Peter’s Retro Movie Review: The Wraith (1986)

April 24, 2012

by Peter Nielsen

The small desert town, Brooks, in Arizona is being ”terrorized” by Packard Walsh and his gang of misfits. Well, it’s mostly the younger population being bullied, I suppose, since we don’t really see any of the “older” people getting harassed. They’re forced to participate in car-races where the winner gets the loser’s car. So far, Packard’s gang hasn’t lost once…

Packard is played by Nick Cassavetes (Black Moon Rising, Blind Fury) and he really is a class-A douche-bag. No redeeming qualities at all and he runs his gang with an iron-fist. Not that that gang would be hard to run, because they don’t really have a lot of functioning brain-cells between them. The only one who’s worth a damn is his mechanic, Rughead, because he, believe it or not, actually shows signs of intelligence once in a while. He’s played by the prolific Clint Howard whom I’m sure you’ll recognize because he’s had bit-parts in a BUTT-LOAD of movies and TV-shows.

Now, intelligence might not be the first word to pop into your head when seeing Skank and Gutterboy, Packard’s two goons. These are the ones he uses for assorted dirty jobs, which is kind of sad because they don’t even have HALF’A brain-cell to share. I can’t help but like these two though, how can you not? I mean, just look at them… Skank drinks everything, including brake-fluid, window-wash or whatever kind of crap moonshine he can lay his hands on. It always leaves him gasping for air though, and wincing through his teeth: “This shit’s got some kick!” And HE’S the smart one of the two? They make me laugh!

Strike a pose!

Strike a pose!

One day a stranger rides into town on a motorcycle. His name is Jake and is played by Charlie Sheen (Hot Shots 1 & 2, Made of Steel). He quickly takes a liking to Sherilyn Fenn’s character, Keri, Packard’s girlfriend. Not by her own choice, but since Packard threatens to hurt anybody getting close to her, she has to go along with him. I told you he was a d-bag, remember?

Sherilyn Fenn is mostly recognized as Audrey from the TV-show Twin Peaks, I suppose, but also from a lot of different movies… Boxing Helena for instance. That’s a weird one, by the way, but in The Wraith she’s absolutely stunning. Jake also strikes up a friendship with Billy, whose older brother Jamie used to date Keri. Jamie was found dead a while back, but we find out very early in the movie that Packard and his gang killed him, so that’s not a spoiler!

New Jake on the block...

New Jake on the block…

At the same time Jake appears in town, another stranger also shows up. Coincidence? Hmm… I think not! He’s clad all in black and wearing a black helmet AND driving a black supercar! After challenging Packard’s gang, he ultimately starts killing them off one by one.

Not much of a loss according to the town sheriff, Loomis, played by Randy Quaid (Kingpin, National Lampoon’s Vacation), but he still has to look into it. The more he does, he finds it strange that there’s never any trace of this avenging spirit anywhere to be found. Rughead eloquently gives words to their thoughts: “A wraith, man! A ghost! An evil spirit and it ain’t cool!”

Man, I LOVE this movie!

Keri and Jake sharing a moment.

Keri and Jake sharing a moment.

I love everything about it! And you know what? I have loved this movie since I first watched it many years ago, and I don’t care what you say. The Wraith is cheesy 80’s action at its best. The plot is pretty simple and straight forward. It’s basically a revenge-flick with no Earth-shattering twists or turns.

The ending shouldn’t come as a big surprise to you, because you’ll almost certainly have figured it out from the beginning. If you haven’t… WHAT! You’re kidding, right? It’s not SUPPOSED to be complicated, that’s the beauty of most action flicks from the 80’s. They’re pure and simple entertainment!

The acting in The Wraith isn’t too bad either. The actors do very well and let’s face it… there are some pretty big names here! Charlie Sheen? Randy Quaid? Hell, even Sherilyn Fenn and Clint Howard are fairly well-known.

Gutterboy, Packard and Skank

Gutterboy, Packard and Skank

And if you think you recognize Nick Cassavetes’ last name, it’s probably because of his dad, John Cassavetes. Ring a bell? Go check out his résumé… There are some great movies on it. Not that Nick hasn’t made a name for himself, because he has and not only as an actor, but also as a director. Just like his father!

The soundtrack for The Wraith is another thing that lifts this movie, because it’s superb. The song “Where’s the Fire” by Tim Feehan is pure 80’s awesomeness! There are also tracks featuring Billy Idol, Ozzy Osbourne, Mötley Crüe, Bonnie Tyler and Robert Palmer for Pete’s sake!

Let me be the first to admit that there are plot-holes in this, some of them pretty big, and some of the characters are WAY over the top, but there’s so much stuff to love, so you just don’t care about those minor things. The scenes involving Skank and Gutterboy are hilarious, the race-scenes are exhilarating and did I mention how stunning Sherilyn Fenn looks? So, as far as The Wraith concerns… Sit down with a bowl of popcorn or whatever snack you prefer and just enjoy the ride! I did! Twice this week, actually!

So until next week my friends… Do you have any thoughts on this flick? Please share them with us in the comments section below!

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