What exactly is “The Wraith” in Mike Marvin’s The Wraith? Well, the character isn’t the villain of the piece, yet it almost is. It is a spiritual force driven by vengeance, sort of like a mirror image of the bad guys. It is another spiritual vigilante character. It also seems to be a metaphor for a dark mass that overtakes man, devouring the vast majority of humanity into inhumanity, and bringing it a new word that sums it up: Anarchy. Yes, that big, scary “A word,” embodied in the spirit of punk rock style, ethos, and chaos. That’s because, quite often in 1980s and ’90s movies, punks were scary, scary dudes. Either that or the bad guy was a wealthy playboy-type, willing to shoot someone dead for some dumb reason.
That’s not the case here, though. Our bad guy is a punk-ish bully named Packard Walsh (Nick Cassavetes), His ragtag gang of misfits contains colorfully named characters like the mohawk-sporting Skank (David Sherrill), Gutterboy (Jamie Bozian), and the nerdy Rughead (Clint Howard). Their opponent? In addition to opposing law and good manners in general, they must deal with a high-powered Charlie Sheen. That’s right. He might actually play a character in The Wraith, including The Wraith itself, but he’s still just goddamn Charlie Sheen. The Wraith comes equipped with a bad-ass car, which Wikipedia tells me is a Dodge M4S Turbo Interceptor (I don’t know jack shit about cars, but I do know it looks cool).
“She’s My Girl”
While Skank and Gutterboy often deliver some sill-billy lines, the movie does have a few serious themes throughout. These mostly involve Packard Walsh, the tough guy who thinks he owns the drive-in restaurant waitress named Keri Johnson (Sherilyn Fenn). We’re not given a list of criteria about why he’s so drawn to her. He just is, and he will not take “No” for an answer. There is a vague sense that Packard and his crew are their own “family,” being rejected by society at large. They are, in many ways, the rebels without causes or clues. They just bully people because they think it’s cool.
That might not be an accurate representation of punk rock or anarchism, but that’s just the 1980s pop culture framework here, take it or leave it! It’s ridiculous. Ultimately, Packard’s lifestyle is as devastating as his ill-conceived promise to make Keri his at all costs. The Wraith ends up picking them all off, and it’s bizarrely supernatural. There’s also a cop character called Sheriff Loomis (Randy Quaid), but he mostly just stands aside and comments while The Wraith does its thing. There comes a time to shrug when some supernatual entity picks off bullies and gutterpunks. Why interfere? It’s nature’s way.
Will the real Charlie Sheen please stand up?
Technically, Charlie Sheen’s character is named James “Jamie” Hankins. He had previously been a victim of murder, but somehow rolls back into town in various formats: One is as Charlie Sheen, the other is as The Wraith (apparently the school janitor job was taken). We learn very early on that Packard was Hankins’ murderer, and is ultimately the source of the movies’ mayhem. Keri suffers from nightmares, particularly of Jamie’s death and his killer. There’s a sense that Packard has nothing against committing a similar crime. He’s an a-hole.
It’s not all serious stuff, though. Keri and Charlie Sheen hang out a bunch, and when she rides on his dirt bike, she might as well say, “This is the coolest bike I’ve ever ridden!” Also, when he drives off, you get the sense that she sees him as the stupid-ass bad-boy stereotype. Indeed, he is a bit of a bad boy. At the end of the day, he’ll look to Packard’s gang and say, “Yep, everybody died. That’s the best feeling I’ve had in my life. Do you want a ride with me?” He and Keri also get it on at one point, and there are a few T&A moments scattered throughout, earning some extra 1980s points.
The Wraith is a bit confusing, though, because Sheen’s character is also named Jacob “Jake” Kesey. So, basically, he has three apparently distinct identities. In any case, it gives him options. He’ll drive around in the Wraith-mobile, or maybe race through the Arizona desert at the end of a dirt road on the bike. Even without seeing it on screen, we can easily imagine Jake on his Enduro, as comfortable as possible, tearing through switchbacks. As the sun goes down and the desert gets dark, Jake — the righteous, vengeful specter bad boy — gets the girl. Talk about bi-winning with some tiger blood dipping sauce!
What are your thoughts on The Wraith! Get vengeful in the comments!