The Wraith (1986)
|Year Of Production||1986|
|Running Time||88:50 (Case: 93)|
|RSDL / Flipper||No/No||Cast & Crew|
|Region Coding||1,2,3,4,5,6||Directed By||Mike Marvin|
Beyond Home Entertainment
J. Peter Robinson
|Pan & Scan/Full Frame||None||English Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)|
|Widescreen Aspect Ratio||1.78:1|
|Video Format||576i (PAL)|
|Original Aspect Ratio||1.85:1||Miscellaneous|
|Annoying Product Placement||No|
|Action In or After Credits||No|
The Wraith is a card-carrying member of that genre of films called Flops That Have Enjoyed A Strong Cult Following Since They Went To Video. There seems to be a minor reason for everyone to enjoy it, although the two most popular reasons to watch it seem to be the custom-made Dodge (which is supposed to be a "supernatural car" but has several clearly visible logos from different manufacturers), and the presence of Sherilyn Fenn. Indeed, numerous commentators have already stated that the basic plan of action on this film was to make a great car and hope that that would hide the lack of a decent script or coherent direction. In a nutshell, the plot is what you get if you take equal parts of Mad Max and certain elements from the Star Wars saga, strain out all the bits that made those films classics, then blend.
This is not to say that The Wraith is not a classic in and of itself; I mean there are some classic(ally bad) performances, some extremely cheesy special effects, and Sherilyn Fenn gets partially naked. The film is set in some desert area of Arizona, where Packard Walsh (Nick Cassavetes) and his gang regularly flaunt the law and generally make life unpleasant for the rest of the populace. One day, a young man going by the name of Jake (Charlie Sheen) arrives in town and begins networking with locals who are sick to death of Packard and his hangers-on. It seems that a while ago, Packard and his gang murdered a young man named Jamie Henkins, and now his brother, Billy (Matthew Barry) would give anything to settle the score. Meanwhile, Keri (Sherilyn Fenn) is just sick of Packard treating her like his personal property, and wouldn't feel any loss if the man turned up dead. Nor, for that matter, would the local sheriff, who goes by the name of Loomis (Randy Quaid), but unfortunately his hands are tied by procedure and regulations. I certainly didn't miss Packard after he was gone, but it seems the makers of the film missed the chance to do something visually exciting with any of the death sequences.
Naturally, this all changes when, coinciding with Jake's arrival, a wraith figure in the aforementioned supernatural car begins showing up and challenging Packard's gang members to races. The rules of the races as set by Packard himself are pretty simple: the first one to make it to a certain landmark that I cannot remember the name of wins the pink slip to their opponent's car. Of course, such a race against a car that really comes from beyond is not a remarkably good idea, but nobody accused Packard or his gang members of being particularly bright. So when Packard's cronies are suddenly turning up dead, still recognisable in spite of crashing and burning in what would be thousand-degree fires, both Packard and Loomis are determined to find out who the owner of this sleek machine is, and why they have it in for Packard.
Naturally, a real cult following has built up around this film since it was released (direct to video in this country if I remember correctly) in 1986. It's also always nice to see Ozzy Osbourne's music featured in an appropriate context, but this B-grade effort just doesn't compare to Mad Max when it comes to truly spectacular car, person, and property destruction. If you have a thing for Sherilyn Fenn, like most of us who are tired of the blonde bimbo set do, then this effort is worth indulging in just to see her give a better performance than the script deserves. Those of you who fondly remember the cheesiness of the 1980s will have no trouble enjoying the plot, too.
In next year's DiVAs, I propose that we add a category for Most Improved Distributor, because Force Video deserve that much on the basis of this title alone. Indeed, I found this transfer more pleasurable to watch than numerous others I have seen from distributors with much more money to throw at their telecine or restoration units.
The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, and it is 16x9 Enhanced.
The sharpness of this transfer is as good as it is ever likely to get, barring the existence of a HDTV master, with the Arizona location springing to life like never before. The shadow detail is generally poor, probably due in part to the film stock that was used in principal photography. Most of the action takes place during daylight hours, so this is not a great concern. There is no low-level noise.
The colours in this transfer are generally very rich and vibrant, with the lane markings on the roads and the vomitous colour schemes in clothing or cars being well represented here. Surprisingly, given the age and obvious lack of production values in the film, there are no problems with bleeding or misregistration.
MPEG artefacts were not a problem in this transfer. Film-to-video artefacts consisted of some telecine wobble that was generally restricted to the opening credits, and some very mild aliasing that occasionally bordered on becoming moderate. I found the aliasing to be noticeable, but not at all distracting, which is where this transfer rides roughshod over most of the recent transfers I've seen from other distributors of late. Film artefacts consisted of a sprinkling of small black and white marks on the picture, but these were more than acceptable in light of the film's age.
There is only the one soundtrack on this DVD: a Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo mix of the original English dialogue, with a bitrate of 224 kilobits per second. Putting aside my urge to bemoan the lack of a 5.1 or at least a 2.0 surround remix, this is actually a very good soundtrack when you consider all the elements.
The dialogue is clear and easy to understand at all times, with no instances of mumbling or accents to get in the way. The only specific fault I could find with the soundtrack is that Sherilyn Fenn's voice takes on a slightly tinny edge at 29:36, as if someone had yanked down the bass frequencies on the equaliser just at the wrong moment. This particular problem was only just on the edge of perceptibility, so it would be easy to miss it altogether. There were no specific problems with audio sync, save for some marginal sound effects at times.
The score music in this film is credited to Michael Hoenig and J. Peter Robinson, but the real standout part of the soundtrack in this regard is the plethora of numbers from the 1980s that date the film beyond the point of no return. Indeed, the only contemporary number in the film that seems any less dated is Secret Loser, by Ozzy Osbourne, and even this song is very much a product of its times rather than one that transcends them.
The surround channels were not used at all by this soundtrack, which is a great pity considering how much opportunity there was for the sounds of cars to pass by, or other such simple effects that could be produced in a surround soundtrack. Likewise, the subwoofer was not specifically used by this soundtrack, although my amplifier engaged it to support the sounds of cars, guns, and the music, which kept some atmosphere in the proceedings.
|Surround Channel Use|
The menu is static, 16x9 Enhanced, and easy to navigate.
This title does not appear to be available in Region 1.
The Wraith is a nice film with plenty of action, drama, and other such elements that will keep the viewer entertained for its brief running length. It is one of the most, if not the most, pleasurable discs I have reviewed in the past couple of months, so full marks to Force Video for effort.
The video transfer is excellent considering the age of the film.
The audio transfer may be stereo-only, but it is a very good stereo-only mix.
The extras are non-existent.
|DVD||Toshiba 2109, using S-Video output|
|Display||Samsung CS-823AMF (80cm). Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 576i (PAL).|
|Audio Decoder||Built in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.|
|Amplification||Sony STR DE-835|
|Speakers||Yamaha NS-45 Front Speakers, Yamaha NS-90 Rear Speakers, Yamaha NSC-120 Centre Speaker, JBL Digital 10 Active Subwoofer|