Bad Ronald is a 1974 made-for-TV-movie that derives at least some of its allure from the mere fact that it's so hard to find (although it can be seen on You Tube). Airing two years before VHS was unleashed on the US, Bad Ronald was bound to become a forgotten eerie relic of the past. The fact that my favorite writer, science fiction master Jack Vance, wrote the novel on which it was based (the only one of his works ever adapted for the screen) piqued my interest even more and I just had to get a copy from J4HI.
The movie, depending on your point of view, either suffers from or is enhanced by the venerable yet constrictive format of the made-for-TV-movie. The melodramatic music, the odd pacing, and the considerably watered down plot lines that (reportedly) are far less brutal than the original source material (I say reportedly because the book is out of print and first editions are out of my price range) can make for pretty difficult viewing for those with limited patience for the retro verging on cheesy. I myself am not such a person, I find low production values can be an asset – particularly when it comes to thrillers – and once I adjusted to the grainy transfer and flat acting style, I discovered the qualities of this strange and chilling little gem.
Ronald is a kid with an oddly strong bond with his possessive mom (Kim Hunter) who accidentally gets involved in some very bad business. As a result, mother convinces Ronald to stay hidden in a bathroom (which they board up) until all interest in the incident goes away. He essentially becomes a prisoner of his mother's in his own house until she goes off and die on him. A family of young, nubile girls moves in (a youngish, nubilish Dabney Coleman plays their father) and Ronald, who's basically living in the walls, becomes crazier and more like an outsider artist with each passing day as he spies on the new family and develops a psychotic fantasy world.
The film's tag-line puts it best, describing Ronald as “a ghost who isn't dead” haunting the house until he finally reveals himself to the frightened teens. It's the kind of movie that manages to inflame some fundamental fears and I imagine it was deeply etched in the minds (and nightmares) of the children who watched it when it originally aired.
Funnily enough, star Scott Jacoby seems so familiar not just because he resembles a neighbor of mine plus Matthew Modine, but because he played a recurring role as Dorothy's son on the Golden Girls.