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Film / The Wraith

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Charlie Sheen stars in a film about death races.

The Wraith was made in 1986 starring, alongside Sheen, Nick Cassavetes, Sherilyn Fenn, Randy Quaid and Clint Howard.

Sheen plays Jake Kesey, a mysterious motorcycle-riding drifter who catches the eye of local girl Keri Johnson (played by Fenn), in an Arizona town. In doing so he runs afoul of a group of Road Pirates led by Packard Walsh (played by Cassavetes), who make their living by challenging locals to drag races, using their cars as collateral and chop-shopping their winnings. Packard himself is a psychopathic Crazy Jealous Guy that everyone fears and claims Keri as his property. An unidentified car and its armor-clad driver challenge the gang, one by one, to a race ending in their death. Sheriff Loomis (played by Quaid) investigates these deaths not only in hope of catching the killer, but also as a means of catching Packard in the act. It all begins to unravel as the connection among Keri, Jake, Packard and the mysterious driver becomes clearer as Packard is the last on the chopping block.

Tropes Associated with The Wraith

  • All There in the Manual: According to Mike Marvin, the reason why the Wraith's braces disappear after every kill is that he is getting stronger.
  • Animated Credits Opening: The entire scene in the beginning of the film, building up towards The Wraith's first appearance, is animated.
  • Agent Scully: Even though he has seen first hand what The Wraith can do, Loomis does not believe that he's Jamie Hankins' spirit. Although his lines over Packard's body and his staking out Keri's house in the final scene imply he's starting to.
    Loomis: Bad feelings don't lead to resurrections.
  • The Alleged Car: Billy's Triumph Spitfire 1500, it barely starts and when it does, Packard and the gang are already surrounding him before he could move a few inches. Jake gives him the Turbo Interceptor, much to his glee.
  • Ask a Stupid Question...: Regarding Oggie's death. Deputy Murphy even gets called out on it.
    Murphy: You think he made it?
    Stokes: You gotta be kidding me. Local kid?
    Murphy: Used to be.
  • Asshole Victim: Packard and his gang. Sheriff Loomis investigates the Wraith's killing spree because it's his job to do so, not because Packard's gang deserve justice, and once he figures out the Wraith is only chasing the gang, that it's revenge for Jamie's death, and all of the involved members of the gang have been killed, Loomis decides it's okay to let it go. he even makes clear to Packard that he will gladly have them put in death row if they think them being targeted gives them reason to kill the Wraith.
  • Beneath Notice: Packard is The Dreaded for just about everyone below the age of twenty-five in town; however, him being the leader of a small gang of road pirates in backwater Arizona blinds everyone (including Loomis, who simply thinks he's a small-time punk) to the fact that's he's a dangerous, murderous psychopath.
  • Big Damn Heroes: The Wraith shows up just as Packard is about to kill Keri.
  • Big "NO!": Rughead gets one when The Wraith lifts the visor on his helmet prior to shooting up the garage. The face is somewhat hidden, but Rughead is the only one to recognize the man as Jamie Hankins, who is supposed to be dead. His reaction also counts as Go Mad from the Revelation, as Skank and Gutterboy's deaths finally break him and make him confess his knowledge of the murder to Loomis.
  • Body Horror: The Wraith's victims, despite their car exploding and burning, come out completely intact and unmarred. The exception being that their eyes are no longer in their blackened sockets.
  • Broken Bird: Keri became this when Jamie died, which was one of the reasons she stayed with Packard despite her dislike and fear of him. Jake makes it his life mission to break her out of that funk.
  • But Now I Must Go: Played with, after Jake reveals himself to Keri, he goes to say goodbye to Billy and then leaves him the Turbo Interceptor as a replacement for his Triumph. Instead of just outright leaving everyone behind, he takes Keri with him out of town.
  • Came Back Wrong: When Jake finally reveals himself to Keri, that he's the ghost of Jamie Hankins. He lampshades this trope. As both characters were played by two different actors.
    Jake: This is as close as I could come, to who I once was.
  • Casting Gag: In the Japanese dub, the titular Wraith/Jamie is voiced by Shūichi Ikeda, who already had some experience playing guys driving vehicles (or robots) faster than usual, except replace red with black and had a grudge against the people who wrong him in the past.
  • Cool Car: The movie has a list of cool cars, but the most prominent are The Wraith's Dodge M4S Turbo Interceptor and Packard Walsh's 1976 Corvette.
