File Bloody Wednesday under “flawed but interesting.” Part condemnation of our mental health system, part evening news panic, part study of an isolated man going insane, and all exploitation, Bloody Wednesday feels like a film that would have made itself right at home in the 70s. It’s listed as a 1987 release, but the only thing that marks it as 80s in my opinion is that the director admits he was inspired to make it by the McDonalds shooting that happened in ’84.
From the beginning we are told that the main character, Harry, is going to kill a bunch of people in a coffee shop. Then we go back to when his troubles became apparent. Harry gets fired from his mechanic job because he forgets how to reassemble an engine, then ends up in the mental hospital briefly for showing up at church butt ass naked carrying only a strategically placed Bible. Thankfully, the actor has a decent enough body (he’s kind of a butterface though.) What Harry doesn’t have is anyone in the whole dang world that cares about him. The doctor can’t hold him in the hospital because he won’t agree to be admitted, and she can’t prove he may become violent, so Harry’s asshole brother lets him stay in an empty highrise hotel owned by a business associate. And this is where things really go right in this film, at least for me.
In the hotel, Harry sees snakes, a phantom bellhop, an imaginary hotel detective, ghostly former guests, his ex-wife, and some local hoodlums; all but the hoodlums seem to be hallucinations, and how often even the hoods are actually there is debatable. You can never tell if Harry’s dreaming or awake until after each scene has ended, and in some cases, it’s never clear. It’s not Jack going nuts in The Shining by any means, but it’s the best Shining homage I’ve ever seen in terms of the way it maintains the feeling of watching someone lose their grip on reality. I don’t know how this otherwise ham-handed film managed to create that much atmosphere in the hotel sequences, because it sure wasn’t the acting, but the hotel madness scenes are super creepy. I can tell you that after seeing this, I’d never stay alone in a giant empty building. Too many echoes in the mind.
Back on Earth in our “look how much U.S. mental health services suck” plot, Harry maintains a therapeutic relationship with his doctor from the psych ward, as well as an imaginary romantic one. She finally realizes how crazy he is, and tries to get the police to go after him, but it’s too late. The shooting scene really throws Bloody Wednesday firmly into exploitation territory, because it goes on and on and on. I don’t even think they could have fit the number of victims they portray in the building used for a set. I think they had to show some people getting shot, turn off the camera, bring in more actors, show them getting shot, etc. That’s the thing about exploitation, though: the film makes some good points, showing us how lonely Harry is, and how his doctor tries frantically to save him after he slips through the cracks in the system, but ultimately this film is all about a bare ass in church, a guy talking to a teddy bear that talks back, and the shootout.
I don’t know why the film chooses spend most of the running time making the viewer feel sorry for the killer, and this leads to the biggest flaw in the picture; more than the bad acting and low budget, the ending we’ve known about all along still seems to come out of nowhere for the character. He’s a looney sad sack, then he gets crazier, and then he pretty much says, “Well, time to kill people,” but we don’t see him progress to that level of menace. Maybe I’m reading it wrong. Maybe that is the whole point of the film, that the writer (Oscar winner Philip Yordan, who also wrote Death Wish Club of Night Train to Terror fame) really does think mass murder has no reasoning behind it. Or maybe the thinking was that it’s all in the hands of the system, with little responsibility on the mentally ill killer. Regardless, I have to admit it’s a fascinating trip.
Bloody Wednesday is in the public domain, so have a good old stare at Harry.