The 1980s were a delightfully insane period for lovers of genre cinema. Everywhere you looked oddball scripts were being given the greenlight by big studios as well as the independent players. It is the latter camp where you would find most of the truly “far out” narratives that may not always result in the highest-caliber film, but would typically become the features that would gain a dedicated cult following. Unless you are the biggest Charlie Sheen fan in the world (if so, I have questions), you have probably not heard of the 1986 science fiction-fantasy adventure tale The Wraith from director Mike Marvin. The film never played on more than 88 screens upon its theatrical release, but somehow fans have discovered it over the years for the cheesy good-bad time that it is. This movie has supernatural entities, street-car racing and Randy Quaid. What more could one ask out of any cinematic experience?
The film begins ominously with bright balls of lights descending from the night sky to join together like a supernatural Transformers entity into an all-black Dodge M4S Turbo Interceptor. The true meaning of this will not be revealed for a little bit, but the effect is quite striking in its low-rent 80s manner of combining offbeat cars with science fiction elements. We then happen upon a gang of car thieves who do not give motorists much of a choice when it comes to racing for pink slips. The leader of this unscrupulous group is Packard Walsh (Nick Cassavetes, Face/Off), a sociopath who uses intimidation to get everything he wants. This extends to Keri (Sherilyn Fenn, Twin Peaks), a young woman whose boyfriend, Jamie Hankins (Christopher Bradley), was recently murdered under mysterious circumstances one night while she ended up in the hospital with no memory of what occured. Packard views Keri as his property and has seemingly forced her into being with him. As he bluntly puts it at one point in the film, “If I can’t have you, no one will.” Between this behavior and the mystery surrounding Jamie’s murder, you will never guess who perpetrated such a heinous act.
Things shake up a bit upon the arrival of the mysterious, dirtbike-driving Jake Kesey (Charlie Sheen) who draws the attention of Keri before she is pulled away by the jealous Packard. With Jake in the crosshairs of Packard, Jake gains one more friend in the form of Billy Hankins (Matthew Barry), the brother of the slain Jamie. Not much is known about Jake outside of the fact that he sports some gnarly knife scars on his back and neck, and he seems like much more of a gentleman than Packard. His arrival also happens around the same time that the mysterious Interceptor comes back into play and the ominous figure behind the wheel begins to pick off members of Packard’s crew one by one in well-choreographed street races. These crimes are being investigated by Sheriff Loomis (Randy Quaid), who wants to solve the mystery behind these crashes but does not seem overly concerned about saving the scumbag thieves. You can guess most of the beats of the film before they happen, but it is rare that you cannot in these types of films.
The “good guys” in the film are given very little to do in terms of characterization, but the gang members are given a lot of room to have fun and really make the film what it is. Cassavetes imbues Packard with unadulterated malevolence that makes you root for his downfall at every turn. The drug-fueled Skank (David Sherrill) and Gutterboy (Jamie Bozian) are ridiculously over-the-top in the way you want from this genre. Skank drops a lot of cheesy wisecracks to make himself laugh and Gutterboy is the Muttley-esque figure snickering beside him. Despite having the largest modern name recognition, Charlie Sheen is very reserved and mostly sticks to looking “cool” and nonplussed about everything happening around him. Sherilyn Fenn is pleasant in her underdeveloped object of desire role, and none of the shortcomings to the character are placed on her shoulders.
The Wraith is not a good film, but it mostly serves its purpose as a ridiculous fantasy film that feels like a watered-down sci-fi version of Mad Max meets The Crow. The practically shot racing scenes are the best aspect of the film by far, and the crashes that stem from them do their part to quicken your pulse. The basic conceit of the story is enough to keep you intrigued by what might happen next within the story, but the execution and unflattering dialogue will make you laugh, and not on purpose. There is a very low-budget quality that this feature cannot shake, but given any more funds The Wraith may have lost that quality that makes it “good” bad instead of just flat-out awful. If you go in with the right set of expectations, you might have fun with this silly film.
The Wraith finally makes its Blu-Ray debut with a 1080p transfer that is overall a pleasant affair but not a knockout. While I have no specific details about the transfer, this appears to be derived from a dated master that has not had a huge amount of work done to it. From scene to scene the film can look either incredibly clear and detailed or a bit soft and lacking fine detail. The transfer is naturally filmic with some decent detail in the production design and texture of clothing. Colors do not particularly make an impression, appearing a bit washed out at points, and the black levels are passable in their depth. There are some occasional specks of print damage present in the transfer. It is readily apparent that you are watching an HD transfer, but do not expect to be blown away with the quality. This is the best that the film has ever looked on home entertainment, but a new scan could have done wonders to make it more consistently great.
