Darke Reviews | The Wraith (1986)

This one should be a personal favourite for my Tucson readers as the entirety of the film was shot here locally back in 1985 for it’s 86 release date. While watching the movie I spent half my time trying to identify the roads, intersections and buildings. Only a handful are left as they were when it was shot. Sorry to say folks, the Big Kay Burger is no more.

This is another one of those films where the writer and director are the same and it’s one of their first works. It unfortunately shows in Mike Marvins end results on this one. The movie is a clear product of the mid 80’s where it really doesn’t know what it wants to be musically, effects wise, story, acting. It sits on that cusp of early 80s bad and late 80s bad. It is in a wave of movies that want to be scary, want to be “Rad”, but also have an almost original concept.

The story focuses around a street gang who rules their town through fear and violence. They pull people over in the middle of the night and race them for their cars or their lives. Along comes a new kid in town by the name of Jake (Charlie Sheen), who instantly gets himself on the bad side of the gang leader Packard (Nick Cassavetes) by being nice to the girl he is scarily obsessed over, Keri (Sherilyn Fenn). Jake vanishes for the better part of the first half of the film after that. We also meet local burger flipper Billy (Matthew Barry), who is just a nice guy that lost his brother a couple of years ago. Also new in town is a mysterious street racer in an unusual black car and wears a full body suit and biker helmet; no not Racer X. He begins to race Packards gang one by one, leaving eyeless corpses in his wake. His tactic for beating them, get a head of them on the roads and let them T-bone his car and explode. Meanwhile the local sheriff Loomis (Randy Quaid) tries to keep the peace in a town that wants to unravel as Packards gang begins to die off. As the movie unfolds we find the connection between Keri, Jake, Packard and the mysterious driver.

So let’s get down to it, the acting isn’t stellar. It all reads as awkward with the exception of Quaid and Sheen who are able to make it look effortless. The words character development were never uttered during the making of this film. We also have such stellar names as Rughead, Gutterboy and Skank. It’s the 80’s so we do get an obligatory and completely unneeded naked girl / sex scene. Not even a very good one.

On the technicals, the sound mixing and ADR (Additional Dialogue Recording) are off a bit. The Gun effects are fairly horrific for the guns being used, but you don’t watch this movie for the guns. You watch it, like Fast and Furious, for the cars and the races. By todays standards, or the standards of movies that have a budget they aren’t much to look at with the same shots being looped over and over. The odd thing is if you don’t know the area they don’t “look” looped. As an example, the 4th avenue underpass is not THAT long, but they cut in such a way it could be if you didn’t know. As I said before , Tucson locals will recognize places like the Boneyard, Catalina Highway, 5th avenue and Sabino Canyon. The cars are cool and I can only imagine the fun of driving down some of the roads at those speeds – something I imagine Pima County Sheriff hated after this movie.
Ok so TL;DR

There is absolutely no way I can say this is a good movie. I have a bit of love for it though as it was a fav for me as a kid. It’s still fun to watch now with some popcorn and a soda and just enjoy it for the raw camp.

If you are a fan of 80’s schlock and camp and/or a Tucson local, give this one a watch.

Tomorrow’s review knows what happens if you pull the hammer back to soon.

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