A Movie A Day: BAD RONALD (1974)
Mother! Mother! Mother!
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with the next installment of A Movie A Day: Halloween 2010 edition!
[For the entirety of October I will be showcasing one horror film each day. Every film is pulled from my DVD shelf or streamed via Netflix Instant and will be one I haven’t seen. Unlike my A Movie A Day or A Movie A Week columns there won’t necessarily be connectors between each film, but you’ll more than likely see patterns emerge day to day.]
I’ve not had much luck being an adult and taking in some of these fan favorite made for TV chillers for the first time. When I bought this disc I also bought the famous and newly remade DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK. I excitedly gave that one a spin and found myself disconnected and disinterested for 90% of the film. I didn’t see it as a kid, so that particular story doesn’t have the same kind of entrance to my brain that it does for those that grew up with it.
Calling it nostalgia would be unfair and wholly dismissive. If a film works, it works. Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark didn’t work for me, so I’m excited to see what the remake looks like. Good story done with more than $40 and some good craft service.
So it was with that mindset I went into another ‘70s TV horror flick that has a lot of fans: BAD RONALD, also released by the great Warner Archive. It could be my lower expectations or that it just didn’t have incredibly annoying Kim Darby in the lead, but I quite enjoyed this one.
At 71 minutes this is a quick, wham bam tale of a good kid, Ronald (Scott Jacoby), who might be a little too much of a mama’s boy but has a good heart, who makes a big mistake. The mistake in question is shoving a taunting neighborhood brat. Well, when this girl falls she hits her head. Badly.
In a panic, the nerdy high school senior buries the girl in a shallow grave and runs home, telling his mother everything.
The mother is played by Kim Hunter (Planet of the Apes). I’m going to take a brief side note and talk a little about horror as a genre. It’s a unique genre in that it is so welcoming of new blood and fading stars. There are examples in dramas, comedies, etc, but no more so than horror. It’s where the stars of tomorrow get a chance to prove themselves and the stars of yesterday are still cherished.
Seeing Kim Hunter as the obsessing and worried Elaine Wilby reminded me of that as well as seeing an early performance from the great Dabney Coleman.
Hunter’s Mama Wilby knows that her son will be caught, so she has him build a wall over a bathroom door and create a crawl space in the pantry. The plan is hide the kid for a few months then move away and start anew.
Of course, that plan doesn’t work out when she’s hospitalized and dies on the operating room table leaving poor Ronald with little but a set of rules for his safety (never come out, don’t make a sound, etc). A new family moves in (headed by Mr. Coleman) and Ronald’s life becomes a voyeur’s paradise.
He watches the family through holes drilled into the walls, becoming obsessed with Coleman’s blonde, teenage daughter.
What’s interesting to me about this movie is they don’t play Ronald as a bad kid. If he didn’t go out that one day, didn’t run into the annoying little girl, he probably would have grown up to be a doctor. He’s left with very little choice but to roll with what life throws at him and in the process turns even more inward than he was before.
Ronald writes fantasy stories, paints pictures and sees himself as a young Prince wrongfully banished from his land and the little girl, Cindy Fisher, is his Princess.
They don’t play Ronald as a creepy freak. In fact, he’s quite a sympathetic character. Outside of the accident early in the movie he doesn’t kill anybody… not directly, anyway. There’s just a small disconnect that makes him feel slightly off.
I couldn’t help but think of how many different ways this story could be told. The way we get it is pretty A to B to C storytelling, where we see the new family, we see Ronald watching, we get a good 15 minutes with Ronald and his mother early on… But what if the point of view was from the new family moving in?
The youngest daughter has a bad feeling about this old Victorian house, food starts disappearing from the fridge at night, they hear shuffling sounds that could be rats, the nosey neighborlady goes missing, they hear stories of the never caught murderer that used to live there, etc.
It’d be an interesting take and probably more effective in the thrills department, but I gotta say I kinda like this playing more true to life. It’s not something you usually get.
While I can’t say the movie got under my skin, I can see how it would really get to kids at the time. There’s a shot of one of the characters noticing a hole in the wall only to find a giant, wide-open eye staring at them that was really effective.
If I have a major complaint about the film it’s that it ends extremely abruptly. Not satisfyingly abruptly, like An American Werewolf In London, for instance, just in a rush. I have a hard time believing it was abrupt on purpose because the whole thing is building tension to the moment where Ronald is discovered… and when that happens it’s shocking and then immediately over. Like, credits rolling within 30 seconds abrupt.
