The Wraith (1986)

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A mysterious racer arrives in town and brings chaos for a gang in this underrated 1980s classic film.

Packard Walsh is the leader of a notorious racing gang. He likes to challenge random people to street races with the cars being the prizes. He also claims to be the boyfriend and possessor of Keri Johnson, a young woman who works at the local burger joint. One day, a mysterious young man named Jake Kesey comes into town. Immediately, he befriends burger cook Billy Hankins, whose brother Jamie was found dead a while back. Jake also eyes Keri and when the two meet, much to Packard’s chagrin, they become very close.

However, Packard and his gang soon find themselves targeted by a mysterious black car. When the car appears, members of the gang challenge the mystery racer to a street race. One that leaves each member dead. However, when Sheriff Earl Loomis investigates, he is surprised to learn that the bodies are intact instead of being burned beyond recognition with only their eyes missing. As Packard finds his gang slowly diminishing, he intends to find out who the mysterious driver is, as it is clear he and his gang are the ones the wraith is targeting.

Mike Marvin knows a thing of two about exciting action sequences, having worked as the skiing unit director on films like Hot Dog: The Movie and Better Off Dead. After making his directorial debut on the comedy Hamburger: The Motion Picture, Marvin wrote and directed this revenge film that meshes the idea of ghosts and a love for action in the form of street racers. Not to mention one heck of a soundtrack that just amps up the action.

Charlie Sheen, who at the time was beginning the height of his prolific career as one of the biggest young stars of the 1980s, is pretty cool as Jake Kesey, the mysterious new guy in town. It is pretty clear that Jake’s arrival coinciding with the arrival of the Wraith makes things obvious. However, it is still cool that it’s played off a bit on the nonchalant side. However, the signs are obviously there, especially with Jake sporting some scars on his back.

Sherilyn Fenn’s Keri is one wonderful character who doesn’t play a damsel in distress but rather someone who is just scared to stand up for herself out of fear to die. However, as she gets closer to Jake, she slowly begins to get that confidence to stand up to Packard, the gang leader who is played with a combination of sly wit and brutal terror in the form of Nick Cassavetes. If that name sounds familiar, then yes, he is the son of famous director John Cassavetes and is perhaps known for his work as a director today, notably The Notebook. Packard is truly a complete scumbag who thrives of invoking fear into everyone, including Billy Hankins, played by Matthew Barry, who would become a casting director in films including those of co-star Cassavetes. As for Randy Quaid, he doesn’t make much of an impact as the sheriff investigating the mysterious deaths of the gang.

The highlight of the film is the action. The film made use of a car in the form of a Dodge M4S Turbo Interceptor. While the car would eventually cease to exist, the car, driven by the titular Wraith, has a very sleek look that is meant just for this genre of sci-fi revenge. What’s even more fascinating is that the victims do not look wrecked but rather have their corpses perfectly intact with the exception of their eyes being burned out of the sockets. Perhaps this is a sign of why the Wraith seeks revenge on Packard’s gang. What helps the action is not just the camerawork (in which one action scene was responsible for the accidental death of Bruce Ingram, who the film is dedicated to), but the soundtrack is great as well, having artists like Ozzy Osbourne, Robert Palmer, Tim Feehan, and LaMarca to name a few.

The Wraith is an underrated gem of a film that is totally 80s: street races, ghosts, and a kick-ass soundtrack with Charlie Sheen and cast having fun with the film. An underrated 80’s gem of a sci-fi action film.

WFG RATING: B+

New Century Enterprises presents an Alliance Entertainment/John Kemeny production. Director: Mike Marvin. Producer: John Kemeny. Writer: Mike Marvin. Cinematography: Reed Smoot. Editing: Scott Conrad and Gary Rocklen.

Cast: Charlie Sheen, Nick Cassavetes, Sherilyn Fenn, Randy Quaid, Matthew Barry, Griffin O’Neal, Chris Nash, Clint Howard, Jamie Bozian, David Sherrill.

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