Based on the novel by Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy Award winning author, John Holbrook Vance, (The Dragon Masters), the television film “Bad Ronald” first aired on ABC (American Broadcasting Company) on October 23, 1974. The film’s teleplay, adapted from the novel, was written by Andrew Peter Marin (Deadly Intention) and directed by DGA (Directors Guild of America) award winner Buzz Kulik, (Brian’s Song). The seventy-four minute runtime of the movie is a mixture of the genres of drama, thriller, and minimal aspects of horror.
Sixteen year old, awkward and friendless, Ronald Wilby (Scott Jacoby), has just left Laurie’s (Shelly Spurlock), pool party. She is a girl he likes, but the feelings are definitely not mutual. During the short duration of his stay, he receives the taunts and put downs, which he seems to be accustomed to. After leaving the party, he runs into Laurie’s younger sister, Carol (Angela Hoffman). Carol unleashes an insulting verbal tirade on Ronald that finally causes him to reach his breaking point. He pushes Carol, not with the intention of killing her, but just to keep her quiet. His actions, however, permanently silence her, as she gets her head bashed upon a cinder block. Panicked, he drags Carol’s body into the woods and conceals it. He then makes his way home, where he informs his doting, but overbearing mother, Elaine, portrayed by Kim Hunter (Planet of the Apes) of everything that has just transpired. Together they formulate a plan and take steps to make sure that Ronald does not get arrested, sent to jail, and possibly convicted of murder. Informing the police of what has happened, especially considering he covered up Carol’s body, the two feel won’t bode well for Ronald and that the police won’t believe his story that it was merely an accident that led to her death.
The plan that is concocted by Ms. Wilby is to wall off the guest bathroom that is downstairs on the first floor of their Victorian home. There is plaster, as well as matching wall paper left over from the last time the house was worked on, so therefore everything will blend. Ronald’s only way in or out of the hidden room will be through a small opening on the floor of the pantry closet. Working all through the night, and it is a good thing he did, Ronald completes the hidden room shortly before the police arrive. Led by Sgt. Lynch (John Larch) they come to ask Ronald questions, armed with his jacket, which was found at the scene of the crime. The story Lynch is given by Elaine is that Ronald has run away from home and she has no idea where he has gone. With little else to go on, and not for one second thinking that Ronald might be hiding in a secret room in the house, the police concentrate their efforts searching for him elsewhere.
The plan, moving forward, is that in a few months Ms. Wilby will sell their home and move with Ronald somewhere far away from where the killing has taken place. The only problem with that is that Elaine needs to go into the hospital to have gallbladder surgery. She lets Ronald know that she will be back in a week, and that he should just sit tight and stay out of sight, especially since their nosy neighbor, Mrs. Schumacher (Linda Watkins), could be lurking around and discover that Ronald hasn’t left home at all. The weeks go by and Elaine never returns. Ronald knows that the operation was not a success and that his mother has passed on. He doesn’t have much time for bereavement because a short time after Elaine’s death, the house is sold to the Wood family, the patriarch of which is played by veteran television and film actor, Dabney Coleman (Boardwalk Empire). Rounding out the rest of the family is Mrs. Wood (Pippa Scott) and their three daughters Althea (Cindy Eilbacher), Babs (Cindy Fisher), and Ellen (Lisa Eilbacher).
At first the only thing that the Wood family remarks is strange about their new home is that there is only one bathroom. Babs, however, starts to complain about strange noises coming from inside the walls and the feeling that she is being watched. The rest of the family dismisses her concerns. Bab’s feelings are not without merit, because Ronald has placed her on the same pedestal of unrealistic fantasies as was formerly occupied by Laurie, and is watching, not only her, but the rest of the family, through holes he has drilled into the walls. Other than sneaking out of his room to get food, Ronald spends the majority of the time drawing pictures on the walls, writing fantasy stories, and day dreaming about a fictional world of his own creation which he calls Atranta.
Will Ronald eventually be discovered hiding inside the home? Does he take his fantasies and attempt to transform them into reality as they pertain to Babs or any other members of the Wood family? Does Mrs. Schumacher foil Ronald’s plans with her snooping? All of those questions and more will be answered if you invest the time to watch this interesting television film from the seventies.
For the time period in which it was made and aired on network television, “Bad Ronald” could have only gone so far. The fact that it is devoid of gore and over the top murders doesn’t hamper it in the least. The story does an effective job of obfuscating the lines of Ronald’s character in regard to him being viewed as both an evil person for some of the actions he takes during the movie, and as an innocent victim, who eventually might have been able to move forward with his life in a productive way if he had just come clean with the police in the first place. The television film, as with other movies of its time period, for example, “Dark Night of the Scarecrow,” allows the viewer to project much more onto the screen than is really transpiring. In addition, if you stop to think about it, the movie really does provide its audience with a creepy scenario that is not entirely far fetched. Are there any amongst us who would not go to great lengths to protect their child from going to jail for something that was a tragic accident? Then, as regards Ronald’s behavior vis-à-vis the Wood family, who amongst us would want someone to have the ability to watch our every move, no matter how private, or to sneak out any time we were away from home in order to go through our things, no matter how personal? If you do opt to invest the time to watch this movie, you might be able to obtain it at your local library as I did. The movie is also available on DVD as part of the Warner Brother’s Archive collection and can be purchased on Amazon.com.