The beauty of made for TV movies is that they can be way, way weirder than anything you’ll ever see on the big screen. For a blast of pure insanity — as long as you can get your brain to agree with the major reality bending events you’ll witness — you can’t go wrong with spending a little over an hour with Bad Ronald.
Originally airing on October 24, 1974 on the ABC Network, this film tells the sad tale of Ronald Wilby (Scott Jacoby, The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane), a kid who is a great artist and lives in a fantasy world. So far, he’s me at 15, all socially awkward and afraid of girls. Where he is not like me is that his dad left town and never came back, leaving him with an insanely overprotective mother (Kim Hunter, Zira from Planet of the Apes) who has some mystery disease and wants Ronald to go to med school and heal her. That seems like a lot of pressure. Maybe so much pressure that after getting the Heisman and shut down by Laurie Matthews, the object of his affection, he ends up shoving Laurie’s younger sister Carol. The little girl just keeps verbally abusing Ronald — trust me, I’ve had things twelve-year-old girls say hurt me to this day and gotten over every punch to my face — until he shoves her again, so hard that her head bounces off a concrete block. Boom. She’s dead.
Yep. In the 70s — and perhaps nowhere moreso than a 70s made for TV movie — life is cheap. So Ronald and his mom do what any normal person and normal mother would do — they bury the body, hide the evidence and even hide Ronald inside a concealed room. They hope everything will just blow over — even when the police come by with questions. Nosy neighbors be damned, her boy will be just fine, provided he stops drawing, does his studies, eats right and remembers his exercises.
It should work. Except she dies, leaving Ronald alone in the house with all his cans of food. Before you get to the next commercial, Ronald has totally escaped into a fantasy world of princes, princesses and demons. His house is sold to the Wood family — mom, dad (Dabney Coleman of Cloak and Dagger, 9 to 5, Tootsie and so much more) and three sisters — Babs, Althea and Ellen.
Ronald is running out of food and really needs human interaction. Babs becomes the princess of his dreams while her boyfriend, Duane Matthews, becomes his demon. Well, he’s already killed one of Duane’s sisters and now he’s descended so far into pure mania, who can say what will happen next!
From Ronald murdering the old lady who keeps peeking into the house to his peepholes all over the place, this is a really disturbing slice of TV cinema. There’s a truly great scare when the girls finally see an eyeball inside of those holes. And it’s a nail biter wondering if they can escape Ronald — who finally makes his play for his princess when the parents leave town.
Directed by Buzz Kulik, who also was in the chair for the incredibly famous Brian’s Song, this is quite the effective little chiller. It was remade in 1992 as Méchant Garçon, starring a young Catherine Hiegel. But man — we’re huge Scott Jacoby fans and will stick with the original!
BONUS: You can listen to the podcast we did on Bad Ronald!