The Wraith is a 1986 American independently made action-fantasy film, produced by John Kemeny, written and directed by Mike Marvin, and starring Charlie Sheen, Sherilyn Fenn, Nick Cassavetes, and Randy Quaid. The film was theatrically released on only 88 screens in the United States on November 21, 1986 by New Century Vista Film Company (later New Century Entertainment Corporation).
The Wraith tells the story of an Arizona teen who mysteriously returns from the dead as a supernatural street-racer driving an invulnerable supercar. His intent is to take revenge on the gang who murdered him.
PlotFour spheres of light descend from the night sky, coming together and colliding at an isolated desert crossroads, revealing in a bright flash a sleek, all black Dodge M4S Turbo Interceptor, driven by a helmeted, all black-clad figure.
In the town of Brooks, Arizona, Packard Walsh, the leader of a gang of car thieves, coerces people with sporty cars into racing for pink slips. He controls everyone through intimidation, including Keri Johnson, whom he views as his property. Keri's boyfriend James "Jamie" Hankins was mysteriously murdered, leaving no trace; Keri, who was with him, was hospitalized with no memory of the traumatic event.
Jacob "Jake" Kesey arrives in Brooks riding a Honda XL350R Enduro dirt bike. He befriends both Keri and Jamie's brother William "Billy" Hankins, who both work at Big Kay's, the local burger drive-in; they later meet up at a sun-and-swim gathering on a local river, where Jake is seen to have knife scars on his neck and back.
Packard's control of the illegal races is suddenly over when the Turbo Interceptor appears out of nowhere. The mysterious driver of this supercar is covered head-to-toe in black body armor and a black race helmet. The armor is adorned with metal braces resembling those worn by victims recovering from severe physical trauma. The driver challenges Packard's gang to race, explosively killing Oggie Fisher and later Minty in high-speed, fiery crashes which leave their bodies untouched except for burned-out eye sockets. Sheriff Loomis and his lawmen are always in hot pursuit, but the Turbo vanishes in a cloud of glowing light.
Two more gang members, Skank and Gutterboy, always high on drugs, are later obliterated when the Wraith races the Turbo through the gang's isolated warehouse garage, causing a huge explosion. With Packard's gang now destroyed, Rughead, his tech-geek (who alone among them did not participate in Jamie's murder) realizes too late why the gang had been targeted. When Sheriff Loomis arrives at the scene of the destruction, Rughead tells him everything.
After Packard witnesses Keri kissing Jake, he kidnaps her from Big Kay's, beating up Billy when he tries to intervene. When Packard tells her they are going to California, Keri stands up to him and says she will never love him. Just as he gets out of the car and draws his knife on her, the Turbo arrives and Packard takes up the race challenge, only to be killed just like the others. Sheriff Loomis calls off the hunt for the mysterious driver, observing, "Roadblocks won't stop something that can't be stopped".
As Keri arrives home that night, the Turbo pulls up, and the armored driver emerges, transforming into Jake. Keri now realizes that Jake is actually a returned version of her dead boyfriend Jamie, who admits "This is as close as I could come to who I once was". He then asks her to wait for him because he has one last thing to do...
Jake startles Billy by driving the supercar to Big Kay's and handing him the Turbo's keys while extolling its special features. He then tells Billy that his work is finished, and when Billy asks, "Who are you, bro?" Jake wryly replies, "You said it, Billy". As Jake rides off on his dirt bike, Billy calls after him "Jake"... and then, realizing at last, “Jamie"!
Jake picks up Keri, who is now being watched from a distance by Sheriff Loomis. Together they ride off along the desert highway under a huge Moon, leaving the past behind.
ProductionThe Wraith is dedicated to the memory of Bruce Ingram, a camera operator who died during the filming of one of the car chases; another crew member was seriously injured. According to supplementary material on the DVD, the camera car was overloaded and overturned while traveling at high speed.
Shooting locationsThe Wraith was shot entirely in and around Tucson, Arizona; shots of the hilly road leading into the fictional "Brooks, AZ" were filmed on Freeman Road on the city's south side. Keri's (Sherilyn Fenn) home is located at 2128 East 5th Street; "Big Kay's Burgers" was a set built especially for the film at 2755 East Benson Highway and no longer exists.
Sheriff Loomis goes to talk to Skank and Gutterboy at the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, at the airplane graveyard where they both work. The film's swimming hole is located in Sabino Canyon, off North Upper Sabino Canyon Road. The curvy mountain road where Packard and his gang challenge other cars to deadly races is the General Hitchcock/Catalina/Mount Lemmon Highway that winds through natural stone monoliths north of the city. Skank and Gutterboy chase after Jamie and Keri down North 4th Avenue at East 7th Street. The portion of the chase that leads into a tunnel is the since-redone tunnel on North 4th Avenue, where it crosses under railroad tracks; Jake and Keri are seen riding down the road through Sabino Canyon Recreation Area (near Sabino Lake Dam) northeast of Tucson.
Turbo InterceptorThe Dodge M4S Turbo Interceptor used in the film was a pace car built by Chrysler Corporation and PPG Industries. Six copies were made for use in the film: two stunt cars made from molds of the original car and four non-drivable "dummies" that were destroyed during filming. During production, the real Dodge Turbo Interceptor was used in close-ups. That original is located at the Walter P. Chrysler Museum in Auburn Hills, MI.
SoundtrackThe music score was composed and performed by Michael Hoenig and J. Peter Robinson, two famous synth composers of film and TV series Soundtracks. The soundtrack LP was recorded by Rick Hart and entirely played on a NED Synclavier II.
Many famous 1980s rock music hits are included on the film's soundtrack:
ReceptionCritical reception was mixed. Film historian and critic Leonard Maltin dismissed the film as "... for those who favor fast cars and lots of noise." In the Time Out review, editor John Pym saw The Wraith having "comic-strip killer car thieves" with "... the best joke having one of the thugs knowing the word 'wraith'."
Following its theatrical run, the film was featured on television in an episode of Cinema Insomnia.