Directed by: Mike Marvin
Written by:  Mike Marvin
Starring: Charlie Sheen, Nick Cassavetes, Sherilyn Fenn, Randy Quaid, Clint Howard
Year: 1986
Country: USA
Running time: 93mins
BBFC Classification: 15

A film that could only have been spawned in the 1980s, The Wraith has lost none of its absurd coolness: a wild genre mashup of sci-fi, car-chase action, punk attitude and teen romance. A mysterious entity arrives in a small Arizona town and takes the form of a sleek futuristic looking sports car driven by a black clad, shotgun wielding driver. This “wraith” has come to town to take revenge on a gang of petrol heads who rule the roads, terrorising the young population and challenging them to street races in order to procure their cars. Ruled by the borderline psychopath Packard (Cassavetes), the gang are taken out one by one in dangerous chases with the wraith car, as it would seem the spirit of a former youngster who died at the hands of Packard and his crew (Sheen) has come back for vengeance.

In amongst the high-concept bonkers genre mashups that populated the 80s (a time when you could literally make any kind of film no matter how absurd!), The Wraith stands out. Alien cars, high speed chases with dangerous stunts, obnoxious punks tweaking their brains out, shotgun-blasting action, a killer soundtrack, and Sherilyn Fenn: The Wraith has it all. Writer/director Mike Marvin cooks it all up into a rad bubble-gum sheen, exists-in-its-own-reality stew that rockets along on its infectious charm, killer car action, and so-mad-it-kinda-works (because it was made in the 80s!) concept.

While the flick never takes itself too seriously it’s imbued with an earnestness found in films of the time (if made today it would be all meta/wink-at-the-camera/were in on the joke mentality!) that gives it just enough edge and emotion to sell the mad concept. The cast go all in, not least Cassavetes and his crew of obnoxious goons, who while ludicrous, have enough dangerous edge to feel threatening. In fact, The Wraith for all its sunshine soaked 1980s silliness has a violent slant that gives it a darker vibe: drug taking, knife slashings, misogynistic control, and violent vehicular death are all present, meaning The Wraith borders on out-right horror on occasion.

Plus, it features awesome car chase action and a killer 80s soundtrack. With souped up cars tearing along the desert highway and destroyed in dangerous looking fireballs The Wraith features great action that still holds up today, not least some impressive POV shots of the cars tearing through the Arizona desert. It’s got a feel of a 50s hot-rod teen flick crossed with an 80s sci-fi vibe, that this reviewer totally digs. Plus, with a soundtrack that features Ozzy Osbourne, Stand Bush, Robert Palmer, Motley Crue and the toe tapping track Never Surrender by Lion, you can’t go wrong.

The high-brow out there would no doubt baulk at such a film with such an out-there concept and many may proclaim this as a “guilty pleasure” or their favourite “good-bad” movie, but to this two-bit reviewer The Wraith is just a great film. It’s 80s teen action madness that’s a little bit bad, a little bit sad, but oh so rad.

Lionsgate UK will release The Wraith on Blu-ray 15 November as part of the Vestron Collector’s Series.

Extrea features include:

  • Audio Commentary with writer/director Mike Marvin
  • Audio Commentary with actors Dave Sherrill and Jamie Bozian
  • Isolated Score Selections featuring audio interview with co-composer J. Peter Robinson
  • Tales From The Desert – An interview with writer/director Mike Marvin – insightful interview with director Marvin about the making of the film and some of the difficulties they had making it (certainly with the producers and in the edit room). He also talks about how close the cast became and that he’s still friends with many of them today. For the first time he talks about the tragic death of assistant cameraman Bruce Ingram (who the film is dedicated to) who was killed during filming of one of the car sequences. It’s obviously still difficult for him to talk about, mentions how it affected his career and gives the feature a, understandably, more sombre and serious tone.
  • Rughead Speaks! – An interview with Actor Clint Howard – a great interview with cult movie legend Clint Howard who shares some great stories about making the film and his career. Considering how long he’s been in the business and all his career has encompassed, one could probably produce a whole feature length documentary just around him! He also has a lot of love The Wraith which is cool.
  • Ride of the Future – Interviews with stunt coordinator Buddy Joe Hooker and transportation coordinator Gary Hellerstein – short but interesting feature on the impressive stunt sequences seen in the film and how some of them were achieved. Again, the tragic death of Bruce Ingram is brought up which Hellerstein, understandably, has difficulty discussing and Hooker sheds some light on the terrible event.
  • The Ghost Car – Interviews with visual effects producer Peter Kuran and effects animator Kevin Kutchaver – one of the best features on the disc, this looks at how all the very cool and old school effects were created. Before the advent of CGI, it’s always interesting to see how effects were created using a hands on approach, creativity and a lot of blood, sweat and tears. Kuran and Kutchaver are likeable fellas and seem as surprised as anyone at the lasting cult love for The Wraith.
  • The Wraith Filming Locations: Then and Now – a half hour feature by Instagram user Mobile Instinct, an influencer who explores anywhere abandoned, odd or interesting. Being a huge fan of The Wraith, he explores all the locations where they shot the film showing how the locations have either stayed the same, changed or vanished completely. A little dry and certainly geeky but also interesting to see how the visually arresting setting of the film (which certainly gives the film character) has changed and Mobile Instincts enthusiasm and knowledge on the film is certainly infectious and impressive.
  • Theatrical Trailer – cool old school trailer with that great voice over that was heard on every trailer of the time! I wish trailers were still made like this!
  • TV Spots – more short and sweet trailers for the film.
  • Alternate Title Sequence essentially very similar to the opening sequence that was used but this time featuring the alternative (and equally cool) title the film sometimes goes by, Interceptor.
  • Still Gallery – nice selection of shots from the film.

The Wraith
5.0Overall Score
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"To tell you the truth I don't think this is a brains kind of operation." Way of the Gun (2000)

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