Plot: Ronald (Scott Jacoby) doesn’t have much of a social life, as his peers treat him poorly and consider him an outcast. The other teens don’t even attempt to hide their disdain for him, openly mocking and tormenting Ronald, who bottles up the emotions from these incidents. His lone friend is his mother Elaine (Kim Hunter), but even that relationship isn’t that healthy, as Ronald is very codependent and relies on her for most of his decisions. When Ronald tires of being abused and lashes out in anger, he kills a neighborhood girl by accident, when he knocks her down and she suffers a fatal head wound. In an effort to shield her son from punishment, Elaine crafts a hidden room and stashes him in there, safe from the authorities. She brings him food and other such provisions, but when her ailing health finally collapses, Elaine dies and Ronald is left hidden in his room. His mind begins to unravel and when a new family move in, Ronald finds himself obsessed with one of the young daughters and lost in a world of delusional fantasies…
Entertainment Value: This classic made for television shocker is much darker and unsettling than you’d expect from a network broadcast in the 70s, which is likely why Bad Ronald has remained popular with horror fans. The narrative has a lot of familiar elements, with the bullied teen, domineering mother, and rampant local gossip, but the story takes a dark turn that sets it apart from the usual made for television melodramas and helps Bad Ronald stand out from the crowd. The movie doesn’t go deep with the character development, but the threads we need to piece together the exposition are there, especially in the dynamic between Ronald and Elaine. Not much time is taken is explore the specifics of that unhealthy relationship, but we know the father left, Elaine liked to control her son, and the two had a dysfunctional bond, so the rest we can fill in for ourselves. And given that the movie runs just over 70 minutes, I think all of the time is used wisely and provides a brisk pace, but not at the expense of the narrative or the super creepy atmosphere. Ronald’s descent into total madness is quite a ride, handled with eeriness and a voyeuristic slant on terror, giving us one of the creepier made for television movies ever. If you’re a horror fan or just love unsettling melodramas, give Bad Ronald a spot in your collection.
The performances here are more than solid and quite effective for the tone of the material, but this is melodramatic stuff, so some of the prominent cast members dial things up a little. Some might see that as ham fisted, but I think it works, as this is dark material, but also has just enough melodrama and even a touch of camp here and there to spice things up. Scott Jacoby has the titular role and infuses Ronald with the kind of social awkwardness common to this kind of character, but also handles the mental deterioration well. So this is a character we’ve seen many times and can likely even relate to a little at first, but taken down a dark path and thanks to Jacoby’s turn, Ronald is has the creepiness the role requires. I also think Kim Hunter is quite good, even if she doesn’t have a lot of screen time, as she makes the most of her early scenes and plays the dominant mother with great skill. Hunter was a coup for Bad Ronald, as she brings great dramatic presence to the role and elevates her scenes, without question. The cast also includes Dabney Coleman, Pippa Scott, and John Larch.
The Disc: You might not think a 70s movie of the week could look that good, but Warner Archive’s Blu-ray release of Bad Ronald looks simply excellent, with a super clean and detailed visual presentation. The colors have that 70s sheen and the contrast is spot on, but the real revelation is how sharp the movie is, as fine detail is remarkable and little signs of age can be seen. This is a fantastic treatment from Warner Archive that fans of the movie will be thrilled with.