It was inevitable. I was bound to dive into that wretched arena of made for TV movies eventually, might as well get it out of the way now. I always thought I’d wind up writing about some Sci-Fi channel weather catastrophe or giant animal movie before I picked up something like Bad Ronald, but I’d been hearing about this one for years. There were always few specifics, though. It was a name tossed around video trading sites going back as far as I can remember and the only thing that ever stood out to me was the title. It’s kind of funny. Bad Ronald. Say it out loud. Fun, isn’t it?
The word going around was that this was a diabolical little movie that was out of its mind and while it’s certainly insane, it’s actually not that bad. It suffers from the usual made for TV restraints that television studios were faced with on a regular basis in the days before epic miniserieses like Lonesome Dove changed the rules but despite the shitty lighting, soap opera grade acting and the fact that it looks like it’s shot in a studio, it’s a fun, absurd piece of TV safe horror.
The movie begins with Ronald’s birthday as his doting, needy mother hooks him up with a birthday cake and his gifts; a set of tools and some high-end markers. Both of these will play important roles later on, so remember them. It’s a good birthday and Ronald feels like a king, so he puts on his sunday best and goes out to ask the object of his desire on a date much to the protests of his mother. It should be noted that Ronald is high-octane nerd material, though, and when he gets to the girl’s house, her entire family openly mocks him. In the relative seclusion of the side yard, Ronald winds up killing his crush’s youngest sister in a fit of rage. Upon returning home and confessing to his mother, she makes a plan to hide Ronald so that the police will never find him. The solution? Ronald is to be walled up in the ground-floor bathroom. The door is taken off the hinges and a false wall is put up in its place. His only means of getting in or out is a little trap door in the pantry. For a while things work out. The cops never even consider that Ronald is hidden in the house and the trail goes cold, but Ronald’s mom is sick and has to go in for some surgery and you know what that means. The days go by until Ronald overhears his estranged father and, presumably, the real estate lady, say that his mother died in the hospital. Unsure of what to do and traumatized enough already, Ronald keeps on keepin’ on hidden out in the bathroom until a new family moves into his old house. He is immediately smitten with the youngest daughter, Babs, of the family who moves in and sinks further into madness as time passes. To keep himself occupied he illustrates an elaborate fantasy novel that he has written until reality blurs with his fantasy world and the characters living in his old house become characters in his novel. The brother of his murder victim begins dating one of the girls in the house and his anger builds until he reveals himself to Babs, locks her in the neighbor’s basement and makes a move to kill his perceived enemy, Duane. Naturally, everything goes wrong and Ronald is revealed.
You can easily dismiss this movie as a best forgotten piece of 70’s television, and it would be a stretch to assume that it influenced other movies about kids sinking into a fantasy world and killing to preserve the illusion, but the parallels are there. You’ve seen this sort of thing before. Heavenly Creatures, based on a real event, has the same sort of characters. Ronald also bears striking similarities to the true story of Harvey Darger, a shut-in with an extraordinarily long and complicated fantasy novel that centers around a girl he obsessed over. Coincidentally, Darger’s novel was discovered in 1973, only a year before this movie went into production and the same year that the book the movie is based on was published. Everybody raise your eyebrow.
Bad Ronald probably creeped a lot of kids out back in 1974 which would provide reason for its cult status. By today’s standards it’s bullshit and ripe for mockery but I would imagine that it’s like a lot of movies I saw on TV back in the 80’s but couldn’t remember the name despite the vivid memories of absolutely frightening scenery. I went through this with the Vincent Price flick, The Monster Club, and when I finally tracked it down it turned out to be not that bad, but also not even remotely scary as horrified as I was by it back when I was 8. It is a little creepy to think that someone could be hidden behind the walls of your own home, but the premise wears pretty thin quickly. I guess you had to be there in the 70’s to see this when it aired to have some kind of lasting impression. These days it’s a mildly entertaining cult movie with a little bit of lasting appeal.
For fans of Planet of the Apes, Ronald’s mother is played by Kim Hunter who played Zira in the original Apes movie. Throughout her scenes I could swear I recognized her from somewhere. A little research turned up that bit of trivia (a little more research told me that there is a French adaptation of the novel made in 1992). Her character is one of the most believable in the entire movie, even if her solution to hide her son is so preposterous. In many instances like these, the mother that breeds the psycho is portrayed as a raving, bipolar lunatic with dire warnings to her doomed offspring of ostracism at the hands of the public. Here, she’s played with a believable subtlety. She doesn’t ride Ronald’s ass like Carrie’s mother does in Carrie. She clearly doesn’t want Ronald out of her sight and suffers from rejection and abandonment issues but it’s not heavy handed. You have to find a silver lining somewhere, I guess. Dabney Coleman is also in this if he’s your bag, but the only other thing I could of that I liked was the super-awesome Cloak & Dagger. So there.
If I’d known these things about Bad Ronald ahead of time, I probably wouldn’t have gone out of my way to check it out, but it’s too late for that and I’m not disappointed that I did spend time with Ronald. Don’t get me wrong, Ronald isn’t a bad movie, despite it’s ironic title, but it didn’t stand out to me as the sort of movie that would have stuck with me through childhood and puberty until I tracked it down in adulthood to discover that it wasn’t that big a deal. In the end, though, it’s mildly entertaining, has a few effective creeps and is definitely worth a few laughs. For some reason whenever this movie comes to mind, I think of The Candy Snatchers. I’m going to have to check that one out, soon.