Today’s feature is the 1986 car-ghost revenge movie, The Wraith, starring two of the industry’s most infamous figures: Randy Quaid and Charlie Sheen.
The plot of The Wraith is summarized on Rotten Tomatoes as follows:
This supernatural teen action film is about a strange reincarnation with the emphasis on “car.” Young Jamie is killed by the evil Packard (Nick Cassavetes) and his gang of thugs because Jamie was caught romancing Keri (Sherilyn Fenn), Packard’s girlfriend. Suddenly “the Wraith” — a black turbo racing car shows up to challenge Packard (sounds like a Detroit auto duel) whose livelihood comes from stealing cars. What happens next is an endless series of car chases as Packard’s gang of punks start to bite the dust, one by one. Then Jake (Charlie Sheen) comes into town on a motorcycle and makes a play for Keri, giving rise to old animosities one more time.
The Wraith was written and directed by Mike Marvin, whose other credits include writing Hot Dog: The Movie and directing Hamburger: The Motion Picture.
The cinematographer for the film was Reed Smoot, who has worked significantly filming concert movies like Justin Bieber: Never Say Never and Jonas Brothers: The 3D Concert Experience, and also shot Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey.
The Wraith featured work by two primary editors: Scott Conrad (Class of 1999, A Boy And His Dog, Cat’s Eye, Rocky) and Gary Rocklen, who never had any other editing credits.
Two people were given credit for the music in The Wraith: J. Peter Robinson (Beeper, New Nightmare, Wayne’s World, The Wizard, The Gate, Blind Fury) and Michael Hoenig (Class of 1999, Dracula 3000, The Gate).
The producers on The Wraith were Jeffrey Sudzin (Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, Brainscan, Idle Hands, Fright Night Part 2), John Kemeny (The Gate, Iron Eagle II), and Buck Houghton (The Twilight Zone, Hawaii Five-O).
The cast of The Wraith includes Charlie Sheen (Hot Shots, Men At Work, Platoon, Wall Street, Major League), Randy Quaid (Christmas Vacation, Vacation, Kingpin, Independence Day, The Last Detail, Heartbeeps), Nick Cassavetes (Face/Off, The Astronaut’s Wife, Blind Fury, Class of 1999 II), Sherilyn Fenn (Boxing Helena, Wild At Heart), and Clint Howard (Evilspeak, The Dentist II, Carnosaur, Night Shift, Ice Cream Man, Santa With Muscles).
The mysterious, ghostly car featured in the film was a Dodge M4S Turbo Interceptor, which was built by Chrysler and PPG industries at an estimated cost of $1.5 million. Today, the original car is on display at the Chrysler Museum in Auburn Hills, Michigan, and a replica used in the shoot was up for sale last summer online.
Financially, The Wraith was far from a huge hit, grossing only $1.4 million domestically on a production budget of $2.7 million. However, the movie’s international grosses managed to get the film to break even with its budget.
Critically, The Wraith is far more fondly remembered by audiences than film critics: it currently holds Rotten Tomatoes aggregate scores of 27% from critics and 63% from audiences, along with an IMDb user rating of 5.9/10.
The Wraith isn’t a terribly deep movie, and there isn’t much beyond surface level aesthetics that will stick with you. The characters and story are frankly about as paper-thin as they come. As Leonard Maltin put it, this is arguably a movie that is for people who “favor fast cars and lots of noise.” That said, boy does this movie bring it in the department of fast cars and lots of noise.
The races are shot well, the cars themselves are arguably more distinctive and memorable than any of the drivers behind them, and the stunts and effects are marvelous: if you want to see cars in an old-school movie explosion, this movie is for you. There may not be anything beneath the surface of the film, but that surface has a pretty nifty sheen to it.
I do feel like this movie is oddly anachronistic: outside of the soundtrack and the sheer Charlie Sheen-ness of it all, this seems like it would have fit in with the old days of grindhouse car movies. Honestly, if this movie were made today, people would probably laud it for its ode to a bygone era. If you slap some Kavinsky over it and put a leather jacket on Ryan Gosling again, there might just be a cool remake or re imagining here waiting to be cooked up.
Overall, I think there is enough good here to make it worth checking out. There are a lot of missed opportunities to make this a true horror or suspense film, but the stunts and races just about make up for the lacking plot and cartoonish characters. Hopefully, someone will take this concept and build on it someday, because I feel like there is a lot more potential here than was tapped into with The Wraith.
Today I’m going to take a quick look at a b-movie classic: The Thing With Two Heads.
The Thing With Two Heads was a 1972 low budget movie that was presented by the notorious Samuel Z. Arkoff, and distributed by American International Pictures. The film’s writer/director, Lee Frost, had a long career making exploitation features, including 1975’s The Black Gestapo.
The plot of The Thing With Two Heads is summarized on IMDb as follows:
A rich but racist man is dying and hatches an elaborate scheme for transplanting his head onto another man’s body. His health deteriorates rapidly, and doctors are forced to transplant his head onto the only available candidate: a black man from death row.
