Bad Ronald (1974)

The Wilby place is haunted... by a ghost who isn't dead!

Year of Release: 1974
Genre: Drama/Horror
Rated: Not Rated
Running Time: 71 minutes (1:11)
Director: Buzz Kulik


Scott Jacoby ... Ronald Wilby
Pippa Scott ... Mrs. Wood
Dabney Coleman ... Mr. Wood
Kim Hunter ... Elaine Wilby
Cindy Fisher ... Babs Wood
Cindy Eilbacher ... Althea Wood
Lisa Eilbacher ... Ellen Wood
Ted Eccles ... Duane Matthews
John Larch ... Sgt. Lynch
Linda Watkins ... Mrs. Schumacher
John Fiedler ... Mr. Roscoe


When Ronald is locked away by his mother in a secret room to escape the police he has only his world of fantasy in which to escape. His mother's death leaves Ronald alone, still hiding in the house.

Fantasy turns to evil when a new family moves in and Ronald falls in love with their daughter, Babs. When the girl is left alone one weekend, he strikes. The terrified young girl has nowhere to hide.

Bad Ronald has killed once before. Will Babs become his next victim?


Bad Ronald, remindin' us that life is pretty durn stressful when you've gotta wait til everybody's asleep just to flush the crapper.

An speakin' of people who walk like they ran outta buttwipe prematurely, you'll hafta excuse me if I take a minute to strut around like John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever here, but I explicitly warned Chuck Maxwell what'd happen if he replaced one of our arcade cabinets with Dance Dance Revolution, an by God the guys an I really let 'im have it. Dickhead thinks that just cause its his property, money, an equipment that he can do whatever he wants - well, not on my watch, bub. Coward didn't even have the guts to remove the R.C. Pro-Am machine durin' business hours when folks could see the travesty unfold; chintzy bastard had Otis Turlinger move it out at 3 in the AM after closin' like it was no better'n a moldy old confederate monument. Just thinkin' about it makes me weep for the state of this country.

"You realize, of course, that this means war," I said, jaws clinched, starin' at the otherworldly monstrosity occupyin' the space where countless childhood memories had been made.

"Oh for Christ's sake you guys, it's not 1984 anymore, grow up already," Chuck replied dismissively.

"Interesting. He claims it's not 1984, yet he installs a 50" telescreen in our arcade intended to destroy any possibility of fun," Leonard Rankleton remarked.

"It's not too late to stop this Chuck, just put R.C. Pro-Am back and we'll pretend none of this ever happened," Dusty Funk assured 'im with his best impersonation of a hostage negotiator, but it was no use.

Chuck obviously wasn't gettin' the message so, as you can see, he clearly left us with no other choice but to devise a metaphorical bull horn to help get our point across.

"What're we gonna do?!" Buck McGurk shrieked in his usual calm an measured demeanor.

"Cuh twith hiv head off," Billy offered.

"Let's call that Plan B, Billy. Lemme just think a minute here," I says, leanin' on the Galaga cabinet.

It's not an easy business tryna ruin a man in 30 minutes or less, but right around the 27-minute mark Drive-In Jesus intervened an gave me a foolproof idea when He sent these two teenage girls in to hop on that... thing, an I couldn't help but notice how they purt'near died of shame when their parents took an interest in the game. It was all so simple, an we wouldn't even hafta lift a finger; alls we needed was a little coordination an some technical support an that machine'd repel teenagers like a career in agriculture.

"You guys see that?" I says.

"See what?" Dusty replied, lookin' even more confused than usual.

"The way those girls acted when their parents got next to the machine, dumbass; like they could see their social lives flashin' before their eyes?" I explained. Leonard an Billy could already see where I was headed with this, but I elaborated for the sake of my two remedial co-conspirators.

"Now, imagine what'd happen if their parents were to climb on that thing, an for the sake of argument, let's say some of their friends'd been here to see it," I nudged.

