Featuring the music of BILLY IDOL, ROBERT PALMER, OZZY OSBOURNE, and MOTLEY CRUE
Lionsgate has certainly been a boon over the years for genre fans, providing extras-laden special edition DVD releases of curiosities from prior decades, Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat being just one example. Recently, the distributor delivered again with a new special edition of the cult classic 1986 revenge fantasy The Wraith starring a very young Charlie Sheen. This edition is a marked improvement upon an earlier release from Platinum that sported a 1.33:1 transfer.
The Wraith, written and directed by Mike Marvin, can be seen as a precursor to the monster 1994 hit The Crow. Not only are their plots similar, but both movies had someone tragically die on set (here it was a stunt person). In The Wraith, Charlie Sheen plays Jake, a mysterious guy who rolls into an Arizona town one day on a motorcycle. At the same time, a silent, helmeted man dressed in black and driving a sleek black Dodge Turbo Interceptor shows up to challenge the town's major menace: a car-obsessed group of punks led by the psychopathic Packard (Nick Cassavetes). Packard's gang challenges unwitting folks into drag-racing down lonely desert highways with the winner (always the gang, of course) getting to keep the loser's car.
Packard is also obsessed with Keri (Sherilyn Fenn), a passive aggressive waitress whose boyfriend was murdered - unbeknownst to her - by Packard. Jake likes Keri too. (Psst. There's not much mystery here regarding the true identity of nice-but-quiet Jake and his deadly-and-silent alter ego in the Interceptor.) While Keri sorts out her feelings, the phantom Interceptor knocks off Packard's crew in ones and twos, which leads to an investigation by the town's sheriff (Randy Quaid). Like the recent SyFy Channel film Phantom Racer, The Wraith follows the revenge formula in a fairly straightforward manner, with the ultimate showdown between the specter in the Interceptor and Packard saved for the film's denouement.
It could be nostalgia (I first saw The Wraith on VHS in the late 1980's), but this is a very fun film. It's not good per se, but it's fun. To begin with, it's hard not to view the movie with amusement as The Wraith is very much a relic of its time. The soundtrack is pure 1980s pop bliss, for example, with songs like Billy Idol's "Rebel Yell" and Robert Palmer's "Addicted to Love" punctuating the goings-on. The hairstyles are often extreme, both in the punk style of the gang and the valley girl style of the lead love interest, Keri. Plus, you've got the cars, especially that signature Dodge Turbo Interceptor, reflecting the Knight Rider cool aesthetic of the era. And, it seems like every death of a punk is accentuated by an '80s action movie-styled explosion, with cars and garages becoming engulfed in fireballs thanks to the wrathful fury of the ghostly Interceptor. Boom!
In addition, the cast is full of notables. The aforementioned Charlie Sheen is here, before he became a comedy star. The dialogue the actors are given is quirky and campy. A particularly silly exchange between Keri and Jake has her revealing that she had a dream that the man in the moon was laughing at her. Oh brother.
This time around, however, what really sells me on the movie is the performance of Randy Quaid, who's perhaps best known for his recurring role as Eddie in the National Lampoon Vacation series. Quaid chews through his stilted dialogue with ease and provides a nice counterpoint to the juvenile proceedings of the other characters.
Overall, The Wraith is campy fun - and fully warrants the cult following it has generated over the decades. Lionsgate's special edition arrives with some good extras (more on this below) and comes highly recommended.
Lionsgate gives The Wraith an anamorphic widescreen presentation with a 1.85:1 aspect ratio that likely represents its original theatrical exhibition. The image isn't exemplary: colors and details could be stronger. However, it's definitely serviceable, and I think fans of The Wraith will be pleased, especially given that the previous edition was in full frame.
The lone audio track is a pleasant, if decidedly stereo-sounding, Dolby Digital 2.0 affair. Given its time period, the sound is fine, though contemporary audiences may wish for more oomph during explosions and bass during the pop music interludes. Optional subtitles are available in English and Spanish.
Lionsgate definitely delivers on this aspect. This DVD has about as many extras as one might expect for a single-disc release. For starters, writer and director Mike Martin does a feature-length audio commentary that a random sampling suggests is informative. In addition, an original theatrical trailer is included as well as these featurettes:
Rughead Speaks - An Interview with Actor Clint Howard (12:24) is a pleasant sit-down commentary from the actor who played one of Packard's gang.
Tales from the Desert - An Interview with Writer / Director Mike Marvin (11:17) is an additional good extra, though it seems a bit redundant considering the commentary track.
Finally, there's The Ride of the Future! - The History & Explosive Mayhem of the Infamous "Turbo Interceptor" Vehicle (11:33), an extra on the Dodge Turbo Interceptor of the film, curiously having a different, even longer title in the menu system.
'80s music. '80s hair. Silly dialogue. Melodramatic acting from a young cast of future stars. Terrific acting from character actor Randy Quaid. And the Dodge Turbo Interceptor. What more could one want from a cult classic that foreshadows the massive '90s hit The Crow? Packed with some good extras, Lionsgate delivers on this Special Edition of The Wraith. Highly recommended.