Friday, October 01, 2010

31 DAYS OF FRIGHT: Wanna Rethink the Model T, Henry?

It's October 1st and regular readers of the ER blog know what that means.

It means I shake off whatever funk that has caused my posting to become erratic and I fully embrace the spirit of the season and post (or at least attempt to post) something Halloween and/or horror-related each day.

Though it's not always possible to relate the day's post to an actual historical event it's always nice when it does happen. Like today!

Little did Henry Ford know when he introduced the Model T back on October 1, 1908 that he'd be paving the way for an entire genre of "possessed vehicle" movies in which automobiles, hearses, trucks, etc. are controlled by an unseen force intent on killing people. From DUEL, CHRISTINE and THE CAR to MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE, killer cars can be some scary – or not so scary – stuff.

I'm guessing that if Ford could have gotten an advance copy of 1986's THE WRAITH and seen what his invention was leading to he might have been happy to stick with the horse and buggy.

Packed to the gills with the mutant offspring and siblings of more famous (at the time, at least) Hollywood stars, THE WRAITH features Charlie Sheen as the mysterious "new kid on the block" who shows up in town after some poor kid gets offed by a gang of murderous car thieves led by one-time-B-movie-thug Nick Cassavettes. Why? Because the dopey kid was with the gal (a then-scorching hot Sherilyn Fenn) ol' Nick had his eyes on.

Cassavettes and his motley crew Рwhich includes Griffin O'Neal and Clint Howard Рhave been laying waste to their desert town while the ineffectual and clich̩-riddled Sheriff Loomis (Randy Quaid) barely lifts a finger.

One by one, Jake (Sheen) wipes out the gang by racing them, pulling away and then placing his killer Dodge M4S in their path. As the titular Wraith he can't die and the car continually regenerates so we repeat the cycle until Cassavettes is killed in a crash and the Wraith and Fenn's character ride off into the sunset.

Writer/Director Mike Marvin – who also wrote the classic HOT DOG: THE MOVIE and directed HAMBURGER: THE MOTION PICTURE – might have been in a little over-his-head on this non-fast-food-related epic. The flick fails to explain why this kid, of all people, gets a second chance. We never know why Fenn's character doesn't tell the cops she knew who killed her boyfriend, even though she admits to knowing at the end. We never find out why the kids never get caught, how they built this amazing chop-shop with all the latest equipment, or where the their parents are!

Oddly enough, Marvin would later use the Sheen character's name – Jake Kesey – as his alias on such follow-up directorial efforts as TREASURE, MADAM SAVANT and MAUI HEAT. He must have really identified with the character and perhaps was simply waiting for his career to regenerate after this disaster.

Sheen, whose career-making role in PLATOON was still a few months away, is hardly ever shown in character, making his top billing more of a mystery than the film ever delivers. And the car chases, which should have been the flick's saving grace – a la the delicious car porn that is THE FAST & THE FURIOUS franchise – are terminally dull affairs that all end the same way.

Frankly, only Cassavettes and Quaid save the flick from being a complete waste of time.
And before you give me any crap about THE WRAITH not being fodder for a seasonal post, please be aware that a wraith is defined as a "ghost, apparition or specter". So there.

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