Dusty finally got the picture an Buck at least pretended to so he wouldn't look like a moron, so we were on our way; spent the resta the day scopin' out the joint like Roy Moore, takin' notes on who came in an played until we came up with a list of chronically uncool parents belongin' to various hip kids, an as luck would have it Chuck contributed to his own demise by postin' a flier for a big "dance-off" he was plannin' for Friday evenin' at 5. Damnedest thing happened after that - seems some pranksters invited a buncha their old high school friends down to the Gutter Bowl for a shindig of their own, startin' at 4:30, an stranger still, *somebody* paid Merle Wilcox to hide out overnight an hack the programmin' so the machine'd always choose unbearable '80s dance tracks.

I hadda spend 45 minutes reassurin' Billy that this wouldn't violate the "cruel and unusual punishment" statute of the Geneva Convention, but after that we broke out the phone book, divvied up the guest list, instructed everybody to dress for the occasion, an... well, I don't wanna toot my own horn or anything, but our "squad" received 144 citations from the EPA for punchin' a new hole in the ozone layer with various aerosol products, an there was so much leopard- an zebra-print clothin' that PETA organized a protest rally in the parkin' lot. Cost me a small fortune, but I kept the Pole Cat pitchers comin' nonstop so that by the time 5pm rolled around the Wang Chunging had reached critical mass, an when all those kids stepped inside to find Lenny an Astrid Skinner doin' the Cabbage Patch to Rick Astley's Never Gonna Give You Up, poor Tanner (their son) got this look on his face like he'd just dropped the last roll of toilet paper in the can. Oh sure, the other kids found it hysterical, at least until their own parents took center stage.

I won't disclose *all* the gory details, but just a few of the highlights include: Rocky an Peggy Pogue whipping it to Devo so hard that Rocky's hair piece came loose an landed on B.J. Wilder's thigh an freaked 'er out so bad that she stomped it into a drain clog starter kit, Mark Skidman gettin' hammered on Pole Cats to the point that he didn't realize he was dancin' with Richard Fawner to YMCA, an Mystie Forsythe draggin' 'er daughter's boyfriend up onto the platform to rub 'er mommary glands all over 'im to the tune of Don't You Want Me Baby? Didn't see Mystie on the jail roster this morning, so either she got 'er head together before she did anything stupid or else that kid's got a fetish he never knew about. Probably goes without sayin', but mosta the young 'uns fled in terror after their morbid curiosity was satisfied, an Chuck's little competition hadda be called off due to a lack of participants born in the correct century.

"I suppose you think you're pretty smart," Chuck managed from between his gnashing teeth.

"Nah, I don't think that at all Chuck - I think that *you* are very, very stupid," I gloated. "Sure ain't much bowlin' goin' on out there, that can't be good for your bottom line," I added, pointin' at the nearly empty alley whose usual occupants had filled the arcade to watch the spectacle.

Chuck wasn't really in the mood for repartee at the time, an all he could muster was: "what do you want?"

"The only thing we ever wanted was to be left alone, Chuck, but you just couldn't let us be, could ya?" I chastised. "Well, it goes without saying of course, *that* thing goes, an you get Otis to wheel R.C. Pro-Am back in here by mornin'. But I'm afraid our trust has been severely damaged at this point, Chuck old buddy, an we feel that an insurance policy's necessary to make sure this sorta thing doesn't happen again," I concluded.

"WHAT DO YOU WANT?" Chuck repeated - the vein in his neck throbbin' in perfect unison to The Safety Dance, which was now blarin' in the background behind 'im.

"We need to know the teenagers won't be back Chuck, and I believe the simplest way to achieve this is to requisition a jukebox filled with '80s albums," Leonard explained.

"Bolted to the floor," Dusty added.

"With a padlock," Buck stipulated.

"Ah I geh vuh ohwy key," Billy punctuated.

"Fine. Just get them back to the lanes, NOW!" Chuck growled.

"Sure thing Chuck, one sec - hey, everyone! Hey! Listen up you guys - bowling's on the house for the rest of the night! Have at it!" I announced.

Chuck just about got trampled to death in the stampede an had a few choice words for my motivational technique, but Otis got R.C. Pro-Am back where it belonged inside 20 minutes, an I'm pleased to announce that our brief flirtation with modern gaming has ended.

