Harry is unable to hold a job due to his mental illness and lives in an abandoned Hollywood hotel haunted by friendly ghosts of the long dead staff. The lines of his mental illness and reality become extremely blurred as some of his strangest events are indeed witnessed by others. As Harry becomes more frustrated by not being able to distinguish fact from delusion he turns to violence.
Mark G. Gilhuis
I pride myself on being something of an ‘80s horror aficionado, so when this screener landed in my reviewing queue, I honestly looked at it with suspicion. How have I never heard of this? Was this film made in the last few years, just made in the throwback style of that beloved and prolific era of quality horror? Nope. It’s for real — an ‘80s piece, through and through.
It actually touts the idea that it’s “based on a true story” (the overdone current version of that being, “based on true events” scrolled before seemingly every other horror release of the past 10 years), and in fact, it’s a veiled version of the San Diego McDonald’s massacre from 1984. For those of our readers too young to remember this event, it was a big deal. The shooter killed 21 people and injured another 19, before being killed himself, by a member of the SWAT team. Strangely enough, not long after this happened, I can remember my mother telling us to “get down” every time we drove by a McDonalds (by the way, I grew up in South Dakota – not in SoCal). It was always a weird joke to me, but I think that there was some genuine fear in all of us after this event. In hindsight, it seems clear to me that my mother was bothered by this shooting, and her “get down” was some sort of humor defense mechanism. At any rate, Bloody Wednesday took this headline and dramatized it.
Harry Curtis (Raymond Elmendorf) is a broken man. He’s just been fired from his job at a mechanic, his estranged wife is through with him, and after walking nude into a church, he’s institutionalized. After some therapy with Dr. Johnson (Pamela Baker) he’s released into the custody of his harried accountant brother Ben (Navarre Perry). With nowhere for Harry to go, Ben covertly puts him up in an abandoned hotel – courtesy of one of Ben’s clients. For Harry, violent hallucinations and freaky dreams abound and eventually, he befriends a hotel bellboy (again, the hotel is empty and abandoned). He has a few run-ins with some gang members who have also been using the hotel, and eventually, they supply Harry with several firearms. Harry’s mental stability evaporates and he goes on a killing spree. Not a spoiler – as the film begins with the aftermath of his massacre.
The film is a tough pill to swallow. It’s poorly acted, with horrible sound (whenever the characters are in the hotel, there’s a constant generic “wind” sound) and dubbing (close to half the time, the voices don’t match the movement of the actors’ mouths) and the picture has that glaring “Vaseline on the lens” quality all throughout — almost the look of cheap porn of that era (not that I would know, of course). And yet, there is an awkward charm to it. Perhaps it’s just the fact that the film is from the ‘80s and there’s no mistaking that decade’s distinct look.
The hotel location was quite striking. It appears to have been an actual abandoned hotel – at least for the lobby, corridors and laundry/basement areas. The rooms were clearly sets. And it has a shadowy life all of its own. This genuine location find is easily one of the film’s few strengths.
There’s a nightmare sequence involving a snake (they play a part in other places in the story as well), where one of the slithering reptiles moves up Harry’s sleeping body (he’s only in his tighty-whities). And we’re given the most awkward close-up of his crotch, as the snake continues up his body. I point this out, as it struck me as unnecessary and odd – especially as the camera seemed to just linger there.
There’s also an hallucination sequence where Harry visits Dr. Johnson at her home. It’s not shown, but apparently they make love, and then he goes to tickle the ivories on her grand piano. Dr. Johnson, in a flowing white nightgown, dances for him. The film’s full of these weird, nonsensical moments. And while I get that we’re witnessing the demise of a man’s sanity, these scenes are still weird as hell. And need I mention the many conversations Harry has with his stuffed teddy bear, Teddy? And yes, Teddy does reply.
All of this goofiness doesn’t properly prepare you for the climax…
The massacre taking place over the final 10 minutes is quite disturbing – taking a sharp turn away from the rest of the film’s tone. I tried to take it lightly, and despite the overuse of pyrotechnics and slow motion, the fact that it went on for what seemed to be forever – well, it really got to me.
The film has far too many call-outs/homages to Kubrick’s The Shining to ignore. Empty hotel, one specific “bad” hotel room, multiple conversations with ghosts of guests-past – telling Harry to act on his violent tendencies and the most striking – the score for Bloody Wednesday by Albert Sendrey uses Berlioz’s Dies Irae as its most common theme. You might recognize that piece as having been re-arranged for use in the iconic opening credits of Kubrick’s The Shining.
And just a fun bit of trivia: I saw in the credits, 1st Assistant Director Tibor Takacs – who would go on to direct the fun ‘80s horror classics, The Gate and I, Madman.
I also feel it’s worthy of mention that the film’s story and screenplay were written by Oscar-winner Philip Yordan – screenwriter for such film classics as El Cid, Johnny Guitar and his Oscar win was for Broken Lance in 1954. I bring this up because I found the dialogue terribly inane and ridiculous. Toward the film’s climax, as Dr. Johnson desperately drives through town to find Harry, she goes to a police station and attempts to convince the officer on duty that Harry has become violent. One of her lines resulted in an actual howl from yours truly, “This man is dangerous. I know, I’m a doctor.” Yup.
Bloody Wednesday is one of those odd delights which I probably wouldn’t have minded – and quite possibly loved – had I discovered it back in my fearless horror movie youth. Which means today, it would hold some nostalgic qualities – despite the fact that with my age, I can plainly see it’s got a lot of problems. Sadly, there are too many of my favorite films which now land in that category.
With all of that being said, obviously I can only half-heartedly recommend the film. Give it a go, but heed my many warnings. Then figure out if you can find the strange and B-movie charms which somehow left me semi-contented.
Bloody Wednesday is available on-line (see the link below) and earlier this year, was released to DVD for the very first time. It is also known as The Great American Massacre.