Greetings, readers, Bill here again – I know; how long has it been since I’ve written three reviews in three days? Probably not since I was single and working at the factory. Today’s review represents a weird crossing of streams between my movie reviewing life and my day to day, pay-the-bills real life. I’ve begun to develop a reputation around the office I work in as the go-to guy to answer questions about horror and “bad” movies. My supervisor Elaina brought this film to my attention – apparently they showed it to her health class in high school! She described to me fond memories of how cheesy and weird this film was, and by chance I saw a copy for sale at Cinema Wasteland – in the hands of someone else as he was handing over the cash for it. I mentioned this to Elaina, and she told me how eager she’d be to see it again, and I offered to track down a copy for her. Well, I found it and ordered it, and she encouraged me to give it a watch before I turned it over to her. It arrived today, so let’s give it a go, shall we?
Ronald Wilby is a good kid – shy, awkward, clumsy, and a bit lost in the fantasy world he’s created in his head for a story he’s writing and illustrating. His overbearing mother (Kim Hunter, of PLANET OF THE APES) dismisses his ideas of being an artist, insisting that he become a doctor. She’s very ill, but is delaying treatment until Ronald becomes a doctor and can cure her. On the day of his 18th birthday, Ronald accidentally kills the ten year old girl next door when she mocks him for his awkwardness – picking her up in anger, she slips out of his hands and hits her head on a cinderblock. Panicking, Ronald buries her in a shallow grave. His mother is horrified at this – burying the body will complicate any claims that the girl’s death was an accident, and even if Ronald is acquitted, the negative publicity will ruin any hopes of him becoming a doctor. They decide the best course of action is to convert a spare bathroom into a hiding space, replacing the door with a wallpapered drywall panel. Ronald will live here, in this tiny space, until the matter blows over.
Unfortunately, Ronald’s mother soon dies of her illness and, since they’ve maintained the illusion that Ronald has run away and she lives alone, the house is soon sold to the Wood family. They move in with no idea that Ronald is still there, and even less that he’s gone crazy from the isolation, retreating fully into the fantasy world he’s created in his head…
While this is far from the best 1970s made for TV movie I’ve seen, the narrative is pretty solid and the story remains interesting throughout – I attribute quite a bit of that to it being based on a novel by John Holbrook Vance; name not ringing a bell? He’s better known as Jack Vance, and he was a prominent sci-fi, fantasy and mystery author for many years, best known for the Dying Earth series of science-fantasy picaresques set millions of years in the future as the sun flickers on the edge of going out. Human cynicism and the best-laid of plans going awry being recurring themes in Vance’s work, it doesn’t surprise me that this story originated from his pen.
I will allow that the acting is pretty terrible throughout, even coming from good actors and actresses like Kim Hunter and Dabney Coleman, who plays the patriarch of the Wood family. Many of the performances come across as flat, listless and without emotion, and those that aren’t listless are almost histrionic in their overacting.
The print of the film is pretty lousy looking, with the colors occasionally getting fuzzy and bleeding into each other. It’s clear that Warner Brothers didn’t put any effort into restoring the film before releasing it as part of their “Warner Archives” collection of pressed-on-demand DVDs, just threw it out there to make a quick buck off the handful of people who want to see it.
Final Analysis: A solid story somewhat hampered by the performances and print quality, Ronald is nonetheless a satisfying creepy character whose descent into madness manages to be believable, if maybe a bit too quick – the scale of time over which events take place isn’t real clear, but no more then a week or two could have passed between Mrs. Wilby’s death and the Woods moving in, right? It’s a weird, moody little film that manages some really chilling moments, and worth a watch if it crosses your path.
Overall, I give BAD RONALD (1974)…
TWO BARRELS OF TOXIC WASTE.