost endless background for the film. There are very few scenes where music isn't a big part of what's happening on the screen and it keeps the film up and moving in between the car races and crashes.

Recommendation

This one is a RENT IT with a reservation — wait until March, 2010 when the special edition disc hit shelves. From what I've read, the transfer is much cleaner, some very short clips (mostly extra footage excised in various edits) are restored, as well as audio commentary and interviews with the cast will be available. Bottom line: this is a good ghost story mixed with all the fun trappings of '80s teen-against-the-world films and is worth watching.

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About J. Newcastle

  • http://www.thewraithcar.com Wes

    Thanks for the review, it’s nice to see a cult film get some good play! We have one of the original prop cars from the film, and the suit that was worn by the Wraith. Our URL is attached to my name, come check us out.