Every now and then, fortune smiles upon me in such a way that I run across something so uniquely terrible that even I’m brought up short and forced to say “Wait…what the fuck?” It’s always a fork in the road kinda moment because the cinematic endeavor in question can lead to either anger and dismay like Bloodsucking Freaks or elation and joy like Manos: The Hands Of Fate.
But sometimes fortune toys with me, and I’m stuck in some kind of Frostian hellscape with no clue which path to choose. Such is the case with that fine 1986 Charlie Sheen cinematic vehicle known as The Wraith. And I mean vehicle literally.
See, our little tiger blood, failure is not an option boy plays a mysterious new kid in town named Jake who almost immediately raises the suspicion and ire of the local bully/gang leader Packard Walsh. And if you think that’s a great name for the leader of a car gang, just wait. They get better. So. Much. Better.
See, Packard likes to race guys for the pink slips to their cars, and he apparently never loses. Then one night a Dodge M4s Turbo Interceptor shows up (that’s gonna mean something to somebody somewhere. Not me. I remain breathtakingly ignorant about all things internal combustion). Oh, did I mention that this car appeared out of the Arizona desert? Yeah. A bunch of glowing orbs descend from the night sky and collide to reveal the aforementioned vehicle.
Right. So the driver of this not-for-first-time-car-owners machine is clad in black body armor, black gloves, black boots, and a, you see where this is going, black helmet. Ooooo. It’s also got all kinds of wires and tubes and metal braces and stuff, I guess because he and the car are one or sympatico or something. Either that or the FX department shopped mainly at AutoZone. So Racer X shows up to challenge Packard and instantly turns his world inside out. He accomplishes this by eliminating Packard’s gang in a series of fiery car crashes and explosions.
You might be wondering what’s so bad about this movie? For one thing, lots of unresolved plot points. The most distracting of these is that every time The Wraith causes another death, some piece of his ensemble disappears. It’s never made clear why this is or what, if anything, it’s supposed to mean.
The acting varies. Nick Cassavetes (yep, son of John Cassavetes and Gena Rowlands) musters some swagger and cool as Packard except when he tries to boss his underlings around. Conversely, Randy Quaid totally phones this one in as Sheriff Loomis (Loomis? That can’t be an accident).
Ultimately though, I think the good substantially outweighs the bad. For one thing, there’s a pre-Twin Peaks Sherilyn Fenn Her character is unfortunately written as an objectified slab of female flesh to be contended for by Packard and Jake. She’s also routinely ogled/commented on by two of Packard’s henchmen, Skank and Gutterboy (told ya the names were gonna get even better). Still. Audrey Horne.
Oggie (Ryan O’Neal’s son Griffin) gets blowed up early on. Oh and Clint Howard rips some Jaws-worthy chunks outta the scenery as Rughead the geek/techie whizkid (all the while looking like the bastard love child of Jack Nance in Eraserhead and Thomas Dolby).
Somehow Randy Quaid snags possibly the script’s finest line: “Time to drain the drug overdose sloshin’ above your eyebrows and tell me who the dude was drivin’ that other car.”
Speaking of drug overdoses, Skank and Gutterboy may just be the big standouts of The Wraith. They’re total comic relief caricatures of gear head punks. Skank in particular does stuff like snort WD40 and drink hydraulic fluid, usually exclaiming how whatever automotive chemical he’s abusing “has some kick.”
Incidentally, The Wraith was released in The Philippines as Black Moon Rising Part 2. Yeah, they were both centered on cars but had absolutely zero to do with each other. Kinda like the tragic history of Troll 2, but that’s another discussion for another post.
BODIES- 6 onscreen
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