Bad Ronald (1974) poster

Bad Ronald (1974)


USA. 1974.


Director – Buzz Kulik, Teleplay – Andrew Peter Marin, Based on the Novel by John Holbrook Vance, Producer – Philip Capice, Photography – Charles F. Wheeler, Music – Fred Karlin, Production Design – Ed Graves. Production Company – Lorimar Productions, Inc..


Scott Jacoby (Ronald Wilby), Kim Hunter (Elaine Wilby), Cindy Fisher (Babs Wood), John Larch (Sergeant Lynch), Cindy Eilbacher (Althea Wood), Lisa Eilbacher (Eileen Wood), Ted Eccles (Duane Matthews), Dabney Coleman (Mr Lynch), Pippa Scott (Mrs Wood), Roger Aaron Brown (Sergeant Carter), Linda Watkins (Mrs Schumacher), Angela Hoffman (Carol Matthews), Shelley Spurlock (Laurie Matthews)


Ronald Wilby is a socially awkward teenager raised by his mother Elaine. She pushes him to study for medicine while he is more interested in drawing pictures of the fantasy kingdom he has created. Ronald goes to see Laurie Matthews, a girl he likes, but is teased by her and her friends. On the way home, he accidentally knocks Laurie’s younger sister Carol off her bicycle and in trying to stop her taunting him accidentally knocks her head and kills her. He buries the body and returns home and confesses what happened to his mother. Fearful of him being arrested, Elaine decides they should hide Ronald until everything blows over. They create a cubbyhole by building a wall that hides the downstairs bathroom and papering over it, leaving a hidden door in the pantry as the only access. Ronald hides there while his mother tells police he has fled. His mother then has to go into hospital for an operation but dies. In the aftermath, the house is sold. Ronald stays in hiding as the Wood family buy the house and move in with their three daughters. From his hiding place, Ronald develops a fixation on the Wood’s daughter Babs and decides she is the princess in his fantasy.

Bad Ronald was another film from the 1970s Golden Age of genre TV Movies. It came from Lorimar, a company prolific in the 1970s/80s, producing other tv movies and shows like Dallas (1978-91) and Falcon Crest (1981-90), not to mention ALF (1986-90).

Bad Ronald has been labelled as a horror film – and certainly is marketed as such in its modern dvd release. However, I have difficulties viewing it as a horror film. For one, for the bulk of its running time, it is more a film about an awkward teenager who commits an accidental murder and his improbable solution to this – hiding in a cubbyhole in the wall of his home.

The build-up of the story where we follow Scott Jacoby and the circumstances whereby he ends up a prisoner inside the cubbyhole holds your attention, as do the scenes with him spying on the new family. What you do keep wondering is how he manages to get food the entire time he is in there. The film is not clear how long a timeframe the story takes place in – you get the impression of several months but all he is given for that time seems to be one box of groceries, which means a heck of a lot of trips out to steal from the fridge.

Scott Jacoby is fine in the role and Kim Hunter, best known as a chimpanzee in the various Planet of the Apes films around the same time as this, stands in well as his mother. The script does come with the later-to-be-amusing line “She stood up a date with Jimmy Carter,” where clearly the 39th US President was another three years away and this was just the writer throwing in a random name.

Ronald Wilby (Scott Jacoby) in Bad Ronald (1974)
Ronald Wilby (Scott Jacoby) in his cubbyhole with his drawing of his fantasy princess

On the other hand, the film falls down as soon as it arrives at the horror elements. Scott Jacoby’s journey into psycho territory is ill motivated. The scenes where he emerges and kills the nosy neighbour (Linda Watkins) – an act we never see presumably because this was made as a tv movie – and abducts one of the teenage girls of the family (Cindy Fisher) do move over into horror territory. However, it feels as though his character is twisted out of shape from essentially a good kid whose only crime was that he accidentally killed someone. His motivation in all of this seems to come from nowhere.

The same idea of the disturbed individual lurking in the walls of a house also served as the basis of the later Hider in the House (1989) starring Gary Busey, which was much more of a horror film.

Buzz Kulik was a director from the early days of live television in the 1950s who mostly worked in television, making a handful of theatrical films. He made no other genre works but did direct episodes of The Twilight Zone (1959-63) and a mini-series adaptation of Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days (1989).

Trailer here

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