The 1974 ABC Movie of the Week Bad Ronald has long been a sort of holy grail for this lover of all things made-for-TV. Rare and expensive (it was released on VHS once, in the early 80s), it was always on my "someday" list- although friends who know about these sort of things always cited it as a gem of the genre. Well, thanks to Warner Archives, Bad Ronald is now available to the masses, of which I proudly call myself a member. It's a barer-than-bare bones edition, sure, but the important thing is that you can now live every night like it's Movie of the Week night! The DVD cover blurb from our old pals at Kindertrauma is all but a Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval.
Ronald Wilby (Scott Jacoby) isn't really bad, he's just a bit of a shy, dorky mama's boy...and mom (Kim Hunter) likes it that way. The divorcee never achieves Mama Bates levels of son suffocation, but she tries her best to warn him about the evils of...you know...the rest of the world.
She's proven a bit right when Ronald goes to ask out a cheerleader he's got a crush on; as expected, she spurns his advances while all her friends- those damn popular kids!- make fun of him. Dejected, he walks home only to be further taunted by a bratty bike-riding tween. Ronald calmly responds to "You're weird!" with "I'm not weird." - but once she calls his mother weird, however, it's on. He shoves the girl and she hits her head on a cinder block. She's dead, but really, it's the cinder block's fault.
Ronald calmly confesses to his mother...but wait, there's more! Panicked, he buried the girl in a shallow grave, really throwing a wrench in the works. Mom, ever quick on her feet, immediately comes up with a plan: they'll hide Ronald in the house until this all blows over, then they'll escape and Ronald can go on to medical school and become the fabulous doctor she knows he'll be. In response, Ronald shows us his method for eating an apple, the side-nibble.
The two set about transforming the second bathroom into Ronald's hideaway. They wall over the door completely, then build a trap door in the pantry so Ronald can get food and powdered milk from mom; they even eat their meals together through the doorway, but Ronald can never leave his secret nest.
The plan, though ridiculous, works. The police come sniffing, as does nosy neighbor Mrs. Schumacher, but Ronald's mom insists he ran away, leaving behind only a note. No one suspects that the boy is walled up inside the house, and the weeks pass. Ronald spends his days exercising, boning up on his studies (you can still get into med school without graduating high school, right?), and drawing and writing about the fantasy world he's created, "Atranta".
Life in the walls is peachy until mom dies on the operating table; whatever is Ronald to do? Rather than escape to a new life (or, you know, face the consequences of that little manslaughter thing), he stays in his room, getting ever-drawn into Atranta and slowly losing his mind.
The house is eventually sold to an all-American family led by Dabney Coleman. Ronald drills peepholes all over the place and spies on them as the eat. He becomes enamored with Babs, the youngest of the family's three girls, and imagines that she's the physical embodiment of Atranta's Princess Fancetta. As he's Prince Norbert, it's only natural that the two of them should be together...Ronald becomes bolder in his excursions for food, and soon he has to make himself known to his Princess.
The good-natured, if a bit weird (sorry, Ronald, that girl you killed was kinda right) boy transforms into a filthy and completely weird nutjob thanks to months of quiet isolation. I know how he feels- I work from home, and I get a little out of it after a day or so of no human contact. FYI, the day I start signing these posts "Princess Fancetta" is the day you should send someone to look in on me...I promise they won't meet the fate of that snooping Mrs. Schumacher.
There's not a lot of overt, action-packed horror in Bad Ronald, although the climax is definitely worth the wait. The idea of a homicidal Anne Frank living in the walls is a great one, though, and the film is undeniably creepy. There are plenty of questions it's best not to ask (the family really doesn't see all those massive peepholes in the walls, even when they hang a picture right above one?), sure, but if you suspend your disbelief just a little then you're in for a real treat. It moves along at a fast clip, and it's full of tension. If you're down with the '70s made-for-TV vibe, it doesn't get much better- or badder- than Bad Ronald.