Buzz Kulik, 1974
Starring: Scott Jacoby, Kim Hunter, Dabney Coleman, Kim Hunter, Pippa Scott
A socially awkward teenager, Ronald, accidentally kills a young classmate when she makes fun of him and his mother. In a panic, he buries her. Ronald’s odd, controlling mother realizes the police will never believe it’s an accident after Ronald buried the girl, so she comes up with a plan to hide him. They will use his new birthday toolbox to wall off one of the small rooms in the house, where he will live silently and unseen until the police stop looking for him. Unfortunately, after walling up Ronald, his mother goes to have a routine operation but dies in the hospital. A new family purchases the house with no idea that there is a disturbed young man living behind the walls. Ronald becomes more immersed in his own fantasy world, where he believed he is a young price and one of the family’s beautiful three daughters is destined to become his princess…
Based on a novel by John Holbrook Vance, Bad Ronald is far better than it has any right to be. It’s low-budget with some TV-quality acting, but there are plenty of creepy moments and some effective scares. Ronald himself is incredibly awkward, bordering on creepy, and it’s difficult to feel sympathy for him, particularly towards the latter half of the film when he has completely immersed himself in his fantasy world and is covered in filth. Scott Jacoby (The Little Girl that Lives Down the Lane) is perfectly weird and awkward as Ronald, though the film should have spent either more or less time developing his character. There is a dull period in the middle of the film that focuses on Ronald’s early time walled up in the house.
Kim Hunter (Planet of the Apes) is decent as Mrs. Wilby, Ronald’s controlling, somewhat insane mother who thinks that walling her son up in the house is a good idea. The appearance of his mother does make Ronald’s character easier to sympathize with and he would have seemed like more of a monster without her early scenes. The other actors are mostly forgettable, though the family as a whole gives off a fittingly innocent, Brady Bunch-type vibe.
Director Buzz Kulik was most famous for Brian’s Song (1971) and directed a number of made-for-TV movies in the ‘70s and ‘80s. He did a decent job here. Though it mostly looks like a made-for-TV movie, there are some nice shots. There’s a great scene at the end of the film when one of the girls follows a ray of light that happens to lead to one of Ronald’s peep holes. When she stares into it there is a wide, terrifying eye staring back at her. Another effective scene involves Babs trapped in the neighbor’s house — she is encountered with some things that she doesn’t expect.
The more sexualized aspects of the film are only hinted at and Bad Ronald could have been more of a classic if it was allowed to be weirder and more unrestrained. It’s still pretty over the top for a TV film, though the ending is too abrupt and the film spends too much time on the drama of Ronald’s life with his mother. The movie doesn’t get to the new family until the final third, which is full of creepiness and potential. The ending, sadly, is anticlimactic and it would have been more interesting if the girls were really forced to enter Ronald’s fantasy world.
Bad Ronald does come recommended, particularly for fans of obscure ‘70s genre cinema. It’s available on DVD after being out of print and unavailable for years. Definitely worth checking out once, the film may surprise you.