BAD RONALD (1974) Blu-ray
Director: Buzz Kulik
Warner Archive

New homeowners discover they have a very peculiar squatter in the 1970s TV movie BAD RONALD, on Blu-ray from Warner Archive.

Every neighborhood has a weird kid, but don't ever tell him that. Ronald Wilby (Scott Jacoby, OUR WINNING SEASON) lives with his mother Elaine (Kim Hunter, A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE) who puts all her hopes on him becoming a doctor while he periodically drifts off to his self-created fantasy world of Atranta where he is a noble knight in love with a beautiful princess. In real life, he is the butt of bullying and bad jokes, but too loveblind to realize that the object of his affection Laurie Matthews (Shelley Spurlock) is too nice to treat him with the same disdain as her brother Duane (Ted Eccles, THE PHYNX). When Laurie's little sister Carol (Angela Hoffman) calls him weird and talks about his mother, Ronald flies into a rage and kills her. Although it was an accident, his decision to bury the body makes it look less so, and his mother worries that his future will be destroyed even if he is found innocent of murder. They decide that Ronald should lay low until his mother can save up some money for them to leave and start over somewhere else. Boarding and plastering over the door to the downstairs bathroom and creating a trap door in the pantry wall, Ronald hides in the secret room with his studies while his mother withstands interrogations and surprise visits from Sergeants Lynch (John Larch, DIRTY HARRY) and Carter (Roger Aaron Brown, NEAR DARK) and the prying eyes of busybody neighbor Mrs. Schumacher (Linda Watkins, FROM HELL IT CAME). As the days go by, Ronald abandons his studies and retreats further into his fantasy world. When Elaine does not return alive from a gallbladder operation, Ronald remains in hiding as the house is sold to the Woods (THE SEARCHERS' Pippa Scott and WARGAMES' Dabney Coleman) and their three daughters: Ellen (THIS HOUSE POSSESSED's Lisa Eilbacher), Althea (Cindy Eilbacher, SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE II), and Babs (Cindy Fisher, BEYOND DEATH'S DOOR). Seeing in imaginative and put-upon Babs the incarnation of his princess, Ronald drills peepholes in the walls to watch the family as they ponder disappearing food, disembodied noises, and the question of why a four bedroom house only has one bathroom. When Ellen starts dating Duane and he tells them about the murder of his sister, Ronald decides to remove anyone who gets between him and the object of his obsession when the parents go away for the weekend.

Based on the novel by John Holbrook Vance – which had a French feature adaptation in 1992 – BAD RONALD belongs to a subgenre of "hider in the house" films that also included the 1972 TV movie CRAWLSPACE (adapted from a novel by Herbert Niederman) and the more recent and horrifically awful WITHIN. While I have not read the novel, the film's structure seems severely lopsided by the running time requirements of ninety-minute TV blocks. The setup lasts a full half-hour, long enough for the viewer to expect that we are to stay with the Ronald and his mother in their claustrophobic inner world. This has the effect to reducing the Wood family into caricatures, with the young sisters a constantly shrill bickering trio, and Babs barely distinguished from her siblings (even Duane gets more characterization). To an extent, our sympathies are supposed to lie with Ronald, but the buildup is insufficient for the viewer to despair at him being driven to violence or to fear for his victims. Director Buzz Kulik got his start during the golden age of American television and would mainly helm TV movies and episodic television from the fifties to the eighties, with only a handful of feature films like VILLA RIDES and the men-in-prison film RIOT with Jim Brown. Jacoby would later play Jodie Foster's juvenile love interest in the more disturbing THE LITTLE GIRL WHO LIVES DOWN THE LANE, and would return to the genre as an adult with THE SUPERNATURALS, RETURN TO HORROR HIGH, and the DTV vampire due TO DIE FOR and SON OF DARKNESS: TO DIE FOR II. Jacoby's half-brother Billy would play terror tykes in X-RAY and BLOODY BIRTHDAY and be terrorized in SUPERSTITION and CUJO while his other half-brother Bobby would be battle evil in NIGHT OF THE DEMONS 2.

Premiering on television in October 1974, BAD RONALD was kept in late night circulation as part of the Lorimar television package and an eighties VHS release from USA Home Video – who also put out DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK on tape – but would not see digital until Warner Archive's 2009 DVD-R. Warner Archive's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.33:1 pillarboxed fullscreen transfer is gorgeous, bringing out not only Ronald's increasingly grimy complexion but also the dinge of the Victorian house and its vibrant restoration (strangely, they did not replace that awful wallpaper) while the DTS-DH Master Audio 2.0 mono score gives the scoring of Fred Karlin (WHEN A STRANGER CALLS) an almost tactile presence while also grating on the ears whenever the three girls start arguing. Optional English SDH subtitles are provided. There are no extras. (Eric Cotenas)