The Wraith

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For other uses of the term Wraith and The Wraith, see Wraith (disambiguation).
The Wraith
Directed by Mike Marvin
Produced by John Kemeny
Written by Mike Marvin
Music by Michael Hoenig
J. Peter Robinson
Cinematography Reed Smoot
Edited by Scott Conrad
Gary Rocklen
New Century Entertainment Corporation
Alliance Entertainment
Turbo Productions
Distributed by New Century Vista Film Company
Release dates
  • November 21, 1986 (1986-11-21)
Running time
93 min.
Country United States
Language English
Budget $2.7 million
Box office $3.5 million ($1,402,535 US)

The Wraith is a 1986 American independent action-horror film[1] produced by John Kemeny, written and directed by Mike Marvin, and starring Charles "Charlie" Sheen, Sherilyn Fenn, Nick Cassavetes, and Randy Quaid.[2] The film was released theatrically on 288 screens in the U.S. by New Century Vista Film Company (later New Century Entertainment Corporation).

The Wraith tells the story of a murdered Arizona teen who mysteriously returns from the dead as an all-powerful drag racing wraith intent on taking revenge on a gang of car thieves and their psychotic leader, who murdered the teen so the leader could then exert emotional control over the dead teen's girlfriend using intimidation.


Bright lights descend from the night sky, tracing routes over four desert highways, eventually converging on an isolated crossroads. Lightning flashes and blue smoke are the result of their high-speed collision, revealing a sleek, all black Dodge M4S Turbo Interceptor, driven by a black-clad and helmeted figure.

Packard Walsh is the leader of a gang of car thieves in Brooks, Arizona that coerce people with sporty cars into racing for pink slips, cheating them in order to win; he terrorizes and controls everyone through fear and intimidation, including his object of obsession 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 stops and asks Keri Johnson for directions; for reasons Keri doesn't yet understand she is attracted to the stranger. Jake soon befriends both Keri and Jamie's brother William "Billy" Hankins, who works at Big Kay's, the local burger drive-in; they later meet up at a sun-and-swim gathering on a local river (while there, Jake is seen to have multiple scars on his neck and back).

Packard's control of the illegal races is suddenly over when the sleek, all black Turbo Interceptor and its phantom driver (referred to as "The Wraith") suddenly appear out of nowhere. The mysterious driver of this supercar is covered head-to-toe in futuristic black body armor and a black race helmet. The armor is adorned with bright metal braces resembling those worn by victims recovering from severe physical trauma. The car and driver challenges Packard's gang to race, explosively killing them one at a time in high-speed, fiery crashes, which leaves their bodies untouched except for burned-out eye sockets: First to race is Oggie Fisher and later Minty. Skank and Gutterboy are obliterated when the Wraith drives his supercar at high speed through the gang's isolated warehouse garage, causing a huge explosion. Sheriff Loomis and his lawmen are always close behind and in hot pursuit during each deadly encounter, but the sleek Turbo Interceptor and its phantom driver vanish in an electric cloud of glowing light streaks right after the violent death of each gang member. The gang, along with the sheriff, apparently don't believe in these supernatural overtones, and simply think that this so-called wraith is just some cocky mysterious new kid in town.

With Packard's gang having been destroyed by the Wraith, Rughead, the gang's tech-geek, who alone among them did not participate in Jamie's murder, realizes that his gang was targeted because of that murder. Rughead then talks over all the recent strange events with Sheriff Loomis, the Sheriff learning from him that Packard murdered Jamie Hankins, Keri's boyfriend; Packard coveted Keri strictly for himself. Loomis realizes he cannot arrest Packard due to the disappearance of Jamie's body.

Keri becomes suspicious of who Jake actually is, and after she confronts him, he tells her to ask Packard, explaining that he knows why Jake is here; Jake also tells Keri he has come a long way for her and that "my time is just about over".

Packard, now the sole survivor of his gang, forces Keri at Big Kay's to leave town with him. When Billy attempts to intervene, Packard savagely beats him and then kidnaps Keri, telling her they are going to California. When she confronts him about murdering Jamie, he admits to the killing and stops his Corvette; he pulls out a switchblade just as the Turbo Interceptor pulls up. Packard, still believing that the phantom driver is "just a kid", then challenges him to a final road race. Sheriff Loomis and his lawmen are again in hot pursuit, but the racers are soon far ahead; the supercar suddenly reverses direction, and Packard dies horribly in the fiery head-on collision and explosion that follows; his dead body is left intact, just like his dead gang members. With this destructive outcome, a frustrated Sheriff Loomis is forced to abandon his investigation. He observes "You can't stop something that can't be stopped", which leaves him with no rational answers for these violent events.

As Keri arrives home that night, the Turbo Interceptor pulls up, and the all black armored driver emerges, enveloped within flashing bolts of bright light; the figure transforms into Jake. Keri realizes that Jake is actually a returned version of her dead boyfriend Jamie, who then says "this is as close 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 drives the Turbo Interceptor to Big Kay's, startling his brother Billy. Jake hands over the keys to the supercar, noting '"It's the only one in existence; it does very special things". He then tells Billy that his work here is finished. Billy asks, "Who are you, bro"? To this, Jake wryly replies, "You said it, Billy ... the instructions are in the glove compartment". As Jake rides off on his dirt bike, Billy comes to the grief-stricken realization that Jake is somehow his returned older brother, Jamie.