The movie primarily stars Academy Award winner Ray Milland and former NFL star Roosevelt Grier as the mismatched central pair.
Effects legend and winner of many Academy Awards Rick Baker appears briefly in the film in a gorilla suit, and apparently did work on the effects as well, though without credit.
Nowadays, The Thing With Two Heads is regarded as an off-color cheese-ball classic of trash cinema, that certainly has a bit of a cult following. Roger Ebert gave the movie a 1-star review, and IMDb currently has it at an unenviable 4.1/10 from its user base, but it certainly hasn’t disappeared into absolute obscurity by any means.
The Thing With Two Heads is certainly a movie made for its time period. This reminded me in some ways of Bone, and in other ways of the standard field of blaxploitation movies that came out in the 1970s. However, its goofiness kind of defies classification: it is hard to call this anything other than a b-movie, though there are definitely blaxploitation elements. It isn’t what anyone would call progressive in its portrayal of race, but given the time period, it certainly could have been worse.
The movie certainly isn’t good by any stretch of the imagination, but it has some odd value as a silly relic of its time period. For b-movie fans who can stomach lesser Roger Corman movies, The Thing With Two Heads shouldn’t be any trouble, and might be worth checking out. The effects and stunts are in particular pretty hilariously inept, which are almost worth the experience on their own.
Today, I’m going to take a look at a controversial cult classic: Peter Bogdanovich’s 1968 feature, Targets.
The plot of Targets is summarized on IMDb as follows:
An elderly horror-film star, while making a personal appearance at a drive-in theater, confronts a psychotic Viet Nam War veteran who’s turned into a mass-murdering sniper.
Targets was written, produced, edited, and directed by Peter Bogdanovich, a lauded film critic who became one of the stalwart figures of the New Hollywood movement. After Targets, he built a strong career that included features like The Last Picture Show, What’s Up, Doc?, Mask, Paper Moon, Daisy Miller, and At Long Last Love, among many others. His wife at the time, Polly Platt, is credited as both his co-writer and the film’s production designer. She later gained more notoriety as a producer on such movies as Bottle Rocket, The War of The Roses, Broadcast News, and Say Anything.
Roger Corman was an uncredited executive producer for the film, and was instrumental in its creation. He essentially gave Bogdanovich free reign on the project with a set budget, provided that he was able to make use of stock footage from a previous Corman production, The Terror, and found a way to use the elderly Boris Karloff for just two days. Ultimately, Karloff was needed for five days of shooting, but he waived his fee thanks to his fondness for the screenplay.
The shooting spree featured in Targets was inspired by true events, most notably the 1965 Highway 101 sniper attack, in which a sniper fired on moving cars from a nearby hill, and the Charles Whitman shootings at the University of Texas in 1966. The realistic depictions of mass shootings caused the film to be particularly controversial, even for a b-feature intended for a niche audience.
Samuel Fuller, a noted writer and director in his own right, apparently contributed significantly to the screenplay for Targets, but turned down credit for the movie.
Targets is regarded as one of the starting points for a new era in film horror, as well as a key point in the development of New Hollywood. Books like Shock Value and Easy Riders, Raging Bulls have gone into detail about the film’s production, and how it influenced Bogdanovich’s career and the way audiences thought about horror.
Targets currently has Rotten Tomatoes ratings of 88% from critics and 81% from audiences, along with an IMDb user score of 7.4/10. Its reputation over the years has only grown, as its influence has been felt and appreciated both in and outside of the horror genre.
Targets is, above all else, an effectively eerie movie. The lack of a soundtrack in particular gives the tense and shocking sequences a more pronounced and uncomfortable vibe. There are no cues to indicate what the audience’s reaction should be to any given action, which plays into the fact that the audience is subjected to the killer’s perspective for most of the movie. He doesn’t react to killing someone, and the film doesn’t either. I think that this apect, more so than the shooting sequences themselves, is what made the film so controversial and uncomfortable for people. Murder wasn’t a new topic for film, but showing it from a killer’s perspective was (and still is) genuinely unnerving.
While there are a lot of impressive elements to Targets, it is far from a perfect movie. As with most debut features, it is a little rough around the edges, particularly when it comes to the pacing of events. There are some distinct moments where the lulls in progress last a bit too long, but that said, this is a damn impressive first flick. While Bogdanovich arguably peaked early and has waned since the 1970s, this film provides a good overarching sense of his talents and potential.
For fans of b-movies, horror movies, the New Hollywood era, or even just film history in general, Targets is worth your time to dig up in my opinion. There are a lot of things to like about it, and they certainly far outweigh the negatives.
Welcome to a special feature here at the Misan[trope]y Movie Blog!
Recently, I had a chat with one of the best known cult movie writer/directors: Larry Cohen.
Cohen has had a career that has included hit television shows, blaxsploitation classics, and blockbuster screenplays, but he carved his unique place in film history by writing and directing memorable b-movies like The Stuff, It’s Alive, and Q: The Winged Serpent.
For more on his career, check out the Larry Cohen Collection here at Misantropey, where I have been working through his entire filmography.
Now, enjoy this interview with the one and only Larry Cohen.