Oh boy, I am so excited to have a chance to write about Bad Ronald today. I first heard about this cult made-for-t.v. movie from 1974 during an episode of Ugly Betty, of all places. Betty’s roommate, Amanda, blames everything bad that she does on Bad Ronald. I looked the reference up and discovered one of the strangest t.v. movies I’ve ever heard of. It has everything! Made for t.v. movie seventies styles and a killer kid.
Please excuse the quality of the screencaps. The only DVD of this available is a Warner Archive Collection bare-bones release from 2009 and everything’s a little muddy. I’m not sure if the movie looked like this when it first aired. This movie is begging for a Scream Factory release with a nice, clean transfer and loads of extra features.
The movie stars Scott Jacoby as misfit Ronald Wilby. He’ll look familiar if you’re a fan of The Golden Girls because he plays Dorothy’s son, Michael Zbornak.
Ronald is a nerdy outcast with a controlling mother played by Kim Hunter, who’s best known as Stella from A Streetcar Named Desire.
Ronald dreams of going to medical school so he can become a doctor and cure his mother’s unspecified illness. He also loves to paint and draw and is fascinated by an imaginary kingdom that he created, Atranta.
After being humiliated while asking out his crush, he accidentally bumps into her little sister, Carol Matthews (Angela Hoffman). They trade insults and this quickly escalates to violence and he pushes her, making her fatally hit her head on a cinder-block. The descriptions I’ve read about this movie emphasize the accidental nature of Carol’s death but I tend to disagree. It’s a fierce attack by a boy at least five years older than this girl. It’s creepy how quickly Ronald snaps.
Ronald buries Carol and confesses to his mother what he’s done. They take the door and door-frame off of their spare bedroom, and plaster and wallpaper over it, creating a secret room. They create a little door in the pantry to slide him food and his mom tells everyone that Ronald ran away.
Their plan works until the mom has to go into the hospital and get gall-bladder surgery. She dies and Ronald is trapped in the house. He becomes more and more isolated and drills peepholes all over when he realizes that realtors are showing the house (The realtor is played by John Fielder, who played Dorothy’s plain-looking but good in bed boyfriend, Eddie, on The Golden Girls). He spends most of his time drawing more pictures of Atranta and trying to hide from nosy neighbor Mrs. Schumacher (Linda Watkins).
Eventually, a family with three daughters moves in and Ronald becomes fixated on the youngest, Babs Wood (Cindy Fisher).
He’s also enraged when he realizes the oldest sister is dating Duane Matthews, Carol’s older brother. Babs has never liked the house and the rest of the family has started noticing weird noises and missing food.
At one point, Mrs. Schumacher sees Ronald and dies of shock. He hides her body, leaving her house empty.
The movie ends with the parents leaving the girls alone for the weekend. Ronald tries to kidnap Babs when she’s alone but she escapes and he locks her in Mrs. Schumacher’s basement. He tries to make it look like she ran away and that’s what the police think when Babs’ sisters report her missing. They don’t believe she was kidnapped until middle sister, Althea (Cindy Eilbacher) accidentally discovers the peephole.
The movie ends with Ronald being arrested.
This movie has great atmosphere and is really good at being creepy. The last moments when the girls realzie someone has been spying on them are very tense. Scott Jacoby is great at showing Ronald’s mental deterioration. Kim Hunter is also quite good in this and it would have been great to see more of her.
The movie clocks in at just over an hour long. The movie’s main flaw is that it doesn’t really establish Ronald’s relationship with his peers or his relationship with his mother. I wish it were just twenty minutes longer to show Ronald being bullied, so his reaction to Carol would make more sense. It would also be great seeing his mother being more overbearing and how unhealthy their relationship is. I know some people consider “remake” a dirty word but this movie could stand a good remake.
The movie’s main plot hole is that no one seems to notice the missing room. Babs’ mother comments that it’s strange that a four bedroom house only has one bathroom (The other bathroom is walled up with Ronald’s room). It’s strange that the realtors don’t notice this missing room. The outer dimensions of the house wouldn’t match the inner dimensions.
What saves the movie from being bad is its short run time. It’s long enough to tell a story and doesn’t overstay its welcome. It does have some unfortunately generic t.v. music. A great score could have really elevated the tension. This movie’s fun for cult movie fans but isn’t necessarily for everyone.
I’m going to end this review with a gallery with some of Ronald’s creepy artwork.
- Scarina--the authoress and editrix of this site. I like scary movies and have dedicated my free time to cataloging horror--the good, the bad, and the ugly. Sometimes there are books too.
There's film criticism, literary criticism, and humor here. I can be highbrow but there's lots of pop culture too. And feminism.
I fervently love "Twin Peaks" and wish it were a real place so I could move there. I can't list my favorite scary movies because they change depending on my mood, the season, and how much coffee I've had.
I'm an artist looking for ways to blend creepy with cute. I try to channel my childhood nightmares, my love of horror, and my experiences with sleepy paralysis.
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