The Wraith (1986)

the wrraith

“Forget it, Murphy. Roadblocks can’t stop somethin’ that can’t be stopped.”

The Scoop: 1986 PG-13, directed by Mike Marvin and starring Charlie Sheen, Nick Cassavetes, and Sherilyn Fenn

Tagline: He’s not from around here.

Summary Capsule: Years before a stupid crow ripped off the concept, a man dies unjustly and a car brings him back from the grave… for revenge! And sno-cones!

Justin’s rating: In the knickers of time

Justin’s review: You there! What’s a “wraith?” No, you’re thinking of that green circle-thing people hang on their doors around Christmas. No, now you’re thinking of one of the seven deadly sins. Now you’re just thinking of that rash on your armpit that you’re wondering if you should get checked out. You sicken me.

I think perhaps that the filmmakers of this movie were stuck on the last day of editing still trying to come up with a name. Sure, The Ghost might’ve been appropriate, but a spoiler of sorts. Deathmobile would’ve been my pick, but then, no one consulted me as I was just a ten-year-old idiot in 1986. So instead they chose a title with a fairly obscure name that really just means ghost, and then had to force a character in the film to deliver a heavy-handed explanation for what a “wraith” is. Word power is really… really… good.

This Charlie Sheen vehicle is about a vehicle and Charlie Sheen. Sheen plays Jake, a greased-up loner who drifts into an Arizona town on his motorcycle, looking for a little hubbidy-hubbidy. At the same time, a mysterious sleek car shows up looking to put a hurt on some semi-bad folk. Since Jake disappears for large portions of the film — the same portions that the car, in its non-talking glory, is trying to fill — you don’t have to think much harder than Clark Kent/Superman to make the connection. It’s that deep.

The Wraith is an ’80s film that focuses on The Only Sport In Town, which is street racing with the stakes to win the loser’s car. Everyone street races, while sour Sheriff Loomis (Randy Quaid) frowns in disapproval of those “young ‘uns.” It’s like those ’50s biker gang movies, except now all of the bad guys have mohawks and jam to Bananarama. They love racing. Maybe not as much as myself, who considers a safe drive to the grocery store a “win” in the street race department, but since there’s nothing else to do in this town, I can’t blame the distraction.

As a movie, The Wraith operates on a budget that is 90% car and 10% music licensing. There’s an obvious budget shortfall going on, which is apparent in that (1) there are only four locations used in this film, five if you include the road, and (2) ten actors pretty much fill all of the major billing plus extras. To compensate, the director tries hard to hit all of the Success buttons for an ’80s flick, one by one, as scenes fly by. Hot cars? Yup. Women in bikinis? Sure. Incredibly awesome soundtrack featuring Billy Idol and Robert Palmer? Why not. Good guys who are purer than silver and bad guys more corrupt than rust? You betcha. Hamburger stand? Y… yes. One by one, these are all pleasant enough to enjoy, but the sum total of the film is lacking.

The best I can manage, using my weak mental abilities, is that everything doesn’t mesh together as well as it should. The Wraith features a number of scenes that rapidly shift in tone, from outright gruesome horror and implied violence (not to mention rape) to cheesy acting and slapstick comedy (ooh, he’s drinking radiator fluid), and that’s hard on the viewer. It leaves us watching, unsure of how to really take the movie, and that ends up being unsatisfactory. Plus, Charlie Sheen is criminally underused here, and the whole wraith/car situation is definitely not wrapped up enough by the finish, leaving all sorts of shrugged shoulders in the process. Obviously, it was set up for a sequel that never happened.

I’m not trying to get too down on a film that, honestly, doesn’t need my approval to be watched. If you like the general ’80s feel and watching street racing that ends the exact same way in every race, then The Wraith is calling to you. Woooooo!

“Sorry guys, I would’ve been here sooner, but it’s hard work lugging this spotlight with me!”


  • Lightning balls, not Detroit, makes cars
  • Man, I loooove 80’s punks. So festive.
  • Clint Howard with way, way too much hair?
  • If you loose in a street race, the law says you have to surrender your car to the winner. It’s just that legal.
  • Even in the desert, bikini-clad girls abound
  • Big Kay’s Burgers — where the waitresses dance on roller skates
  • At least they wear helmets while street racing
  • Packard pulls out that knife for anything these days
  • Kidney buster?
  • Randy Quaid talks like he’s in a 50’s biker flick
  • The black car featured in the movie was a real-life technological wonder, the Dodge M4S. The M4S was designed and constructed at an estimated cost of $1.5 million, and featured performance and technology to match that lofty figure. The M4S was powered by a Chrysler 2.2-liter four-cylinder one-of-a-kind engine that exceeded 194 mph. According to Gary Hellerstein, transportation coordinator for this film, a total of seven versions of the M4S were needed for filming. The original, on loan from Dodge, was used for close-ups and details. Two more “drivers”, consisting of perfectly detailed bodies on dune buggy chassis, were used for stunt driving chores. There were four “shells”, empty bodies on bare, towable frames, that were sacrificed in various crash scenes.
  • While filming a chase sequence shot on a mountainside outside of Tuscon, a crew member was killed and another was critically injured.
  • The police cars change regularly between Plymouth Caravelles, Chevrolet Malibus, and Plymouth Gran Furys.

Groovy Quotes

Sheriff Loomis: Forget it, Murphy. Roadblocks can’t stop somethin’ that can’t be stopped.

Skank: Aaagh! I’m tweakin’, dude!

Skank: Do you smell a cop?
Gutterboy: I smell french fries, but that don’t make sense!

Gutterboy: He’s a what?
Rughead: A wraith! An evil spirit. And it ain’t cool, man.

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