The Wraith

The Wraith. Alliance Entertainment 1986.

Before watching the movie:

So what I’m seeing described here is a techno ghost chasing down the drag racing gang that killed him in a magic racing car. I’m trying to come up with a crazier movie synopsis and, okay, Ghost Rider probably counts. And a whole lot of other contemporary horror stories, I guess. I withdraw the question.

I’m not clear right now on who the protagonist is. The summary I saw framed it as the dead guy’s story, the poster looks like it’s about a group of people who may be the drag racing gang that got him killed, but I don’t think the heroes of a horror story would be as culpable as the summary I saw made out.

After watching the movie:

In a small desert town in Arizona, Packard Walsh’s gang controls all the teens through intimidation, and even forces out of towners with sporty cars into street racing for the title. Packard considers Keri Johnson his girl, and so nobody is allowed to touch her, despite the fact she detests him. Not long back, her boyfriend Jamie disappeared without a trace. He was with her at the time, but she was found unconscious with no memory of what happened. Into this town comes Jake Kesey, a boy with not much to say about where he’s from, who quickly befriends Keri as well as Jamie’s brother Billy. Also at about the same time, Packard’s gang’s dominance on the streets is challenged by an out of towner in black body armor and helmet driving a custom Turbo Interceptor. One by one, the gang members go out racing the Interceptor only to get lured into fiery explosions. The Interceptor always comes back, but the gang members are found in their charred wrecks with unmarked bodies and empty eye sockets. With the mysterious racer taking over his turf and Jake moving in on his girl, Packard could do just about anything.

The 50s really were back with the 80s. Like License to Drive, this is a movie clearly set in the 80s (though you can mostly tell by the cars) glorifying a culture of independent teens with nice cars hanging out at the one burgers and shakes joint in town, with no mention of school or parents, and barely mention of work (Keri and Billy both work at the burger joint, and a couple of Packard’s goons work at an uncle’s scrapyard). Packard’s gang even have their own garage to soup up all their vehicles out of. It’s a dream of teenhood I’m not even sure existed in the 1950s, which invented the idea of teens as a cultural and economic force.

The plot seems to build up to a late reveal of what Jake and the Wraith in the Interceptor are about, which seems to be a balance undone by even the marketing of the time. The first scene shows supernatural lights from the sky turning into the Interceptor and its driver, so we’re definitely meant to recognize that there’s something magical happening, but it’s hard to tell how much we’re really supposed to be able to surmise the connection between Jake’s arrival and the disappearance of Jamie, something Jake appears to not know anything about so it can be explained to us.

The combination of the slow burn and synopsis that may have given too much away made a somewhat frustrating experience as I waited for the story to catch up with what I knew was coming, since most of what’s in between the pieces of the puzzle is Packard being nasty. I came in knowing almost nothing, but I seem to have known exactly what I needed to not know yet.

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