  • Covers Always Lie: As seen in the above poster, not one of those people looks remotely like the main cast, even though the three men wear outfits that match Charlie Sheen, Nick Cassavettes, and Griffin O'Neal's costumes. Not to mention Griffin O'Neal (apparently) being on the poster, when he's the first character killed, and only in two scenes.
  • Crazy Jealous Guy: Packard Walsh is the poster child for this. He is violent against anyone who even looks at Keri. He even killed her boyfriend, Jamie as the result of said jealousy.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Each race, especially ones involving The Wraith, are these.
  • Dark Is Not Evil: The Wraith is clad in dark armor and drives an all black car, but he only goes after Packard's gang.
  • The Dreaded: The entire town fears Packard Walsh, with the exception of Billy, The Wraith Jake and Loomis.
  • Drives Like Crazy: Skank, in his pursuit of Jake and Keri. Apparently he and Gutterboy have a history of this:
    Gutterboy: It's too bad about the 'Cuda, Skank. It's our, what is it, tenth car?
Not to mention, when Packard finds them walking and Skank tells him "We... uh... had a little trouble with the 'Cuda." Packard's response is simply a silent sigh and an eyeroll.
  • Dumbass Has a Point: Skank has a few moments of these. The most prominent one is when Packard tries to shoot the Wraith's car, but Skank stops him.
    Packard: (holds a shotgun on him) Skank, why is it you continue to question my authority?
    Skank: (bats the gun aside) Cool it, man! You got a big audience with Rughead over there, man. It'll be first-degree murder.
    Packard: (mollified and backs off) You're right.
  • Every Car Is a Pinto: Every time The Wraith runs someone off the road, they blow up. Despite being engulfed in flames, see Body Horror above.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Packard's hobbies include, stealing, abuse, murder and cutting himself, but he cannot stand it when Skank is getting high off car fluids.
    Packard: And Skank, do me a favor? Get rid of that zombie piss you're drinking, before it turns you into a mushroom.
  • Fan Disservice: Jake being undressed down to briefs and Keri being only in panties during the murder flashback sequences (Packard and his gang broke into their room while they were making love).
  • Foreshadowing: When The Wraith confronts Packard and the gang at their garage, Packard warns him that his shotgun might set off the Ether and Acetylene. The Wraith later crashes his car into the garage killing Skank and Gutterboy and destroying the garage in a big Ether and Acetylene-fueled fireball.
  • Fourth-Date Marriage: Teenagers in The '80s or not, Jake and Keri's relationship moves very fast for two people who've known each other for a week at the most. Justified by a) Keri being desperate for any kind of escape from Packard's psychological imprisonment of her, and b) Jake is the resurrected form of her true love, Jamie; when Keri talks about her strange dreams, it's implied that she is subconsciously aware of this as well, and has been from the first moment she saw Jake.
  • Gadgeteer Genius: Rughead is able to build new fuel injection plants for Packard's car and a digital radio killer to disable cars that attempt to run. The Wraith destroys the new engine before it can be used. The digital radio killer is placed in the Interceptor's engine before the race with Minty, but has no effect whatsoever.
  • Good Scars, Evil Scars: Jake is an all-around nice guy, who just so happens to have gruesome knife scars on his back and neck. They were from his previous death as Jamie Hankins.
  • Good Is Not Soft: Although he's only after Packard's gang, it doesn't stop The Wraith from doing some collateral damage to Loomis' cars, since they are only in his way.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Rughead was already packing up and leaving after Minty's death, not wanting to deal with the gang anymore. But after The Wraith obliterated Skank and Gutterboy, destroying Packard's garage in the process, he confesses his knowledge of the gang's murder of Jamie Hankins to Loomis. He's the only one in the gang that was spared by The Wraith, because despite his knowledge, it was after the fact; he didn't participate in the murder. He didn't even know he was helping dispose of Jamie's body, though he figured it out afterwards.
  • He's Not My Boyfriend: Despite Packard saying otherwise, Keri insists that Packard isn't her boyfriend. The only reason she hangs out with him, is because she's very scared of him. She flats out says it to him after Oggie's death.
    Keri: I don't love you. I've never made love to you and never will.
  • Honking Arriving Car: At the sun-and-swim gathering by the river, Skank and Gutterboy sound the horn at their arrival to call over Packard but not before Skank takes a swig of breaker fluid first.
