Harry is having a rough time of it. Due to some obvious mental instability that he is in complete denial of, he just lost his job as a mechanic, his marriage has fallen apart, and he’s lost his place to live. His brother covertly sets him up in an abandoned hotel one of his clients owns until Harry can get back on his feet. But his solitary existence in his new homestead only seems to be making matters worse. Not only is he almost immediately accosted by three thugs breaking into the place, but the longer he’s there, the more his mental condition begins to deteriorate, including vivid hallucinations involving the old staff and residents of the empty hotel. As his condition gets worse, Harry starts to become fixated on the idea of getting a gun and shooting up a local establishment.
Bloody Wednesday is an American thriller/horror film from 1988. Some of the descriptions I’ve since read, from several sources, that it was based on the 1984 McDonald’s Massacre in San Ysidro, California. Even the Wikipedia entry claims as such. But in this case I assume the claim ‘based on’ is being used in the loosest possible sense imaginable. A more accurate description might be ‘the last 5 minutes were vaguely inspired by an event four years prior.’ There’s really only similarity between the real-life events and the film, and that involves a crazy white guy shooting up an eatery. Beyond that the movie has nothing in common with the real-life tragedy. So if you read such descriptions and you go in expecting a tense hostage-like situation, you’re going to be very disappointed. Instead, this is a story, penned by Academy Award winner Philip Yordan, about a man whose isolation, slow mental deterioration, and his inability to distinguish between his hallucinations and real life, cause him to become furious, unstable and, ultimately, violent. It’s sort of like a toned-down version of The Shining. But before you let that excite you, I should probably clarify that it’s a very cheap version of The Shining.
For starters, don’t expect any grandiose shots of sweeping interiors, beautiful decorations or formidable architecture. Most everything here is decidedly unpolished, often tinged with a level of grime and dirt. When it comes to the hotel itself, that aesthetic feels appropriate, as the hotel sort of becomes a physical manifestation of Harry’s deteriorating inner mental condition. But the rest of the film also suffers from not looking quite as polished as it could. Shots aren’t framed as nicely as they could be and everything seems just a little too dark. So while some of the imagery might be intentional, the cinematography here is still strictly B-Movie level.
Part of the core of the film is not being fully aware if what you’re seeing on screen is real, or just a figment of Harry’s imagination. Is what Harry (and the viewer) seeing just a vivid hallucination brought on by Harry’s unstable mental condition? Is the hotel he’s staying at actually haunted by ghosts? Or is it some sort of combination of both? In the end, we’re still not sure, but the film does do a decent job of trying to confuse the viewer. In the end, everyone realizes the truth, even Harry, and it’s partly due to that revelation that he finally fully snaps. It’s these instances that are meant to show how this once seemingly normal (if dull and pathetic) man could ultimately end up going on a killing spree.
Unfortunately, the film really doesn’t have the budget, writing or acting chops to really pull this off. Harry just, quite suddenly, decides that, hay, maybe shooting a bunch of random people would be a good idea? And yes, I know that he’s ‘crazy’ and loons don’t need a coherent excuse to do something, but there’s really no build up to his ultimate conclusion. We’re not given any indication of existing anger issues, prior violence, or even the existence of a previous trauma like PTSD. The closest we come is towards the beginning of the film when, after Harry is institutionalized after showing up to Sunday Church services naked singing a hymn (fun scene), his doctor comments that due to overcrowding they’re going to discharge him, despite her belief that he’s dangerous. But at no point does the film ever go on to explain how they came to that conclusion, nor does anyone seem to take that diagnosis all that seriously. Hell, Harry shows up to his doctor’s house in the middle of the night and she just lets him waltz right in and offers to let him sleep on the couch (nice outpatient care.) If you’re going to let him do that, just how dangerous do you really think he is? So while the film’s basic premise of ‘lets show how this seemingly normal guy could go from 0-Crazy in 1 ½ hours” is an interesting idea, the film really doesn’t do a very good job of illustrating it.
God, I hope this isn’t supposed to be symbolic of something….
One of the most interesting things the movie does is showcase how everyone around Harry reacts towards him once they know he’s gone “crazy.” These aspects of the film are clearly meant as social commentary. Harry’s brother ignores him and treats him like a burden. The doctor says he’s dangerous, but lets him leave the psychiatric institute anyway. His ex-wife wants nothing to do with him while simultaneously not wanting him to ever move on from her. And the police, as always, are gloriously useless. Even when Harry’s doctor shows up and tries to tell them about her concerns, the guy at the desk won’t even look at her until she fills out a form. Harry’s concerns, and the concerns of the people who care for him, are summarily ignored. This facet of the film is still frighteningly accurate, considering that it’s now thirty-plus years later and societal perceptions of the mentally ill are still, in many aspects, treated very much the same as when the film was made.
Bloody Wednesday’s greatest flaw is that, while it has a lot of interesting ideas, this weird little tale just does not have the funds necessary to pull much of it off. The acting is hit-or-miss, the cinemphotograpy is less than stellar, and the logic it used to get from point A to point B is, ultimately, a failure. The movie just does not have the story-telling chops to pull off what it wanted and that’s a real shame. I still ended up liking it, as the film does have some interesting and amusing moments, but I suspect most thriller fans would find Bloody Wednesday to be a bore, and most horror fans will likely be disappointed due to the lack of any real terror and blood (AKA: The title lies. Even at its most violent the movie has very little blood.)
Bloody Wednesday is available for streaming on Amazon Prime.
It is also available on DVD.