Unfortunate business that, but not nearly as unfortunate as what happens to the socially stunted dork from this week's flick when his mom kicks off durin' a routine surgery an he finds 'imself walled up inside a storage room in 1970s suburbia forced to watch a buncha goldilocked bimbi gallivant around what woulda been his pad if he hadn't accidentally killed the trash-talkin' neighbor girl an hadda go into hiding. Trust me, it'll mostly make sense once it gets goin', but in the meantime I'd like to treat all you kind an courteous people (who stuck around even though this's a 1970s made-for-TV flick) to just a few of the insights you can only learn from a movie forced to rely entirely on its premise for entertainment value. First, if you find yourself delaying treatment until your teenage son can secure a medical degree, you might be an American. Second, the nosy neighbor *always* deserves to die - even when they're on the side of good. An third, it's incredibly awkward tryin' to get the Meals on Wheels driver to deliver to a crawlspace.

The movie begins with this geek pimple farm (Ronald), who makes Paul from The Wonder Years look like David Lee Roth havin' birthday cake, with his helicopter mama (Kim Hunter) who's tellin' 'im about everything she hadda give up in the divorce just to get custody of 'im for the 8th time that week, before givin' 'im a Craftsman tool kit an a box of Crayolas like he's involved in some kinda weird career aptitude experiment instituted by the guys from Brave New World. Then Ronald goes to invite this blonde girl who's way outta his league to the I Drink Your Blood/I Eat Your Skin double feature at the drive-in an she an 'er high society friends end up laughin' at 'im so hard that they all violate the first rule of swimmin' pool etiquette. Bad Ronald is now Sad Ronald, an things only get worse when he bumps into the nasty neighborhood girl who treats everybody like crap cause 'er dad's an abusive alcoholic asshole, an next thing you know she's all up in his business tellin' 'im how weird his family is an that he's gonna wind up raisin' moths in his basement an turnin' women into boobie suits someday til he morphs into Mad Ronald an bounces 'er skull off a cinder block. Fortunately he'll always be mama's special boy to Kim, but when she finds out just how badly he's screwed the pooch on this one she realizes the only way to keep 'im from bein' declared Cad Ronald in court is to load the spare bedroom up with Jim Bakker brand prepper chow an wall 'im in so the cops won't lock 'im up in a small confined space. Naturally after years of shabby treatment from society as a whole Ronald is singled out as the prime suspect, only when the cops come to haul 'im off by his magnificent '70s fro, Kim tells 'em the EC Comics musta corrupted 'im an compelled 'im to run away to seek a life as a KISS roadie or somethin' cause she ain't seen 'im. Course it don't take the fuzz long to find Ronald's torn jacket an match it to a scrap from the crime scene, cept in the meantime Ronald's stashed a confession in the pocket confirmin' that he is in fact a little runaway in the Bon Jovi tradition, while Kim puts this horrified expression on 'er face like she's just realized she's never gonna be able to afford Johnnie Cochran's legal services.

