THIS Is Why I Love The Eighties! THE WRAITH (1986) Review

Every once in a while, a movie like Ghostriders or Backwoods will come along that tries and make you forget everything that was great about the eighties and actually come close to succeeding. Movies like those get you in a deep state of depression that only certain movies can bring you out of…I like to refer to these movies as the "classics." I was in this sort of depression after Ghostriders, and I tried watching Hell High to bring me out of it, but that didn’t do the trick. Then I unwittingly stumbled upon a classic, and it saved my life like you wouldn’t believe. Brace yourself, because we’re going to go face to face with…


The Wraith (1986) Review


Packard Walsh (Nick Cassavetes) is the leader of a gang of road pirates who force innocent drivers to drag race with them, and if they lose, they have to give their car to the gang. One day, a new kid arrives in town named Jake (Charlie Sheen) and begins to get romantically involved with Packard’s girlfriend Keri (Sherilyn Fenn). Jake’s new friend Billy (Matthew Barry) warns him about how his brother Jamie got caught making love with her and Packard’s gang killed him. Soon, Packard’s gang begins getting picked off by a mysterious figure in a high-tech car. It turns out that Jamie has returned as a wraith in the form of Jake, and he’s back to get revenge and reclaim a lost love.

First of all, The Wraith is not a horror movie. It has horror undertones, like the cool killer and the premise that seems ripped straight out of a slasher movie, but it never turns into a full-on scare picture. Imagine, if you will, a mix of Class of 1984, The Crow, and Death Proof. That’s really all that The Wraith is, but the way it pulls it off is beautiful. To begin, this movie is totally stuck in the ‘80s! And by that, I mean EVERYTHING is here! The fashions! The multitude of explosions! The greasy food! The fast cars! Charlie Sheen! The music! The gratuitous female booty shots! They’re all here! Oh, it’s more wonderful than I could possibly describe!

Now, I’m not going to tiptoe around this subject, so I’ll just come right out and address it: Charlie Sheen. Lately there’s been this whole “anti-Sheen” thing because of the drugs and all that, but I still like him. I think he’s a good actor, he was funny on Two and a Half Men, and it’s not like he became a serial rapist or anything like that. That being said, I liked him in The Wraith. It almost felt like he was sleepwalking through some scenes, but his character didn’t really call for much emotion, so that’s not his fault.

The rest of the cast is equally good, including Nick Cassavetes as the charismatic and psychotic gang leader, Clint Howard (who was also in the underrated 1981 slasher Evilspeak) as the nerdy Rughead (with huge hair), and the striking Sherilyn Fenn as the love interest. Randy Quaid was great, as always, as the local tough-as-nails sheriff who’s baffled by the rash murders. I didn’t think Matthew Barry’s acting was all that fantastic (particularly in a scene towards the end), but even he wasn’t too bad. The actors who play the members of the gang all nail their respective parts with a bullet, from David Sherril as the hudraulic fuel-guzzling Skank, to Jamie Bozian as the not-too-bright Gutterboy.

Of all the films I have seen, The Wraith probably has the best collection of car chases ever to be shot and released. Mind you, it doesn’t have the best car chase I’ve ever seen, but there have to be around five or six chases in this movie, and none of them are bad at all. Granted, the last one was a little bit of a let down because there was nothing to set it apart from the other chases, but it was still fantastic. They’re all put to these great eighties rock songs, and even if it’s easy to determine who will end up winning the race, they still succeed in getting your adrenaline racing. Oh, and there are lots of explosions in this movie. We get lots of car explosions, as well as one HUGE explosion that you just don’t see anymore; all of the explosions are practical, so none of those B.S. CGI explosions we see in most movies today.

The wraith himself is one cooling looking mother as he is clad head to toe in a futuristic suit complete with a motorcycle helmet. My one problem is with how short the person playing him is. There’s one point in the movie where the wraith stands face to face with Cassavetes, and the wraith is a full four-five inches shorter than him, so it’s hard to make him menacing with that little size comparison. The car itself was a Dodge M4S, which was constructed by both Dodge and Chrysler for an estimated whopping $1.5 million, and was made for the Indy Car World Series. The car is apparently the only one in existence, and it does look really futuristic.

The soundtrack for the movie is phenomenal, featuring such musicians as Ozzy Osbourne, Motley Crue, Billy Idol, Bonnie Tyler, and more classic eighties musicians, all putting out great songs. And while it’s not a horror flick, there are a few creepy scenes. For one, whenever the wraith turns a gang member’s car into an inferno, and the paramedics pull the body out, the body isn’t burned at all, and their eyes are missing. There’s also a great scene in a graveyard, as well as some atmospheric shots of the wraith in the distance. There are a few horror references as well, like the sheriff being named Loomis, and Skank saying a line from John Carpnter's The Thing.

This review has gone on long enough, so I’m just going to cut it off here. The point of the whole matter is The Wraith is great. Even though the trailer plays it up like a horror movie, it’s definitely not. It’s an awesome action movie through and through that is quintessential for all ‘80s buffs. It was released on a special edition a while ago by the good people over at Lionsgate with a lot of special features, including an interview with the great Clint Howard, an interview with the director, a commentary with the director, a detailed account of the making of the car, and a trailer. Definitely worth a purchase, as this is one of, if not the best, menacing car movies ever.

The Verdict: The Wraith is an exceptional testosterone-filled eighties action movie that is guaranteed to wipe the bad taste of other movies from the eighties out of your mouth. Ghostriders? What’s that?

Score: 10/10

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