DVD Review: Bad Ronald

Warner Bros. | 1974 | 74 mins. | Not Rated

Based on the book of the same name by Jack Vance, Bad Ronald is a 1974 made-for-television movie directed by Buzz Kulik. Ronald Wilby (Scott Jacoby) is a socially inept, awkward high school sophomore with budding artistic talent and a preoccupation with fantasy. Tasked with looking after his sickly mother (Kim Hunter), she hopes he will become a doctor and cure her illness. One afternoon at a pool party with his peers, he decides to ask pretty Laurie Mathews (Shelley Spurlock) out on a date. Rejected and mocked by the others, he heads home. On the way there, he runs into a young girl on a bike named Carol (Angela Hoffman). She insults both him and his mother. Ronald grabs her and demands an apology; she falls and hits her head on a cinder block, dying immediately. Ronald buries her in a shallow grave and heads home to tell his mom, who’s less than impressed.

Mom decides that the best thing to do is board up and cover over the extra bathroom on the main floor so Ronald can hide out there whenever people are around. The plan is to have Ronald lay low for a few months until the case blows over. When the police, led by a Sgt. Lynch (John Larch), pay mom a visit and produce Ronald’s dirty jacket, found at the scene of the crime. She plays dumb and informs them that Ronald ran away from home some time ago. Soon after that, she tells Ronald she has to go into the hospital to have her gallbladder removed; it’s a trip she never returns from.

Soon enough, another family has bought the home and moved in; completely unaware they have a tenant. As time goes on, Ronald has an increasingly difficult time distinguishing between his fantasy world and the real world. Growing progressively stranger, he drills holes in the walls so he can spy on the homes inhabitants. The homes new owners have three daughters; Ronald soon develops a crush on the middle one, named Althea (Cindy Eilbacher). Determined to learn more, Ronald slowly works up the courage to leave the room. First, to get some food from the fridge and then to read the eldest girl’s diary; eventually, he decides it’s time to show Althea his brand of love…

The seventies was really the golden age of television movies and during that time, some great films with horror themes made their debuts: Duel, helmed by a young Steven Spielberg, The Night Stalker and Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, just to name a few. A mix of Crawlspace and Psycho, Bad Ronald moves at a brisk pace that doesn’t give the audience time to be bored. Things get increasingly creepier as Ronald begins to look just as crazy as he is acting. He starts drawing baroque figures on the walls and it’s clear he’s lost his sense of reality.

If the script does have a flaw, it’s that the story never really explains why Ronald is the way he is; what Ronald’s life was like before the incident with the girl on the bike caused all this turmoil. We are privy to the fact that other kids at school made fun of him and his mother was overbearing. However, that doesn’t really explain why he would accidently kill a little girl and then bury her in a shallow grave.

Despite that, Bad Ronald is an enjoyable movie for fans of the genre. The always enjoyable Kim Hunter does a great job as the “slightly left of center” mother and Scott Jacoby is thoroughly convincing as the increasingly creepier Ronald. While the films flaws keep it from achieving ‘classic’ status, fans will welcome Bad Ronald’s arrival on DVD courtesy of Warner Archive.

Bad Ronald is presented in its original 1.33.1 fullframe aspect ratio in an interlaced transfer. Colors are a bit on the faded side and there’s a bit of dirt and debris that is periodically noticeable on the picture but the film is still very watchable. Detail is average at best, but fortunately there aren’t any compression artifacts or edge enhancement distractions or issues to note.

The English language Dolby Digital Mono soundtrack is a bit on the muffled side. You may have to turn the volume up on a couple of occasions. There aren’t any problems with hiss or distortion, but you may be disappointed with the overall audio presentation.

There are no special features.

Remember to check out Warner Archive for all kinds of hard-to-find titles and check back here for more reviews of them.

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