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STUDIO: Lion’s Gate
RUNNING TIME: 93 minutes
• Interview with Clint Howard
• Interview with Mike Marvin
• History of the Car
The director of The Notebook fights a haunted car.
Charlie Sheen, Sherilyn Fenn, Randy Quaid, Nick Cassavetes
Director: Mike Marvin
If you like 80’s action-cheese, fast cars, ‘xplosions, Sherilyn Fenn’s breasts, ridiculous representations of gangs, Clint Howard, and Charlie Sheen back when he was more of an actor than a punchline… well then, my friend, The Wraith just might be for you.
The 1980’s often gets shit from film critics and historians as having been a bad time for good movies. Coming on the heels of the meaty late 60’s and 70’s, and then so thoroughly embracing the post-Star Wars blockbuster mentality, I suppose I can see why they feel that way. I’m not sure I totally agree, but that’s a discussion for a different forum. In either case, one thing I think we can all agree on is that the 80’s were a great time for bad movies.
Bad movies like The Wraith.
Yes, let’s not mince words. The Wraith is bad film. Yet there is something undeniably fantastic about it in that weird signature 1980’s way. (I should note: this is not a nostalgia film for me. I have no fond, judgment-clouding childhood memories of the film.) I’ve often wondered what exactly it is about these 80’s films that is so uniquely fun, and while watching The Wraith I think I finally realized what it is. The 80’s film industry was known for its ridiculous bubble of spending. You could sell a one-sentence pitch for hundreds of thousands of dollars, and seemingly get funding for any film, no matter how retarded the concept. So films that in previous decades would’ve been relegated to the Ed Woodian wilderness of filmmaking – films like The Wraith – were getting actual budgets and actual actors elevating them to a level of perfect watchability. It must’ve been a glorious time to be a junk filmmaker.
The Wraith is full of many things you want/expect from a silly 80’s b-movie, such as:
1) It’s got a gonzo high concept: a mysterious drifter, Jake (Charlie Sheen) rolls into town at the same time as a mysterious and magical car, the Turbo Interceptor, whose driver seems to have a vendetta against the town’s local gang.
2) It’s got a ridiculous villain: Packard (mediocre director Nick Cassavetes), whose go-to villain move is forcing random people to race him for pink slips.
3) It’s got a ridiculous gang of punks: maybe it was all fallout from The Warriors, but one of the most signature 80’s staples was the weirdo villain gang. Here we’ve got characters with names like Rughead, Skank and Gutterboy. And you know one of them is gonna have a mohawk.
4) It’s got a heroine with a gym rat body: sinisterly hot Sherilyn Fenn, who plays Packard’s beleaguered girlfriend who takes a shining to Jake and also had a previous relationship with a man that Packard killed out of jealousy… a man who just might be driving the Turbo Interceptor! Dun dun dunnn!
5) It’s got nudity: say what you will about 80’s cinema, but its saving grace for an entire generation of young men will always be its staunch dedication to nudity. These days, unless an Oscar is on the line, only extras and peripheral characters get naked. The Wraith is PG-13, and still Fenn manages to drop her top for our benefit. Thank you Sherilyn. Thank you 80’s. Don’t think it wasn’t appreciated.
The central “mystery” of The Wraith is whether or not Jake (Sheen) is the man driving the Turbo Interceptor, aka the ‘wraith.’ Packard is determined to capture the ghost car to add to his collection, but each time there is a race, one of Packard’s goons winds up dead. Not just dead, but missing his eyes and with ice-cold skin, unharmed from their car’s explosion. There is never an explanation given for this supernatural mutilation, but whatever, it serves the purpose of letting Packard and the town’s sheriff (Randy Quaid) know that something fishy is going on.
I won’t spoil the mystery about Jake and the wraith, but I think you’ll find the outcome shocking! Shockingly unshocking! 1986 was the year for Charlie Sheen. Along with The Wraith he also appeared in Platoon, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Lucas. It’s easy to see how he was able to fit so many films in, because he’s frankly not in that much of The Wraith. Until the midway point he’s barely in it at all. And I don’t mind. The most interesting aspect of his presence is it means we get to see more of the achingly sexy Sherilyn Fenn…
…but Fenn aside, Jake and Keri’s story is dull. The real star of this show is Cassavetes and his idiot entourage’s nutty war with the Turbo Interceptor. Mike Marvin began his career making skiing films (he also directed the ingeniously awful Dick Butkus vehicle, Hamburger: The Motion Picture), so the racing scenes are up to snuff (a little too up to snuff, as I’ll explain later). But even more than the action, I simply enjoyed the absurd characters. Cassavetes, despite being 6’4, is comically unconvincing as Packard, which works in a weird sort of way, making Packard seem like a pathetic poser trying to act tough. His scenes bullying Keri are crap brilliance. After a member of their gang dies, and Keri is crying in Packard’s car, Packard does what any good boyfriend would do… he pulls a knife on her, threatens her about remaining faithful to him, then cuts his own hand for effect. You can practically see Cassavetes rolling his eyes at the dialogue and actions he’s being forced to execute.
Fenn is the only actor who gives anything close to a legit performance in the film, and I’m not just saying that because she makes me want to get a bottle of champagne, some body oil and a time machine. Her performance is believable and at times understated, which makes it completely out of place in The Wraith. Cause the overacting on display with the rest of the gang is quite amazing – a special tip of the ham hat to David Sherrill as Skank, who loves drinking anti-freeze and snorting WD-40 and snickering like he’s on a children’s program. And we can’t forget Clint Howard, sporting an awesome Eraserhead shock-fro as Rughead. Normally I’d say it’s a stupid move having an ugly troll serve as the race-starting hanky-waver – instead of the classic sexy chick archetype – but when it’s Clint Howard, I’ll give it a pass. No film can ever have too much of Howard in the wig he’s wearing here.
I imagine that the people who made The Wraith a cult film (which I was unaware it is until this DVD) love the Turbo Interceptor. I’m not much of a car guy, so I apologize for having little to say about it. I’m sure it looked cool in 1986. I thought it looked like a car some junior high kid would’ve doodled in 1986, but that’s just me. It serves its purpose of not looking like just any other car.
Should you check out this DVD? I have to assume you know whether or not you dig films like The Wraith. If you think you’ll like it, you most likely will. And visa versa. For Wraith fans, this DVD has a lot of nice stuff to offer…
The transfer seems decent enough and there are a slew of nice featurettes: my favorite of which is “Rughead Speaks,” an interview with Clint Howard. Howard has a really nice perspective on his somewhat dubious career that I found very enjoyable to listen to. He seems like the kind of guy that would be great to chat with at a party. “Tales from the Desert” is an interview with director Mike Marvin in which he discusses an unfortunate death during the production (my “snuff” pun from earlier), which he feels he was unfairly blamed for. “Turbo Interceptor” details the creation and execution of the ghost car, and should be fun for the car fans out there.
A very enjoyable…
“You don’t understand, man! My older brother is so
much better looking and more famous than I am!”
“No son, I understand. I really do.”