The TV movie is based on a pulp novel by John Holbrook Vance that I have not read. If any talkbackers have, maybe you can fill me in on how close the TV movie stuck to it. I get the feeling that the movie tells only delivers a portion of what was in the novel, but that could just be me talking outta my butt.
Final Thoughts: Jacoby is strong in the lead, there’s a few moments of real unnerving imagery (the aforementioned eyeball as well as a hanging baby doll that was apparently dropped into this movie by Satan himself) and an interesting way to humanize what could have been a schlocky (and probably more fun, granted) exorcize in thriller storytelling.
Currently in print on DVD: YES
Currently available on Netflix Instant: NO
Here are the next week’s worth of AMAD titles:
Wednesday, October 6th: THE ENTITY (1981)
Thursday, October 7th: DOCTOR X (1932)
Friday, October 8th: THE RETURN OF DOCTOR X (1939)
Saturday, October 9th: THE TENANT (1976)
Sunday, October 10th: MAN IN THE ATTIC (1953)
Monday, October 11th: NEW YEAR’S EVIL (1980)
Tuesday, October 12th: PROPHECY (1979)
Tomorrow’s THE ENTITY, a film I’ve seen the trailer for a dozen times, yet I still keep getting it mixed up with DEMON SEED for some reason. Looking forward to finally digging into it!
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Oct. 5, 2010, 11:35 p.m. CST
I think it's 1981, not 83. The difference being that it's pre-Poltergeist, which is kinda interesting, and Ghostbusters.
Oct. 5, 2010, 11:38 p.m. CST
death by mutant bear/exploding sleeping bag. I never stop laughing at that...ever. I think I've lost weight because of that scene just laughing.
Oct. 5, 2010, 11:43 p.m. CST
The complete uncut Blue Knight miniseries .
Oct. 5, 2010, 11:48 p.m. CST
by Nasty In The Pasty
Oct. 5, 2010, 11:48 p.m. CST
TBS used to run random shit like this in between stretches of "Movies for guys who like Movies" or "30 Days of Bond". TBS after 12am is where I discovered this as well as "Fearless Vampire Killers", "Devil Dog The Hound From Hell" and "Psychomania" "which in my humble opinion is something worthy of a review in this colum".... but ya TBS would really show some cool shit and I can only assume Ted Turner was the influence because after he left so did these off-beat films.
Oct. 5, 2010, 11:53 p.m. CST
by Nasty In The Pasty
Oct. 5, 2010, 11:57 p.m. CST
Quint was feeling very generous today (or he smoked too much reefer). My friend had an old VHS copy of this thing and put together a movie night last year so a bunch of us could watch one of his childhood favorites. It was so lame, it was almsot intolerable. The girl lightly bumps her head and dies, the POV peephole shots constantly move to allow Ronald to follow the action and there's not a single moment of genuine fear. Just BAD period.
Oct. 6, 2010, 12:07 a.m. CST
Your review is logical but my love for this is beyond logic. It just has a weird 70's made-for-tv vibe that I find compelling. They just don't make these anymore. And Scott really makes you sympathize with Ronald. I'm surprised this has'nt been remade as the kid living in the wall angle seems pretty unique. I dunno, you either love it or you don't.
Oct. 6, 2010, 2:36 a.m. CST
Bad Ronald is a visionary movie.
Oct. 6, 2010, 4:18 a.m. CST
...would never be a bad mother!
Oct. 6, 2010, 5:05 a.m. CST
by Rex Carsalot
And there you were, trapped, eyes glued to the screen, unable to look away, compelled by forces beyond your control to keep reading so that later you could whine like a bitch...
Oct. 6, 2010, 7:06 a.m. CST
Oct. 6, 2010, 7:11 a.m. CST
Oct. 6, 2010, 7:31 a.m. CST
Wooooo!!! Inside-out bears! Watched that at band camp.
Oct. 6, 2010, 7:42 a.m. CST
Have to agree with everyone, this was a terrible movie. It fits a pattern of most films about nerds, or what Hollywood's idea of what a nerd should be--creepy, hopeless, inbreed backwards, secretly dangerous without being very good at being dangerous. You know how this movie is going to turn out, and will be embarrassed to watch as Ronald stumbles and deteriorates in a very predictable way. I'd much rather be watching "The Terminal Man", or George Pal's "The Power", or better still "The Green Slime" when it comes out at the end of this month from Warner's archive.
Oct. 6, 2010, 7:52 a.m. CST
Or was that another movie?
Oct. 6, 2010, 8:02 a.m. CST
...Saw the movie as a kid and this scene cause the entire audience to explode in uproarious, sustained laughter. All these years later I still get the chuckles whenever I think of that stupid kid trying to hop away from a charging mutant-bear and getting swatted against a fake rock in an explosion of goose down.