Jake picks up Keri, who is now being watched from a distance by Sheriff Loomis, and together they ride off into the night, leaving the desert city and the past behind them forever.


  • Charlie Sheen as Jake Kesey / The Wraith
  • Matthew Barry as William "Billy" Hankins
  • Sherilyn Fenn as Keri Johnson
  • Randy Quaid as Sheriff Loomis
  • Clint Howard as Rughead
  • Nick Cassavetes as Packard Walsh
  • David Sherrill as Skank
  • Jamie Bozian as Gutterboy
  • Griffin O'Neal as Oggie Fisher
  • Chris Nash as Minty
  • Christopher Bradley as James "Jamie" Hankins
  • Vickie Benson as Waitress
  • Jeffrey Sudzin as Redd
  • Peder Melhuse as Murphy
  • Michael Hundrtford as Stokes
  • Steven Eckholdt as Boy in Daytona
  • Elizabeth Cox as Girl in Daytona
  • Dick Alexander as Sandeval
  • Joan H. Reynolds as Policewoman


The 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.[2]

Shooting locations[edit]

The 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.[3]

Sheriff Loomis (Randy Quaid) goes to talk to Skank (David Sherrill) and Gutterboy (Jamie Bozian) at the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. The film's swimming hole is located in Sabino Canyon, off North Upper Sabino Canyon Road. The curvy mountain road where Packard (Nick Cassavetes) 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 Interceptor[edit]

Main article: Dodge M4S

The Dodge M4S Turbo Interceptor seen 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.[4]

Other cars used[edit]

Packard Walsh drives a late-1970s Chevrolet Corvette with a custom paint job and nose clip; Oggie drives a 1986 Dodge Daytona Turbo Z; Minty drives a 1977 Pontiac Firebird with a highly-visible (but apparently non-functional) supercharger; Skank and Gutterboy drive a beat-up 1966 Plymouth Barracuda; Rughead drives a late-1970s GMC pickup truck. Billy Hankins drives a Triumph Spitfire 1500. (Actors Steven Eckholdt (George), Elizabeth Cox AKA Liz Kern) who are cheated out of their car at the beginning of the film, drive a 1987 Dodge Daytona Shelby Z (distinguished by its pop-up headlights, unlike the exposed headlights of Oggie's 1986 model). The police drive a variety of mid-1980s Plymouth Caravelles and Plymouth Gran Furys, as well as early-1980s Chevrolet Malibus. Sheriff Loomis drives a "civilian" Plymouth Caravelle.[5]


The score was composed and performed by Michael Hoenig and J. Peter Robinson, two famous synth composers of movie and TV series Soundtracks. The soundtrack 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:


While The Wraith received a positive reception from audiences, critical reception towards the film was negative and currently holds a 27% approval rating on review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes based on 11 reviews. Film historian and critic Leonard Maltin dismissed the film, as, "... for those who favor fast cars and lots of noise."[6] 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'."[7]

Following its theatrical run, the film was featured on television in an episode of Cinema Insomnia.[8]

Video releases[edit]

In 1987 the film was released to VHS video by Lightning Video and then on LaserDisc by Image Entertainment; it was then released in 2003 on DVD by Platinum Disc Corporation (now Echo Bridge Home Entertainment). In spite of having no special features and only being available in the pan-and-scan format, there is missing footage on the original VHS and LaserDisc releases. LionsGate released a widescreen Special Edition DVD on March 2, 2010, which includes this footage.[9]

See also[edit]



  1. ^
  2. ^ a b "After All These Years ... Mike Marvin Talks The Wraith." Dread Central, March 17, 2010.
  3. ^ "Big Kay's." Retrieved: January 12, 2015.
  4. ^ "Dodge M4S (Dodge PPG Turbo Interceptor; 1981, 1984)." Retrieved: January 12, 2015.
  5. ^ "'The Wraith'." Internet Movie Cars Database. Retrieved: January 15, 2015.
  6. ^ Maltin 2009, p. 1567.
  7. ^ Pym 2004, p. 1338.
  8. ^ "Episode Guide." Cinema Insomnia.
  9. ^ "The Wraith Roars Back to DVD Courtesy of Lionsgate!" Dread Central, December 8, 2009. Retrieved: January 12, 2015.


  • Maltin, Leonard. Leonard Maltin's Movie Guide 2009. New York: New American Library, 2009 (originally published as TV Movies, then Leonard Maltin’s Movie & Video Guide), First edition 1969, published annually since 1988. ISBN 978-0-451-22468-2.
  • Pym, John, ed. "The Wraith." Time Out Film Guide. London: Time Out Guides Limited, 2004. ISBN 978-0-14101-354-1.

External links[edit]