Unfortunately things hit a little snag when Kim goes in to get some of 'er organs sawed on an dies on the operatin' table while Ronald's makin' like a flower in the attic drawin' Legend of Zelda fan art on the walls, an the poor kid ends up havin' to overhear about it from his bitchy aunt an that bald little wiener who voices Piglet on Winnie the Pooh. Then Piglet sells the house to this gal who looks like Captain Janeway from Voyager an the new family (Janeway, Dad, Babs, Ellen, an Althea) move in while Ronald slowly devolves into one of the supportin' cast members from C.H.U.D. until one day the nosy old Gladys Kravitz lady from next door catches 'im raidin' the family's fridge an ends up fallin' down the steps, landin' on 'er neck like she just took a botched powerbomb, an leavin' Ronald no choice but to stash 'er body in the crawlspace an worry about how to secure the necessary 8,000 Glade plugins later. Life proceeds as scheduled for a while until eventually we've got missin' food drama an Ronald sneakin' out in the middle of the day to root around in Ellen's drawers, but even after Althea's boyfriend (Duane) tells everybody they bought the house in town that all the old ladies whisper about in church, Babs is the only one who gives a rip. Then the folks go on a trip an leave the kids alone an this's about the time Ronald decides to profess his love to Babs an show 'er all his Lord of the Rings fan-fic even though he ain't bathed in several weeks an smells like Larry Csonka's jock strap. Needless to say, Ronald finds out the hard way that chicks just don't dig D&D nerds with naturally occurrin' facial mud masks, an ends up chasin' Babs all over the neighborhood til she runs into the neighbor's basement, where he decides to lock 'er up until he can secure a radiator an a set of handcuffs. When Babs don't come home that evenin' Ellen calls the cops to report a missin' sibling, but the cop who looks like Sergeant O' Rourke from F Troop just tells 'er this kinda thing happens all the time an that he's gotta get back to Fort Courage to make sure Agarn ain't startin' any accidental wars with the Hekawis. Meantime though, Poo Radley's about one step short of strappin' on a wig an stabbin' blondes in the shower on account of all the time Duane is spendin' with his Mormon fantasy harem, so he grabs a blunt object off a bookshelf an clobbers 'im while he's watchin' basketball on the tube an drags 'im back to the scat cave. Only got a couple minutes left in this one so I prolly oughta shuddup before any innocent endins get spoiled.

Probably not the best choice for folks lacking in imagination given that the producers were obviously limited by what they could get away with on an ABC Movie of the Week, but these 1970s made-for-TV Horror(ish) flicks still hold up alright if you want somethin' innocuous to watch on a Sunday afternoon. They're also a pretty good choice if you're looking for something safe with which to introduce your kids to the Horror genre as well, since children tend to have active imaginations, and because at the end of the day there's nothing all that visually shocking to put them in therapy. The production values are decent, but there are a few areas where I feel they failed to flesh things out sufficiently to reach the script's maximum potential; specifically, the kid just isn't as sympathetic as he needs to be to get the audience fully invested emotionally (cheap and manipulative as it may be, they probably should have reduced the character to tears to reach that threshold), and they also don't play up the kid's obsession with his fantasy writing/art enough to make the ending believable. It doesn't help that it's impossible to know just how much time has elapsed between Ronald's entering the hidey hole and the point where the new owners move in, because if it's only been a few weeks it's a tough sell for the audience to believe he's gone that scooters, that fast. On the other hand it can't have been too long, otherwise he'd have run out of food by the time the new family moved in and unwittingly began supplying him with more, so some of the details are a little iffy, but not so much so that they ruin the mood of the film. The movie is actually based on a book published the previous year, and while many of the events of the two are intrinsically the same, the Ronald character, while suffering from the same sorts of delusions as his cinematic counterpart, is far more sinister in the book and actually rapes and murders multiple supporting characters before the girls' parents finally discover his lair and roast the little booger to death. Of course, the story had to be softened drastically to become a made-for-TV flick, but the premise was interesting enough that ABC decided to dial it back and take a stab at it and it turned out alright.

Anyhow, what say we drag that boy outta his safe space and find out what kinda damage a diet of nothin' but beanee weenees and spam can do to a human being under controlled conditions. As far as the plot goes, the premise is pretty interesting and original for a flick from 1974, even though all the credit really belongs to Jack Vance who wrote the novel that was later adapted for the film, and while I like the movie well enough, one hasta wonder how things might've turned out if it'd been adapted for the drive-in screen by an independent exploitation studio who could have stuck closer to the original source material and bypassed the running time limitations of a made-for-TV movie. Honestly, both my aforementioned complaints could have been easily solved by having more time available for exposition, it's just really difficult to fit everything you'd like into a movie when you've got to adhere to a 71 minute runtime. Even so, the plot is the flick's greatest asset, and one that's interesting enough to make the movie a logical candidate for a remake free from the restrictions this version suffers from. The acting, while mostly competent, is a bit bland. I realize that they're going for the "sheltered, slightly awkward" teenager that people can identify with, but the script simply lacks the depth necessary to really bring the character to life in a way that makes the audience sympathize with him sufficiently. The best performance is unquestionably that of Kim Hunter as Ronald's overprotective and slightly delusional mother in what's essentially a tamer, less insane version of Piper Laurie in Carrie. But the rest of the supporting cast never really rises above mediocrity and the daughters all have moments of awkward delivery, while John Larch is kinda wasted as Sergeant Lynch.

