For the last four years, Alamo Drafthouse programmer Zack Carlson has hosted a late-night horror movie celebration called Terror Tuesday and if you are a lover of horror, both esoterically brilliantly and obscurely awful, this night was invented just for you. The Terror Tuesday Report will dissect the movie shown as well as provide a barometer for the audience's reaction; as many of these films demand to be seen with an audience, this proves a vital component to the evening.
This week's film: The Wraith, directed by Mike Marvin, 1986
First of all, let me apologize for the tardiness of this week's report. It has been a nightmarish week. Enough excuses, on with the report...
As if living in Arizona wasn't bad enough, a group of evil punks have made a very lucrative business out of car theft via street racing. They force the owners of the swankiest cars of the 1980's to race for pink slips and, through both skill and a propensity for cheating, they've acquired quite a collection of vehicles. But when a mysterious, futuristic car driven by an even more mysterious stranger shows up and begins systematically dispatching the gang one by one, they realize they may no longer own the road. Meanwhile Keri, the hottest girl in town and the object of the gang leader's obsession, has begun to make eyes at the new kid on the block; exacerbating the thug's already raging jealousy issues. Where did this dark rider come from? What does he have to do with the gang's past? How many Sheens are in an Estevez?
My love for this film is so massive as to have its own gravitational pull. It is a glorious, delicious slice of the 80's drowned in a rich, chocolaty awesome sauce. I had previously gushed about the film on this site; adding to my list of favorite killer car flicks. There are many elements within the film that cement it as being very indicative of the decade in which it was made, but I think the previously indefinable quality it harbors that makes me love it so much is its almost total lack of adult involvement. Other than the cops, who are sporadically in the film, and one glimpse of Skank's (character's actual name) uncle, this town is apparently ruled by children. The teens are the only visible presence in the municipality and are free to patronize/operate the thriving local businesses, engage in street racing, and construct elaborate murder conspiracies.
The Wraith revs up the amazing 80s-ocity with a fantastic cast and a rocking soundtrack. The anchor of the film, playing the new kid in town, is Charlie Sheen. He's his usual teen icon aloof in this film but pulls off a decently moving performance at the end. Opposite him is Nick Cassavetes as the leader of the gang. As opposed to other go-to 80's d-bags (William Zabka for example), I am actually frightened of Nick Cassavetes and fully expect him to stab me should the opportunity arise. He is dark and uncompromisingly evil; probably the best 27-year-old teen bully of the 80's. Occupying the sole adult influence in the film is Randy Quaid who, despite being unrepentantly Randy Quaid, is strong as the hard-nosed detective looking to bust both the gang and the rider knocking them off. We also have cult horror workhorse Clint Howard sporting a sky-scraping Eraserhead hairdo and the astronomically cute Sherilyn Fenn as the girl of our collective dreams. The soundtrack features the likes of Ozzy Osbourne, Robert Palmer, Motley Crue, Bonnie Tyler, and the ginormous 80's powerhouse that is Lion. All jokes aside, I caught myself chair dancing throughout the film.
I think what elevates The Wraith and makes it far better than it has any right to be is how well it works as a revenge film. The Dodge Turbo Interceptor with the silent, but angry engine and tinted windows does its job as the chariot of vengeance. The driver, in his space racing suit and dark, obscuring helmet cuts quite the imposing figure even without his intergalactic shotgun the size of a fishing pole. But what really sells this as a revenge film, and a unique blend of sci-fi and horror, is the method by which the wraith dispatches the gang members. He essentially kamikazes them by getting way out in front of them in the race, stopping directly in their path and exploding. This sounds like it might come off a bit silly, but the stunts in the film are so intense, so irresponsibly dramatic as to make it impossible not to get wrapped up in the story. I am not kidding, and it is very tragic, but people died making this forgotten 80's gem so you know the stunts alone are worth the price of admission.
The only thing that really counts as a misstep as far as The Wraith is concerned is the ending. A surprise is revealed that isn't really a surprise as they have all but scrolled text along the bottom of the screen throughout the whole film letting us know what the surprise is. When the "unveiling" finally occurs, there are significant portions of the explanation that are boldly omitted. We more-or-less get the who, the what, and the why but with the movie bearing such a fantastical concept, the how becomes increasingly important to wrapping up the story. The Wraith has the testicular fortitude to throw caution to the wind and not explain how the rider traveled through space and planes of existence to show up in Arizona. Frankly, I think the rest of the movie is so solidly constructed and masterfully executed that by the time this wholly predictable ending comes about, I'm fine with a truncated exposition session.
The Wraith completes a trio of very legitimately good films at Terror Tuesday; preceded by The Keep and Zombie. After the slower, more methodical pacing of last week's The Keep, I knew The Wraith would be a crowd-pleaser. As I looked around, I saw just as many people grooving in their seats to the soundtrack and nearly every explosion had its own chorus of applause. This is one of the prints that Zack Carlson rescued from a watery grave and I could not be more thrilled at his heroics. Seeing this film on the big screen, at least for me and it sounded as though others in the theater shared the sentiment, was epic.