Oct. 6, 2010, 8:14 a.m. CST
I haven's seen the film. Do they ever explain that?
Oct. 6, 2010, 8:30 a.m. CST
I thought that was him on the cover
Oct. 6, 2010, 9:16 a.m. CST
And where does he get his food?
Oct. 6, 2010, 9:21 a.m. CST
by Crimson Dynamo
There were all kind of gems among those old tv movies of the week. and no one buries 'em in the basement like scott jacoby
Oct. 6, 2010, 9:24 a.m. CST
by Crimson Dynamo
the mom has ronald wall up the door to a bathroom under the stairs. he gets in and out thru a crawl space in the pantry in the kitchen. so he had an endless supply of water and a place to shit, and when he came out when the family was gone, he was already in the kitchen and would drink their milk and steal chicken legs
Oct. 6, 2010, 9:24 a.m. CST
had Klaus Kinski as a former nazi creeping about behind the walls & ducts of some apartment building he owned & rented to lovely college babes. Classic 80's. Hail Gunther!!
Oct. 6, 2010, 9:33 a.m. CST
Sounds like a Radiohead B-side. Just sayin. Just watched this on youtube. Most disturbing thing in it was how the director kept showing the 13 year old girl's crotch, while she was running up the stairs.
Oct. 6, 2010, 11:40 a.m. CST
by The Reluctant Austinite
That's why so many kids who saw it back in the day remember it. It's just WRONG. It doesn't really follow the roadmap for a horror thriller or troubled teen flick, but kind of fuses both of them together in an orignal way. In the day, it gave kids a strange feeling of, "I don't think I should be watching this, but I can't look away". Ronald, in classic Universal Horror traditon, is a sympathetic "monster". I'd say Wes Craven got his idea for "People Under the Stairs" from seeing "Bad Ronald". The film isn't a masterpiece, but it is singular. There's not another "Bad Ronald".
Oct. 6, 2010, 3:24 p.m. CST
I love it.
Oct. 6, 2010, 3:40 p.m. CST
...and it's true that Ronald is "the hero", in a twisted way. Glad to know it's still available. It sort of reminds me of a much happier movie from the same era, "The Prince of Central Park", about a boy and his little sister, orphans who run away from a bad situation and who end up living in a tree (?!) in central park, but during the day they get all the free museum trips they want.
Oct. 6, 2010, 4:04 p.m. CST
Well said, particularly your bit about afterschool specials. That's EXACTLY what it was like when I was a kid, though they didn't air it at 5pm or anything (did they?)
Oct. 6, 2010, 4:34 p.m. CST
by Dave Bowman
...is otherwise known as the great science fiction writer Jack Vance. I haven't seen this movie, but I have read the book, and it sounds like the movie is very much watered down. In the book, Ronald is an evil creep who abducts the younger girl into his hiding place and turns her into his sex slave. I believe he also murders one of the other girls. When he meets his demise you're happy to see him go. He is one of the most vile literary characters I ever encountered.
Oct. 6, 2010, 9:05 p.m. CST
I could have sworn that was Matthew Modine. Also, "The Entity" I remember as being very creepy - but not nearly as creepy as Ron Silver.
Oct. 6, 2010, 11:42 p.m. CST
This movie is an old oddball. There wasn't anything else quite like this one, not really. And just for the reasons mentioned. He wasn't played as a monster. It was more of a weird drama. Almost like a Disney movie, but not quite. Just alittle too violent for Disney since people seem to "accidentally" die around Ronald. Alot of those older movies did end abruptly and left you wondering if there was more, either left on the cutting room floor, or hidden away in a script drawer. We'll never really know.
Oct. 7, 2010, 1:26 a.m. CST
Oct. 7, 2010, 2:50 p.m. CST
by Nice Marmot
He just hides and spies on people? How does the nosey neigbor die?
Oct. 8, 2010, 8:31 p.m. CST
I have the novel Bad Ronald and the book character is much darker. He rapes and kills the girl instead of pushing her and killing her by accident. He also captures 2 of the three daughters, raping and killing them as well before being set on fire and captured at the end. A faithful adaption of the book would make a nice theatrical film, but they had to tone the book way down for TV.
Oct. 12, 2010, 9:48 p.m. CST
... you cant turn LEFT and RIGHT to see... It felt odd when they kept showing Ronald POV shots through the hole panning left and right. It's impossible actually. Scared me as a kid. took me out of it as an adult.