  • If I Can't Have You…: Packard says it almost word for word to Keri. It's why he killed Jamie Hankins in the first place; Keri never looked at another boy while she had Jamie.
    Keri: You think you own me, that somehow I'm your private property.
    Keri: That's because everybody's scared of you.
    Packard: If you're not gonna be my girl, you're not gonna be anybody's.
  • Inspector Javert: Sheriff Loomis was this for Packard, and later The Wraith.
  • Large and in Charge: Packard, played by 6'6'' Nick Cassavetes
  • Magitek: The Wraith car's engine is a strange blend of supernatural and quasi-futuristic technology that is never explained. It almost looks alien.
  • Master of Illusion: Implied with The Wraith. Both Oggie and Minty should have seen the Interceptor blocking the road, but the final shots of their faces show they don't see the car until a few moments before impact. We also see Packard's POV directly during his final moments; he speeds up to hit The Wraith, who he sees standing in the road, and doesn't perceive that the Interceptor is actually racing towards him, intending to take him out in a head-on collision.
  • Nice Girl: Keri is this when not dealing with Packard Walsh. She's good friends with Billy Hankins and despite her fear of Packard, goes on various dates with Jake.
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: All Billy was doing was offering a tired Keri a ride back home, yet Packard sees it as Billy making a move on Keri. Their standoff halts briefly as The Wraith shows up, prompting them to go race The Wraith instead.
  • No Kill like Overkill: On top of beating him and stabbing him to death, Packard finishes poor Jamie off by putting his body in the trunk of a car, pushing the car over a cliff, then blowing it up with a shotgun.
  • Oh, Crap!: When Rughead connects the digital radio killer to The Wraith's car, he gets a glimpse of what the Turbo Interceptor's engine looks like. His look is a combination of super-impressed and scared. Packard doesn't even care enough to look for himself, more obsessed with the ongoing race.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: played with. Nearly everyone calls him Skank, even his uncle, but he doesn't seem to mind Loomis or Packard (although, one's the sheriff and the other's a psychotic) calling him Maurice.
  • Our Ghosts Are Different: In this case, they come back with a technologically advanced car and race people to their deaths.
  • Painful Transformation: The Wraith's transformation into Jake shows that although nothing outwardly physical happens to him, the expression on Jake's face shows that it hurts when he does it.
    The Wraith /Jake: I can't do that again.
  • Police Are Useless:
    • Zigzagged. Loomis would very much like to bust Packard and his gang, but he never seems to be able to get enough evidence. You'd think if he talked to the couple from the beginning of the movie, or maybe actually did a little, you know, detective work...
    • Justified in their pursuit against The Wraith. Despite all their efforts they honestly had no clue what they were dealing with.
  • Prematurely Marked Grave: The graveyard scene where Packard sees a tombstone with his name on it courtesy of the titular Wraith.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Sheriff Loomis, he's still willing to try to find The Wraith even though he doesn't see a big deal about him offing Packard's gang only. He gives up the search after Packard dies.
    Loomis: There's a kid out there using his car to kill people. Not that it's such a big deal since it seems to be your gang he's got it in for... so, if you guys try to take the law into your own hands, and that killer turns up dead, I'm gonna see you all sniffin' cyanide in the Arizona gas chamber.
  • Resurrected Romance: Jamie came back from the dead as a spectral entity to exact revenge on his killers. He also rekindles his prior romance with his girlfriend, and they drive off into the sunset (okay, the moonlight...) at the end.
  • Resurrection Revenge: A gang of street racers find themselves facing off with a mysterious new driver. The mysterious driver ends up killing each member of the gang one by one. At the end, it's revealed he's the ghost of a man murdered by the gang. Notably, the only member of the gang he spares was innocent of the murder.
  • Romantic Ride Sharing: There are several scenes in the film where Keri rides on the back of Jake's motorbike that are intended to suggest Keri being close to the ghost of her dead boyfriend. There's also a moment early in the film where Jake offers Keri a ride on his bike, but her overly possessive, evil "boyfriend" Packard gets in the way. At the end of the movie, after Packard is killed and Jake reveals his true identity to Keri, the two take off together into the Arizona desert.
  • Rule of Three: There are only 3 Races between The Wraith and Packard's gang. First is Oggie, second is Minty, third is Packard.
