Cult B-movies have found new life on the DVD format. Titles that you once thought would never see anything better than a crummy VHS-tape release from 20 years ago are now not only getting released on DVD, but in some cases re-released (yeah, we’re just that hard up for new titles apparently). But in the case of the 1986 cult classic The Wraith, this new special edition comes complete with a host of new extras that will surely please any fan of the rather ridiculous movie that later had a series of clones follow it (like another cult classic, The Crow).
The Wraith, the cult classic starring Golden Globe® winner Charlie Sheen (TV’s “Spin City”), Academy Award® nominee Randy Quaid (The Last Detail, Best Actor in a Supporting Role, 1973) and Clint Howard (Frost/Nixon), comes to Special Edition DVD from Lionsgate this March. A bizarre and brutal band of road pirates force innocent drivers into drag races. Then…a mysterious stranger arrives in a Dodge Turbo Interceptor. The stranger is “The Wraith,” a mysterious otherworldly figure who has a destiny to fulfill and a woman’s love to reclaim. He’s determined to wage a vendetta against the young punks who ruined his life. The action-packed film tells the story of a mysterious figure seeking vengeance on a gang that’s been terrorizing a small town and includes music from some of Rock-n-Roll’s greatest legends including Ozzy Osbourne, Mötley Crüe, Robert Palmer and Billy Idol. The Wraith: Special Edition DVD features fresh packaging and all new special features including audio commentary, interviews with writer/director Mike Marvin (Sunstorm) and Clint Howard along with a featurette on the Dodge M4S that was used in the film.
I knew I was in for a treat after reading the box of the DVD box. I honestly didn’t know anything about this film prior to watching it other than what the box said, so I knew I was in for a rockin’ soundtrack (not really—of all the Ozzy songs they go with “Secret Loser”?), some car chases and a series of actors you either don’t hear from anymore or ones you do all too often (Sheen, I’m talking to you!). So was I shocked to discover that the film is cheesier than a bag of Cheetos (and about as full of air as one too)? Nope, not at all. In fact, I welcomed it. It was an incredibly hokey ride, but man if it wasn’t entertaining.
The film starts out immediately with the introduction of the Wraith coming to Earth and forming into…a Dodge Turbo Interceptor! I actually laughed at that part of the description too since it’s rare that you see a car advertised to explicitly in the details but then I realized that I was mixing my Dodge’s up (thought it was a Stealth for some reason) and when I actually saw the Interceptor in the movie I kind of had to do a double take. A rear-engine Dodge? Say what! But once the awesomeness of a kind of Lamborghini/Dodge mash up wore off, I was able to settle into the movie and the incredibly diverse cast.
First you have Clint Howard as “Rug Head,” who has an enormous ‘fro of hair going on. Then there are some other racer dudes, one of which likes to sniff WD-40 or something. The rest of the gang is rather forgettable and Nick Cassavetes character is just flat out weird most of the time, so he doesn’t leave much a lasting impression. No, its Charlie Sheen’s hair that makes the lasting impression on me. That first shot of him on the motorcycle, riding into town and chatting up with the resident hotty (Sherilyn Fenn) and then almost getting her into trouble with her big, bad boyfriend (the aforementioned Cassavetes).
To be honest the trailer included on this disc explained the history of and what exactly the Wraith was here. There’s a brief segment where Rug Head drops some knowledge on the viewer, but I dismissed it because it seemed like mindless babble…but, nope, that was the actual plot. It doesn’t really matter; the whole real “reason” behind The Wraith’s existence was due to him (Sheen) originally being murdered by Casavettes character while he (Sheen) was getting it on with his girlfriend (Fenn) because Cassavettes wanted her for himself. Even though they never did anything…so ah…whoops? Or something. Like I said it doesn’t matter; the plots as worthwhile as the acting from Matthew Berry at the end there (“Jake? Jake? JAKE?!…..Jamieeeee!?”), so you can easily toss it away without a care.
For what it’s worth the stunts and car action in the film is pretty nicely done, even by today’s standards. The only special effects in the film were Wraith like goodies, but every explosion and impact was real for the most part. It was definitely a well-polished film in those terms, but everything else…well, I can’t really mark it for being hokey either, as it was clearly supposed to be. I mean it just had that typical teenager 80s movie vibe going for it (complete with female nudity…ahh, 80’s movies), so mocking it for delivering what it was supposed to is just kind of pointless in the end.
I can’t say I didn’t enjoy this film at all; I really did. Sure it’s like a lighthearted version of The Crow (of which that film supposedly takes a lot of heat for “stealing” the idea from this one…but the whole enchanted being comes back to kill those who wronged him is kind of a vague idea to steal, although I’m not really discounting that The Crow did such a thing), but between the 80s rock soundtrack, the cavalcade of cars and fairly decent performances from all those involved (including Randy Quaid in a rare sane role), I have to Recommend this for those in the mood for a good 80s cult B-movie classic.
Lionsgate pushes The Wraith out on a standard single disc release housed inside of an Eco Amaray Case. Which is kind of discounted by the cardboard slipcase on the outside…use less plastic, use more paper? Anyway the menu system is simple and easy to navigate and I was honestly very surprised by the strength of the transfer. Apparently the last release was non-anamorphic, so this is a new transfer and the clarity level was pretty top notch for an old film of this nature. It was so clear I could easily make out the Chrysler logo on the Interceptor—which made me laugh, because the idea of an afterlife rising being coming back in a corporate branded supercar is just humorous. Although it did apparently come with an instruction manual too (presumably in English to boot), so who am I to joke? The only downside of this release is the audio is DD2.0 only…but short of a complete sound effects overhaul, I don’t know how much it’d matter if they did go for a full DD5.1 mix. The dialogue is clear as is and the car sound effects are a bit muffled, but other than that it’s satisfactory. Besides if you have a decent home theater setup the receiver should take over the duties of matrixing it out properly (I know mine enjoyed adding some LFE to it all).
Extras are…well, I’ll be damned. There are actually extras on this thing too!
Commentary with director Mike Marvin
Rughead Speaks – An Interview with Actor Clint Howard (12:25)
Tales from the Desert – An Interview with Writer/Director Mike Marvin (11:18)
The Ride of the Future! – The History & Explosive Mayhem of the Infamous “Turbo Interceptor” Vehicle (11:34)
Original Theatrical Trailer (2:01)
The featurettes are really just icing to the cake. The cake of course being the commentary with Mike Marvin, who is able to be incredibly candid about the production of this film. He comes off as a bit jaded about the whole thing (although it did put his career into a three year freeze afterwards, so who can blame him) and he tends to pass the buck around quite a bit…but in the end it’s a very informative track nonetheless. He covers everything from the casting to the production schedule to the actual shooting of it and he re-iterates some of this on the “Tales from the Desert” piece as well. “Rughead Speaks” is kind of a strange piece in just how strangely Clint Howard speaks—I’m certain some of the words he chose to use in it were either out of place or just weren’t used correctly at all, but that may have just been the ridiculousness of the movie still wearing off while I was watching this. “The Ride of the Future” is a nice piece that talks about the different versions of the Interceptor used in the movie, as well as the dangers of using those old muscle/sport cars, as they weren’t always the safest thing.
Finally there’s the theatrical trailer which, as I said before, tends to explain more about the movie than the movie itself did…but, again, doesn’t matter. It’s a simple movie to get into and if you were a teenager who grew up with it then this film had it all—fast cars, cursing, and breasts. Who couldn’t get into something like that? Recommended.
The Wraith is now available on DVD.