TV Terror Guide: Bad Ronald (1974)


Air Date: Oct. 23, 1974 (ABC)

Production Companies: Lorimar Productions

Running Time: 74 min.

Available on: Blu-ray (Warner Archive)

Written by: Andrew Peter Marin

Based on the novel by John Holbrook Vance

Directed by: Buzz Kulik

Cast: Scott Jacoby, Pippa Scott, John Larch, Dabney Coleman, Kim Hunter

Rating: 7 vintage televisions (out of 10)

 

There’s nothing particularly unique about Bad Ronald (1974), except for one thing: it works. I’m not sure I can pinpoint why, but it simply has all the right stuff. It’s a case of the sum being more than the individual parts. When I learned that the director, Buzz Kulik, also made Brian’s Song (1971), I realized he knows how to work an audience.

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Here, he does it for suspense and thrills rather than for drama and tears. It’s an intimate story taking place largely in one location, mostly resting on the shoulders of the titular character, played by Scott Jacoby (who won an Emmy for supporting actor for 1972’s That Certain Summer.) There’s not a lot of action until the end, but it’s worth waiting to see it.

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Ronald Wilby is a momma’s boy and a little strange. With his unkempt mop of hair and large glasses, his classmates make fun of him. It’s when he accidentally kills a young girl that his reputation changes to “bad.” His mother, Elaine (Kim Hunter) has the bright idea to wall over the downstairs bathroom so he can hide inside.

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Yeah, maybe he avoids being convicted of a crime and then being incarcerated, but this hidden room becomes a prison of its own when Elaine dies and he’s left all alone. Maybe “unlucky” is a better descriptor for the poor kid. When nosy neighbor Mrs. Schumacher (Linda Watkins), spies him through the window, she faints and falls down the steps.

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Ronald says, “I bet they’ll blame this on me, too” before burying her under the house. Before this happens, though, the house is sold to a new family and one of the daughters is coincidentally dating the brother of the girl Ronald originally killed. The Woods family isn’t too pleased to hear his story about what happened while they’re sitting around the dinner table.

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The youngest daughter (of three), Babs (Cindy Fisher) is right to be suspicious when she hears noises and food keeps disappearing from the refrigerator. In Ronald’s deteriorating mind, she’s a princess and he’s the prince, which means there will ultimately be a confrontation between them. There is and it’s a good, exciting one.

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Bad Ronald has a little Flowers in the Attic vibe happening with it. Both feature bizarre, unsettling concepts that appeal to our seedier sides. We’d be shocked if we read that something like this really happened, but we’re thrilled to watch a fictional account of it. Yes, it’s far-fetched, but not completely unrealistic.

 

Bad Ronald isn't available on YouTube; however, you can visit the TV Terror Guide: 70's TV Movies playlist at ClassicHorrors.Club TV to watch other great movies from this series...

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