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Brandon Seiler's Blog on Cars

“The Wraith” – Charlie Sheen’s 1986 cult car movie classic

Charlie Sheen is too damn high. Before he went crazy on the cocaine and was fired from his $1.8 million per episode gig on the hit show “Two and a half men” this month, he starred in a car movie circa 1986 entitled “The Wraith”. It was a terrible film that took the life of a camera man and reached cult status long before Charlie ever lost his marbles. 

The cast includes the likes of other crazies such as Randy Quaid and Donald Howard - Ron Howard’s endearingly odd younger brother who sported an eraser-head hairpiece for the role of Rughead. Add to the mix an alien protagonist vehicle based on the 1982 Dodge PPG M4S Turbo Interceptor (also played by Sheen) and we’ve got ourselves a valid reason to detail “The Wraith.” 

THE PLOT

A rebel street gang somewhere near Tucson, Arizona forces motorists with desirable cars to street race for pink slips. The gang, led by the bad guy, Packard Walsh, always wins the races, often by cheating. Lowlier members of the gang, such as the character Skank, are often seen drinking brake fluid from plastic jugs to induce a crack-like high. 

One day, Packard finds nice-guy teenager Jamie Hankins in bed with his girlfriend, Keri Johnson. Packard kills Jake and is never charged with the crime. 

Shortly thereafter, a mysterious power creates Jamie’s re-embodiment, Jake Kesey (Sheen), an ultra-cool dirt-biker who unbeknownst to the rest of the cast, has the power to transform into an invincible car (The Wraith). Kesey and the Turbo Interceptor embark on a mission to destroy Packard’s gang and rescue Keri from a forced relationship with Packard. 

“Winning!” 

1982 DODGE PPG M4S TURBO INTERCEPTOR

A joint effort of the Dodge Division of Chrysler Motors and PPG Industries was originally built to serve as a pace car for the PPG-CART Indy Car World Series. 

Powered by a Chrysler 2.2L (135 cubic inch) 4cylinder engine rated at 440 horsepower, mated to a 5-speed manual, the mid-engine car had a top speed of 194.8mph and could go from 0-60mph in 4.1 seconds. 

Fun Fact: Although the real car does appear in the film, most of the functional versions used for action sequences are fiberglass molds of the M4S atop custom dune buggy chassis powered by Volkswagen engines. 

FORBODING COMMENTS FROM STUNT COORDINATOR BUDDY JOE HOOKER

“The cars that they built for us were very dangerous and hard to drive. The equipment we had, although it looked good, was very difficult to work with.” 

“We worked on them throughout the film, but you’re doing high-speed stuff, seventy, eighty, ninety miles per hour with these cars that are wandering all over the road and have skeptical braking. There was nothing really built for us to use, we just used what we got.”

GANG MEMBERS & THEIR CARS

Packard - Late-1970s Chevrolet Corvette with a custom paint job and nose clip 

Oggie - 1986 Dodge Daytona Turbo Z 

Minty - 1977 Pontiac Firebird with supercharger 

Skank/Gutterboy - 1966 Plymouth Barracuda 

Rughead - Late-70's Chevrolet pickup 

DEADLY CHASE SCENE

Location: Mt. Lemon outside of Tucson AZ – a very windy mountain road with steep-mountain slopes on one side and sheer drop-offs on the other - 250 feet straight down. The crew set up a 2.5 mile course blocked off on either end by local police with little radio communication in between.

Buddy Joe Hooker was driving the car chasing the Wraith as both vehicles trailed the camera car.

“The camera car had a lot of people on it, maybe too many in my estimation,” said Hooker. 

Around a bend, the overloaded vehicle slid out into the embankment and flipped, sending crew members flying into the mountain-side and over the edge of the cliff. 

“We looked down the road and there was just bodies everywhere,” Hooker said, “We couldn’t get ahold of anybody so Steve Davison and I just started doing a triage thing just trying to help whoever we could.” 

A MIRACLE

“I heard somebody yell, ‘Hey hey, everybody come here, come and look, there’s somebody down there,” Hooker said, “So we go over to the edge, and there’s a guy that had gotten thrown over the edge, one of the grips or someone, had probably gone down sixty, sixty-five feet and landed in a little area with rocks all around into one area with no rocks, and this guy had landed in there, knocked himself out, was in perfect shape though.” 

THE TRAGEDY

Camera operator Bruce Ingram wasn’t so lucky. He died in the wreck. The end credits dedicate the film to his memory.

MAKING IT BETTER, WITH MORE WRECKS

After the tragedy, the film’s creators pitted the crew’s teamsters against the stunt guys in a demolition derby using cars that had already been wrecked during filming or weren’t needed any longer, to raise money for the families affected by the accident. 

QUOTES

Packard Walsh: [Oggie is about to race the Wraith] I want you to tear this guy a new ass****. Do it to him 'Oggie-style'. 
Oggie: Hey, man, I'll burn this Iranian!
[after drinking a bottle of brake fluid] 

Skank: Aaagh! I'm tweakin', dude!
Packard Walsh: Skank, do me a favour will ya? Get rid of that zombie-piss you're drinkin' before it turns you into a mushroom! 

Rughead: Okay! The first one to Dragonfire Crossing wins! You lose the race, you lose your car! Ready! Set! GO! 

Jake (Sheen): It's time for me to hit the road. My business here is finished. But before I do, I want you to have something. 
[Jake hands Billy car keys] 
Jake: She's yours now. 
Billy Hankins: Who's mine? 
Jake: It's outside. Turbo Interceptor. The only one in existence. Does very special things. Take care of it, will you? 
Billy Hankins: Who are you, bro? 
Jake: You said it, Billy.


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Brandon Seiler is a bonafide car guy, member of the Northwest Auto Press Association and proud Washingtonian. He covers the latest auto news, technology, and pretty much anything having to do with car culture. You don't have to like cars to read his blogs, you just have to be able to read.

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