Cult Throwback: THE WRAITH

This film is now available on Shudder.


In a small town ruled by a gang of scuzzy car thieves, a mysterious stranger—named Jake, and played by the inimitable Charlie Sheen—arrives. Is this visibly 22, leather-clad, motorcycle-riding high school student a glimmer of hope for the oppressed townsfolk? And could he be connected to the mysterious, futuristic ghost/robot that’s been slaughtering the gang members? Isn’t it obvious? Don’t worry: after a wild second act centered around sick races and car-related murders, all of
your questions will be answered. Well, most of your questions will– okay, some of your questions might receive answers.

Director: Mike Marvin
Actors: Charlie Sheen, Nick Cassavetes, Sherilyn Fenn, Randy Quaid, Clint Howard
Genre: Horror, Action
Year of Release: 1986

Film review

Let me be entirely clear with you: this is a very bad film. The characters are flat, sexist stereotypes that spout terrible one-liners and unconvincing cliches for the full duration of the 93 minute runtime. God help you if you want an explanation, either. Charlie Sheen’s some sort of revenge ghost—a… Wraith, if you will. Where’d he get the supercar and the Tron suit? Maybe he stopped off in the future before he reincarnated? Which, by the way, how’d he do that? Who knows?

But more importantly: who fucking cares? Let’s talk about the soundtrack. You remember the 80s? It’s that, it’s the 80s. The Wraith soundtrack is everything everyone loves about the decade’s music. Notice I didn’t call it a score, either – you aint gonna find any dramatic violin swells here. This one’s all cheap synth, drum machines set to “Power Rock,” and reverbed-out guitar solos. It’s the best.

You know what else is the best? The Wraith. Despite the fact that it objectively sucks—and it does—it’s an amazingly good time. It defies genre not because it lacks the elements of genre, it’s just that the movie itself isn’t able to convey its genre clearly. People say it’s a horror movie, and it does have violent murder and a ghost, so… Kinda? But it’s a doofy car race action movie, too. And a high school drama, and some kind of weird sci-fi nerd revenge fantasy. Plus, technically, it has the same plot as The Crow: slain loverboy comes back as a rad ghost to kill the shit out of his murderers.

There’s really no part of The Wraith that approaches what you might call rational coherence. Even the dramatis personae is rounded out with characters named things like “Skank,” and “Minty,” and “Gutterboy.” Skank, by the way, lives in a decommissioned airplane and enjoys drinking industrial solvents as a way to pass the time. There isn’t a single second of The Wraith that’s less than over-the-top, preposterous nonsense and it’s fuckin’ perfect for it.


The Wraith has a wholesome feel to it, but it’s pretty freakin’ violent. I mean, there’s only a little bit of the stabbier variety of violence and it’s stylized and largely bloodless. There’s a lot of exploding-car-murders though – like at least six. There’s some corpses, too, but there’s not a second of gore.


Well, you get to see Sherilyn Fenn’s naked boobs, so that’s awesome. There are few innocent, teenager-y sex scenes and some shirtless Charlie Sheen but it’s never extreme or too explicit. This is PG-13 all the way.

interesting elements

  • This is Charlie Sheen’s second-ever lead role in a movie. Johnny Depp was originally considered for the role.
  • The line “whoever he is, he’s weird, and he’s pissed off,” is a direct lift of a line from John Carpenter’s The Thing.
  • Shockingly, there was only one car wreck during the (albeit extremely short) filming period. It did kill a guy though.

Hosting screenshots is expensive. If you want to see more galleries, consider donating!
Become a patron at Patreon!
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x