  • Running Gag:
    • You have to listen closely, but Billy has a habit of casually calling Jake 'bro'. Becomes something of a Tearjerker when you realize he does this because he misses Jamie. Even more so when you realize that Jake ''is'' Jamie; maybe Keri wasn't the only one who subconsciously recognized him.
    • Skank's habit of drinking various car fluids.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: Rughead decides to bail when he can't take the killings anymore. He's the only one that survives, because he wasn't involved in Jamie's murder.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Skank has one after The Wraith shoots up their garage with his gun.
    Gutterboy: Skank, who is that guy?
    Skank: I don't know, but whoever he is, he's weird and pissed off.
    • Skank's real name being Maurice may be a reference to The Steve Miller Band's song "The Joker".
  • Shotguns Are Just Better: The Wraith has a modified Spas-12 that shoots lasers, which he uses to trash the gang's cars. Packard himself has a double-barreled one he planned on using in retaliation. Skank tries to use it on The Wraith, but it backfires.
  • Smug Snake: Packard is determined to race The Wraith and win his car despite seeing what The Wraith can do.
  • Stealth Hi/Bye: both The Wraith and Jake do this, although Jake only uses the ability to dissolve into several glowing points of light and re-form elsewhere once before the end.
  • Supporting Protagonist: The title character, The Wraith, is The Hero of this movie, but the film follows Packard Walsh, the crumbing of his dark kingdom as The Dreaded of the highway and the revelation of him being Jamie Hankins' murderer that causes the birth of The Wraith himself.
  • The Only One Allowed to Defeat You: Packard intentionally causes an accident, to keep the cops from interfering with his race against The Wraith.
  • The Stoner: Skank gets high off car-related chemicals, such as washer fluid, brake fluid and WD-40.
  • Those Two Guys: Skank and Gutterboy. Their humor almost makes you forget that they are a pair of cold-blooded killers that helped murder Jamie Hankins. They're such a tight pair that only one brace disappears when the warehouse explodes, implying that the two of them only count as a single kill.
  • Title Drop: Rughead is the only person to refer the Wraith by its name.
    Rughead: This gang thing was cool when we had the edge, but now that there's that Wraith out there, that killed Oggie.
    Skank: A what out there man?
    Rughead: A Wraith, man, a ghost, an evil spirit and it ain't cool.
  • Token Good Teammate: Rughead. In a gang of bullies and thugs, he's just a geek in over his head. He's also the only one not involved in Jamie Hankins' murder, and consequently the only member of the gang spared from the Wraith's vengeance.
  • Unfinished Business: Jamie/Jake was murdered by a local gang of criminals because their leader wanted his girlfriend for himself. He comes back from the dead in a different body, and travels around in a cool car wearing a black suit with a motorcycle helmet. Jake kills his murderers one by one, gives his car to his younger brother, and moves away with his girlfriend instead of passing on afterwards.
  • The Voiceless: The Wraith never talks, with the exception of leaving a note on Packard's dashboard and making a headstone with Packard's name carved on it appear as a silent threat.
  • Vader Breath: The only sounds you'll ever hear the Wraith make.
  • Verbal Tic: Whenever Packard is intimidating someone, or doesn't know a person's name, he always refers to them as "Guy."
  • Villain Protagonist: Packard Walsh, he's the Big Bad of this story, but the film mostly follows him and his gang and Packard's gradual downfall of his tyrannical reign over the highway caused by the titular Wraith, The Hero of the story, while at the same time revealing in the interim Packard's part in Create Your Own Hero by killing Jamie Hankins, who would revive as the Wraith haunting them in return for justice.
  • What Measure Is a Mook?: When Oggie is the first to get killed by The Wraith, the rest of the gang actually feels bad, even Keri, who hates Packard and her life with him, sheds a few tears for him because he was her neighbor. The only one who doesn't care is Packard, but he does show some concern when Keri is crying.
    Packard: What's the matter?
    Keri: I just can't believe Oggie's dead, he lives just up the street from me.
  • Who Are You?: Surprisingly, Jake gets this question more than The Wraith. Not so surprisingly when it turns out they are one and the same.
  • Worthy Opponent: Packard sees the Wraith as this and even takes the time to warn him that Loomis is after him as well as the gang after The Wraith enters their garaged armed with his shotgun.
    Packard: Look, guy, Loomis is out looking to bust everyone. Now, losing Oggie ain't no big deal and that's a hell of a car you got.
  • Yandere: The driving plot point to the movie and to why Packard killed Jamie.