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Featured DVD Review: The Wraith: Special Edition

February 28th, 2010

The Wraith: Special Edition - Buy from Amazon

The Wraith! It's a mostly forgotten movie from the mid-1980s that is cherished by a lot of people. Okay, maybe not by a lot of people, but it has an almost obsessive cult following. When the movie first came out, it wasn't exactly loved by critics nor embraced by moviegoers, but it found an audience on the home market. Now, nearly 25 year after it was first released, it is coming out on a Special Edition DVD. Has the film aged well? Does it need a special edition DVD? Is this new DVD all that special?

The movie starts by introducing Packard Walsh, the leader of a local gang who steal cars by intimidating people into illegal races and wagering pink slips. Everyone in town is scared of him, including his 'girlfriend', Keri Johnson. Actually, he just thinks she's his girlfriend, but she wants nothing to do with him. Because he's able to intimidate everyone, everyone's afraid to be seen with her, except her co-worker at Big Kay Burgers, Billy Hankins, whose brother, Jaime, was mysteriously killed while on a date with Keri.

Arriving in town and into this situation is Jake, who instantly falls for Keri, which just as instantly draws the wrath of Packard. However, Packard and his gang have bigger troubles. Another mysterious stranger in a futuristic car shows up and starts challenging the gang members to races, killing them in the process. This gives Sheriff Loomis his best opportunity to bust the gang, which he has never been able to before because none of their past victims would talk. As the confrontation between Packard and The Wraith grows, we learn the connection between The Wraith, Jake, and Jaime, which should come as no surprise to anyone.

The movie doesn't tell a really original story, It's the same basic plot of High Plains Drifter with an innocent killed by a gang only to come back from the dead, and in a different form, to get his revenge on those who wronged him. The big twist here (and the key to the movie's appeal) are the racing sequences and the special effects, which as the director Mike Marvin mentions in the audio commentary track are pre-computer graphics. I'm no gearhead, but I could appreciate that the racing scenes and the oversized explosions were fun (and made sense given the supernatural elements of the story). The explosion of the gang's HQ is awesome and I especially love how the one tire rolls right past the camera. Obviously, they couldn't have planned that, but it looks great. I like the old-school animation, especially the first shot of the Wraith coming together. It just has a style that you don't see now. Some of the acting might be a little suspect and some of the characters are a little over-the-top (I'm thinking of the comedy relief duo of Skank and Gutterboy here). On the other hand, it's always fun to see Clint Howard in a movie and this is one of his more memorable parts. Add in some great 80s Rock'n'Roll and it's a fun ride, if not exactly a high quality movie.

Extras on the Special Edition DVD start with an audio commentary track featuring Mike Marvin. It's a solo track and the energy level isn't high, but there still is plenty of information given about the film's troubled production. (Apparently the budget was just north of $5 million, but only about half that was spent. Additionally, there was a crash during the filming of one of the stunt scenes that resulted in the death of a cameraman, Bruce Ingram.) Next up is a 12-minute interview with Clint Howard, who seems to have enjoyed making the film, but spends a lot of time describing other aspects of his career. There is also an 11-minute interview with the director. Finally, there's an 11-minute featurette on the cars, specifically the Turbo Interceptor. If this were a first run release, this wouldn't be too bad. For a smaller film from the mid-1980s, this is a lot of extras.

The Verdict

I like this movie. I know, that's not something I should admit as a critic, but it has a solid story, some good acting, and good special effects. That said, it also has some flaws in all of these areas as well. The story is predictable, some of the characters are one-dimensional, and some of the race scenes look too much alike. The flaws prevent The Wraith from being a great movie, but it is still one that is worth checking out. As for the Special Edition, given the movie's age and budget, it lives up to the Special Edition label and is worth the upgrade.

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