Here's who matters and why: Scott Jacoby (The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane, To Die For 1 & 2, Return to Horror High, The Supernaturals), John Larch (A Fire in the Sky, The Amityville Horror 1979), Dabney Coleman (Meet the Applegates), Kim Hunter (Planet of the Apes 1 - 3, Two Evil Eyes, The Kindred), John Fiedler (Deathmaster), Linda Watkins (From Hell it Came), Cindy Eilbacher (Slumber Party Massacre II, A Fire in the Sky, Shanks), Lisa Eilbacher (10 to Midnight, Leviathan, This House Possessed), Roger Aaron Brown (Near Dark, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Galaxis, Meet the Applegates, RoboCop 2, Maniac Cop 2, Alien Nation, The Crazies 1973), Aneta Corsaut (The Blob 1958, The Toolbox Murders 1978), Karen Purcill (The Initiation of Sarah), Shelley Spurlock (Cocoon 2), Lesley Woods (Don't Be Afraid of the Dark).

There's also a fairly robust list of mainstream credits from much of the cast, so if you're wonderin' where somebody goes after Bad Ronald, don't say I never did anything for ya: John Larch (The Chief in Dirty Harry, and Sgt. Callum in Play Misty for Me), Dabney Coleman (McKittrich from Wargames; Burton Fallin on The Guardian; Ron in Tootsie; Merle Jeeter in Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman), Kim Hunter (Stella Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire, Nola Madison on The Edge of the Night), John Fiedler (Voiced Piglet on Winnie the Pooh, voiced Porcupine in The Fox and the Hound, and played Emil Peterson on The Bob Newhart Show), Linda Watkins (Edna Robinson in The Parent Trap 1961), Lisa Eilbeacher (Jenny Summers in Beverly Hills Cop, Casey Seeger in An Officer and a Gentleman), Roger Aaron Brown (Deputy Chief Joe Noland on The District), Aneta Carsaut (Helen Crump on the Andy Griffith Show).

As for the special effects - there ain't none. Literally zero, and only one sequence that you could even call a stunt, provided you're desperate enough. Admittedly, looking past the restrictions of a made-for-TV movie, the film's tone is soft enough that anything more than a bloody cut would be out of place, but yeah - you can watch this thing with your gramma and she probably won't think any less of you when the credits roll. The shooting locations are pretty limited, but then that's kinda the point. With the exception of Ronald walking around his neighborhood in the first five minutes, dragging the neighbor's body into the crawlspace, and chasing Babs into the neighbor's basement, the entire movie takes place in a single residence, and in Ronald's case - almost entirely within the same room. On the plus side, if you're lookin' for 1970s interior decorating tips, you're in for a treat. The soundtrack, while not especially catchy, does manage some originality and is able to separate itself from the usual generic scoring present in your average TV movie. Not gonna lie - that's actually pretty surprising, particularly because the composer spent much of his 30-year career producing music almost exclusively for television shows and movies. One would think that a man who spent so much time doing the same types of films for the same type of audience would be susceptible to redundancy, but it's certainly not the case for this flick. Again, it's nothing special, but it syncs up well with the tone of the movie and injects just the right amount of suspense to provide a thrill for your average nuclear family who'd never dream of going to see Night of the Living Dead at one of those dens of iniquity affectionately known as the drive-in. Overall, Bad Ronald is pretty tame, moreso than many of its peers like Dark Night of the Scarecrow, Don't Be Afraid of the Dark, or even The Possessed, but the production values are decent and the short running time prevents the flick from bogging down too badly, so it gets a pass. Probably not a movie you're gonna wanna see more than a couple times, but it has its moments, so consider giving it a spin if a lack of sin and vice isn't a deal breaker for ya.

Rating: 61%