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RETRO REVIEW: The Wraith

Netflix is a goldmine of old 80’s direct to video films, many forgotten (and justly so). In this installment of Retro Reviews I wanted to re-examine one such film that I just re-watched on Netflix last night, the 1986 Charlie Sheen flick The Wraith, a weird amalgam of The Last Starfighter and The Crow by way of Mad Max.

In an otherwise quiet Arizona town Packard Walsh (Nick Cassavetes) runs a gang of car thieves who trick people into racing for pinks and then cheats to win and get their cars. But he’s also a murderer. One year earlier he killed a guy named Jamie Henkins for being with his girl Keri (played by the lovely Sherrilyn Fenn).

But now it’s payback time when a suped up Dodge M4S Turbo Interceptor shows up, driven by a mysterious figure in futuristic armor and a black helmet. One by one he entices Walsh’s gang bangers to race and then kills them by speeding ahead and stopping in the middle of the road, letting them hit his car at hundreds of miles per hour. The Wraith-mobile reappears in a flash of light moments later, factory mint, while the other car is reduced to a burning wreck. There’s no marks on the bodies either, but their eyes have been sucked out.

Meanwhile, a new kid named Jake (Charlie Sheen) shows up on an eerily quiet dirt bike. Keri is attracted to him immediately, though she can’t put her finger on why (she puts her fingers everywhere else during a naked make-out session with Jake in the local watering hole).

This enrages Walsh, of course, and he goes from prototypical 80’s douchebag to jealous psycho in under a minute. Too bad he has his hands full with the mysterious driver killing off his gang. Cassavetes gives an air of real menace to what is on the surface a stock 80’s bad guy. You can almost smell the crazy coming off this guy.

Eventually Packard gets his, and Jake/Jamie gives the Interceptor to Jamie’s brother before taking off with Keri on his bike for parts unknown.

In the end, this conundrum of a movie raises more questions than it answers, least of all is, where the hell are the parents?! The only adult authority figure we see in this movie is tough-talking Sheriff Loomis (played by the always fun to watch Randy Quaid), who wants to catch the Wraith, but is also happy the deaths he’s causing are confined to Walsh’s gang of dirtbags.

We also never learn how Jamie was able to come back in a new body, with an indestructible car, or why Walsh and his buddies didn’t have a mark on them after their cars burned to a crisp. It all adds up to a weird, fuel-injected romp that could only have come from the 1980’s.

If you’re looking for a guy who comes back from the dead to kill the people who murdered him, watch The Crow (also currently streaming on Netflix). It’s so dark and goth its pee is bats, but you’ll get much more character development and a protagonist you’ll have sympathy for. If you want to see Charlie Sheen before all the winning and tiger blood, and you like to watch fast cars blow up real good, then check out The Wraith.

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