Shitballs Batman - the 80s were rife with revenge flicks - Ms. 45, Death Wish II, Savage Streets, Vigilante, The Exterminator...and tonight's classic - The Wraith.
The Wraith stands out for a number of reasons. First and foremost, it is certainly the least graphic of the films mentioned above (although the Princess Bride would certainly be the most family friendly revenge flick of the 80s). Secondly, short of the aforementioned Princess Bride (and Ghost), The Wraith has a supernatural twist. And thirdly, but not germane necessarily to the subject of the film, it stars two actors who, at one time I respected a great deal...and then they decided to go batshit insane - Charlie Sheen and Randy Quaid.
The film takes place in a state I'm not terribly fond of, although it certainly excels over the state I'm from in average teeth per mouth and obsession with Duck Dynasty - the state of Arizona. I'm guessing about the time this film was shot, Arizona was still not bothering to observe Martin Luther King day because, well, Arizona? Who the fuck knows. Additionally, some of the most obnoxious (and noxious) people I've ever known were either from or attended college in Arizona. All this to say, I could completely see the events of this film taking place in this state (at least in the 80s).
You can't have a revenge flick without two things - 1. A major league douchebag and 2. a death. This film provides provides both in the first few minutes of the first act. A small town in Arizona (and aren't most of them) is home to a group of essentially road pirates who, through violence, force people to race and if they lose (and they always do) they have to give up their cars. The leader of these adorable band of ragamuffins is a tool named Packard, played with brilliance by Nick Cassavetes; the son of a couple of the most brilliant filmmakers ever, John Cassavetes and Gena Rowlands. As a child he starred in one of the his father and mother's most heart wrenching films ever - A Woman Under the Influence. Side note - if you have not seen Woman Under the Influence - stop reading this right now, watch that film, then continue reading this essay.
Back? You're welcome. Yes - I know that film was a roller-coaster ride and you probably cried like a baby. Now moving on with The Wraith.
The town is so small, when a motorcycle riding Charlie Sheen suddenly appears in town, everyone acts like its Dodge City in 1870. Also appearing at the same time is a mysterious, and fucking gorgeous, high-tech car unlike anything Packard and his band of road pirates have ever seen. Soon Packard's cronies begin to die in each race.
Now, I defend bad movies. And, in fact, I don't believe the films I write about are bad - I believe them to be classics made by hard working, yet underappreciated artists.. I've loved this movie since my sitting alone by myself eating pizza and pining away in the dog days of 1987. But, I have to simply point out one crazy flaw. The local sheriff played spot-on, as usual, by Randy Quaid, seems to have no issues with people essentially have their car's stolen, threats of violence, rape, stalking or any other of the myriad of crimes committed by Packard and his gang. But, when Packard's gang starts dying off while racing a mystery car, then the sheriff turns into fucking Clint Eastwood. Nevertheless, no one plays a potentially morally ambivalent law man like Randy Quaid.
As the story goes into Act 2, we discern who the Wraith is, his connection to Billy Hankins (portrayed by Matthew Barry) and how he plans to seek his revenge.
I'm the first to admit, this film might not be the classic it is today were it not for one of the greatest casts ever assembled. The film not only stars Cassavetes, Sheen and Quaid, but also Sherilyn Fenn, Clint Howard (brother of Ron Howard), Griffin O'Neal (son of Ryan O'Neal) and some purely amazing work by Jamie Bozian and David Sherill as Gutterboy and Skank respectively.
I watched the film on Hulu and the transfer was pretty clean. I'm sure it's available on other streaming platforms as well. Completely random memory, I rented the tape of this film in November of 1987 from the Schnuck's grocery store in Cape Girardeau, MO - the Arizona of the midwest (just kidding....I guess).
By the way all - if you like what you read (or don't actually) Leave a comment or drop me a line. It's been a bit quiet lately.
The Rotten Tomatoes Link for the Wraith
The IMDB page for The Wraith
And for crying out loud - watch this beautiful film. It will change your life.