Lionsgate Home Entertainment brings us this new Blu-Ray with a lossless DTS-HD 2.0 Master Audio mix that beautifully reproduces the film sonically. The dialogue holds up quite nicely, coming though clearly without being stepped on by the score or sound effects. The environmental effects are delineated nicely from the hustle and bustle of Big Kay’s burger shop to the madcap nature of the racing scenes. The movie is accompanied by a lively soundtrack that sounds great here. The 80s are alive and well all throughout this soundtrack. This is a track that represents the film in a very satisfying way. Optional English (SDH) and Spanish subtitles are provided on this disc.
- Audio Commentary #1: Writer/Director Mike Marvin provides a really solid commentary track in which he gives background information on the production, discusses his ongoing relationships with the performers, talks about the studio politics that cut down his shooting days for action scenes, how Johnny Depp was nearly in the film, turning a beauty shop into a burger joint, famous faces you can find in smaller roles, the production design in the film, shooting in the cold and much more.
- Audio Commentary #2: Host Michael Felsher from Red Shirt Pictures conducts an interview with actors Dave Sherrill and Jamie Bozian in which they discuss their background, how they got involved with the film, their real-life friendship, near scrapes they almost had on set, secrets from the set and more. Felsher keeps things rolling along with his questions which makes this one a bit more lively than the director track.
- Isolated Score Selections Featuring Audio Interview With Co-Composer J. Peter Robinson: Host Michael Felsher once again hosts this piece in which he interviews Robinson where he discusses what led him to the film, developing the sound for the film, his collaboration with Michael Hoenig and more.
- Tales From The Desert: A 16-minute piece in which Writer/Director Mike Marvin delves into his history in the industry, the “family tree of stolen ideas”, the shooting conditions, the performances in the film and much more. There are some repeated moments from the commentary track, but there are plenty of new insights to be gleaned.
- Rughead Speaks: A nearly 13-minute piece in which actor Clint Howard expresses his love of a paycheck, his appreciation for the film, his eclectic career, the film’s legacy and more. This is a fun addition.
- Ride Of The Future: A 12-minute piece in which Stunt Coordinator Buddy Joe Hooker and Transportation Coordinator Gary Hellerstein discuss the cars in the film, the difficulty of actually driving the vehicles, tragedy on the set and more.
- The Ghost Car: A 12-minute piece in which Visual Effects Producer Peter Kuran and Effects Animator Kevin Kutchaver discuss the ridiculous nature of the story, how they got involved with the project, creating the intro for the film, their favorite shots in the film, how they pulled off certain effects and more.
- The Wraith Filming Locations – Then And Now: A 27-minute featurette which takes the viewer on a tour of the original filming locations with comparison scenes from the film. It is shot on a phone so the quality is not the best, but it provides some interesting contrasting shots.
- Theatrical Trailer: A two-minute trailer that does a nice job of selling the film is provided here.
- TV Spots: A minute-and-a-half long collection of TV spots are included here.
- Alternate Title Sequence: A two-minute alternate title sequence is provided sporting the title of The Interceptor.
- Still Gallery: A collection of behind-the-scenes photos and promotional material are provided here.
The Wraith is a ridiculous little film, but it can be a blast to watch when you embrace its cheesy nature and narrative shortcomings. None of the performers are coming close to winning awards, but you have to admire how broadly acted these villains are portrayed. The film is not overlong and entertains enough to make you think you have not wasted your time. Lionsgate Home Entertainment has released a new Blu-Ray as a part of the Vestron Video Collector’s Series which sports a decent A/V presentation and some fantastic supplemental features. If you enjoy an oddball sci-fi revenge film every once in a while, this might bring you some enjoyment.
The Wraith is currently available to purchase on Blu-Ray and Digital.
Note: Images presented in this review are not reflective of the image quality of the Blu-Ray.
Disclaimer: Lionsgate Home Entertainment has supplied a copy of this disc free of charge for review purposes. All opinions in this review are the honest reactions of the author.
Dillon is most comfortable sitting around in a theatre all day watching both big budget and independent movies.