Tuesday, September 22, 2009

DVD Review: Bad Ronald

In the 1970s, particularly the halcyon years 1971-1975, many made-for-TV movies attained mythical status among kids and teenagers. The grindcore salaciousness of drive-in movies couldn’t be replicated on the small screen, so a blood- and boob-free version of B movies hit such venues as the ABC Movie of the Week. They dealt with serious issues like runaways and the generation gap (Maybe I’ll Come Home In the Spring with Sally Field), reform school (the infamous Born Innocent with Linda Blair), or devil/horror fantasies like rampaging Zuni fetish dolls (Trilogy of Terror starring Karen Black). Through the years, these made-for-TV quickies have gained popularity, even with the younger generation who’ve only heard of the films and never seen them. There’s even a Facebook application called Made for TV Mayhem. 
In Bad Ronald (available from the Warner Brothers Archive Collection), B-movie favorite Scott Jacoby plays the title character, a geeky kid who lives with his bossy, doting Mom (Kim Hunter playing an understated version of Mama Bates). Ronald has the hots for a neighbor girl, but she prefers football players, and consistently spurns his requests for a date. He encounters one of her sisters and accidentally kills her after she insults his Mommy. In a panic, he buries the body, then runs home to Mom for advice on what to do next. Mom and Ronald fashion a hidden compartment from a second bathroom. Mom keeps watch over Ronald, bringing him meals, insisting that he exercise, and encouraging him to pursue his artwork. Ronald draws figures from a fantasy world he calls “Atranta”, weaving complex storylines about maidens and warriors.
Mom goes off for a gall bladder operation. She says she'll be back in a week. She doesn't make it. The next voice Ronald hears is that of real estate salespeople getting ready to sell the house. Soon they show prospective buyer Mr. Wood (Dabney Coleman) the house, along with his wife and three daughters. They all love it, except for one suspicious daughter. She finally relents to her parents and siblings and reluctantly agrees to go along with the purchase.

Now the fun begins. Ronald takes to peeping on the girls. Of course, there are realism problems, such as “How could they miss the flushing of the toilet in the hidden bathroom?” and “How does he take showers?” (watching a made for TV movie requires one to suspend disbelief for 90 minutes). The premise keeps things creepy; just thinking about a gawky, disheveled murderer hidden behind the walls of your house is unsettling.
Younger viewers used to a faster and bloodier pace in horror films might wonder what the fuss was about because Bad Ronald is merely tense and the momentum builds up slowly. There’s the snooping neighbor lady who is always peering through the back door window at the right time, and the progression (or is it regression?) of Ronald’s fantasy figure artwork to foreshadow the film's ending. Ronald has created a psychotic Lord of the Rings-type plot featuring the girls in the house, their suitors, and his macabre revenge fantasies.

Entertaining but a little dated, Bad Ronald has a medium “ick” factor that will keep you watching despite its flaws. Jacoby and Kim Hunter are psychotic but not overtly so, and the ‘70s furnishings and fashions will elicit a chuckle or two. Bad Ronald is part of the Warner Archive Collection of previously unreleased cult favorites and black and white classics.

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