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The 1986 flick The Wraith is a supernatural action mishmash whose cult following is one of those I-guess-you-had-to-be-there things. The film is weird, but it's not quite weird enough to be visionary. The film is bad, but it's not quite bad enough to be a laugh riot. The filmmakers and actors are constantly making unexpected choices, but these often just lead to viewer befuddlement. It's prime fodder for something like the How Did This Get Made? podcast, so it's fitting they did an exemplary episode on the film in 2017.
In a nutshell, the film concerns the arrival in a suburban Arizona town of Jake Kesey, a motorcycle-riding teen with unusual scars, played by a checked-out Charlie Sheen. Around the same time, a mysterious racer in a souped-up Dodge Turbo Interceptor shows up in town and begins wordlessly challenging the members of a local gang to street races. The gang members are racing to take his pink slip, and he's racing to take... THEIR LIVES!. No one can see the racer's face, because he wears a helmet and full-body suit that resembles a low-budget cross between Star Wars Storm Trooper gear and the live-action version of The Guyver.
Gee, I wonder if this weird racer and the new kid in town are somehow related?
The Wraith is a revenge story that writer-director Mike Marvin states in the Blu-ray supplements exists on a pop culture continuum between High Plains Drifter and The Crow. If only. Our hero barely makes an impression, largely because he's mostly played by a stand-in in a suit. The evil hot rod gang is more cartoon goofy than comic book menacing (the film never nails a consistent tone anyway). And the revenge mission has no internal logic for viewers to latch onto. At one point, The Wraith enters the bad guys' barn-turned-car-garage and shoots the place up with a shotgun. Uh, why not just shoot the gang then? I mean, the dude isn't Pennywise savoring their fear or something.
The cast is mostly better than the material. Future Notebook director Nick Cassavetes makes an effectively creepy impression as the psychopathic head of the hot rodders, Packard. Packard has an unhealthy obsession with sweet girl-next-door Keri (Sherilyn Fenn), who was the girlfriend of a boy who was... MYSTERIOUSLY KILLED. Hmmmmmm... Randy Quaid plays a shit-kicking police lieutenant who is trying to figure out the motivation for the recent spate of weird vehicular homicides. HMMMMMMM... Meanwhile, Clint Howard stands out from Packard's motley crew -- which includes colorfully scummy dudes with names like Gutterboy and Skank -- as a nerdy gearhead with a Jack Nance hairdo.
By the way: Lionsgate's Blu-ray bears a PG-13 rating, but the disc features the better-known uncut video version with some brief flashes of nudity. There's some online chatter about how the film has always had this nudity and has always been rated PG-13, but my first viewing of The Wraith was of an original 35mm print at a repertory theater a few years ago -- and no nudity. I don't know the history of when this footage was reinstated, but it was a mild surprise to me on this second viewing.
The Wraith is spine number 20 in Lionsgate's Vestron Video Collector's Series. It comes with a shiny cardboard slipcover and a code for a digital copy.
The AVC-encoded 1080p 1.78:1 presentation is probably not brand-new, but it offers a satisfying amount of detail and depth. Colors are pretty strong, and grain is typically natural-looking.
The DTS-HD MA 2.0 stereo mix is a little quiet, but it's well-designed. Dialogue and effects come through boldly. The music is a mixture of score and surprisingly name-brand rock tunes from the likes of Ozzy Osbourne, Robert Palmer, Billy Idol, and more. Subtitles: English, English SDH, Spanish.
One of the audio commentaries, as well as three of the featurettes, appeared on Lionsgate's 2010 DVD.
- Two audio commentaries - First up is the director commentary by Mike Marvin, which was on the DVD. Marvin has interesting anecdotes to share but sits quietly through a lot of dead air. Second is a new track moderated long distance by Red Shirt Pictures' Michael Felsher, which is an actor commentary by Dave Sherrill and Jamie Bozian, who played Skank and Gutterboy. Sherrill and Bozian are clearly close friends, who complete each other sentences and correct each other's faulty memories.
- Isolated Score Selections featuring audio interview with co-composer J. Peter Robinson - Although this option plays over the film, these cues are not lined up with their appearances in the film. The synth-y score sounds quite good, although it's kind of a bummer that it only gets a lossy Dolby 2.0 stereo presentation.
- Tales from the Desert with director Mike Marvin (HD, 16:21) - Marvin has kind words for his cast, less kind words for some of his creative collaborators, and ambivalence regarding his responsibility in the death of stunt performer Bruce Ingram during production.
- Rughead Speaks! with Clint Howard (HD, 12:24) - First and foremost, Howard reminds viewers of his eclectic multi-decade career. Once that's established, he talks about director Mike Marvin seeing him in a short film with Michael Keaton on Letterman that got him the part. He also discusses how he and his fellow "gang members" became an actual clique on set.
- Ride of the Future (HD, 11:44) - A discussion about the film's use of the Dodge Turbo Interceptor, both the actual car and a handful of wobbly knock-offs used to approximate the look.
- The Ghost Car: The Visual Effects of The Wraith (HD, 11:43) - A new piece in which the visual effects crew breaks down many of the supernatural images they cooked up for the film.
- The Wraith Filming Locations: Then and Now (HD, 27:11) - The Youtuber behind the Mobile Instinct channel narrates his journey through many of the film's Tucson, AZ, locations.
- TV Spots
- Alternate Title Sequence - Featuring the title Interceptor.
- Stills Gallery
I have to admit that Lionsgate, through their revival of the Vestron Video label, have created a nice Blu-ray package for fans of The Wraith. Lotta good supplements, and solid A/V quality. Problem is, I don't find much fun in this silly flick. I expect mileage may vary (haha, like on the road!), but I say just Rent It.
Justin Remer is a frequent wearer of beards. He directed a folk-rock documentary called Making Lovers & Dollars, which is now streaming. He also can found be found online reading short stories and rambling about pop music.