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Directed by Buzz Kulik, the director who also made Crawlspace, a movie that Bad Ronald has a fair bit in common with, this 1974 made for TV movie stars a young Scott Jacoby as the titular Ronald, a nerdy kid who lives in a creaky old Victorian era house with his overbearing mother (Kim Hunter, sans the ape mask). When Ronald finishes his birthday dinner with mom, he heads out to visit a pretty blonde he knows from school but after being made fun of, he's turned away. On the way back home he runs into a young girl on a bike named Carol (Angela Hoffman). She teases him and makes fun of his mother and Ronald flips out and pushes her. Carol's head hits a brick and she dies on the spot. Rather than go to the cops, Ronald decides to bury her and head home to tell his mom about the whole ordeal.
Not particularly pleased with her son's recent extracurricular activities, she decides that the best course of action is to board up and cover over the extra bathroom on the main floor so that Ronald can hide out there whenever people are around. This will allow them to still live together and at the same time ensure the authorities don't find out where Ronald is at. The cops, led by Sergeant Lynch (John Larch), pay mom a visit and produce Ronald's dirty jacket which they found at the scene of the crime, but she plays dumb and tells them her son has run away. After the cops disappear, Ronald's mother tells him she has to go have her gull bladder out and will be leaving him alone for a week while she goes to the hospital. This is a trip from which she never returns, however, and before you know it a family has bought the home and moved in, having no idea that murderous Ronald has been living secretly in the hidden bathroom all this time, writing and drawing his fantasy book and sneaking around undercover of the darkness. Ronald soon begins having difficulty telling the difference between the fantasy world he's created in his head and the real world where he shares a home with complete strangers and before you know it, he's crushing on one of the family daughters, Althea (Cindy Eilbacher), drilling holes in the walls to peer at people, and acting progressively stranger...
An entertaining enough mix of Crawlspace and Psycho, Kulik's seventy-one-minute film is a tightly paced piece that moves along quickly enough and features some genuinely eerie moments and imagery. As Ronald begins to cover his hidden sanctuary with all manner of bizarre drawings from his fantasy world his physical appearance becomes increasingly disheveled to the point where in the later part of the film he looks as crazy as he's acting. The film also toys with the ideas of abandonment - how is it that the world has just completely forgotten about this poor dude? Did the cops just give up? Does Ronald not have any other relatives who, after his mother's passing, might show some concern for his whereabouts or well being?
One problem with the script is that you don't really get a feel for what Ronald was life before the incident that caused all of his grief. There doesn't appear to have been much of a past history of violence, which makes his sudden freak out a bit out of character for him when you consider that most kids have to endure far harsher teasing than what he's subjected to in the movie. Granted, it's in keeping with his bizarre pseudo-Oedipus complex but a bit more background on Ronald's quirks and characteristics would have gone a long way towards fleshing out his character and giving his subsequent actions more impact.
Those issues aside, Bad Ronald is decent enough entertainment. Kim Hunter is quite good as the overbearing Mrs. Bates type and Scott Jacoby does a fine job playing the reclusive and strange Ronald. Dabney Coleman as the patriarch of the family that moves into the house, is decent enough and the rest of the cast are all fine. The movie is competently shot with some nice, and at times even striking, camera work. Thriller fans will dig the film and while its flaws will keep it from ever being designated 'classic status' it's not a bad little b-movie.
Bad Ronald is presented in its original 1.33.1 fullframe aspect ratio in a very nice AVC encoded 1800p high definition transfer on a 25GB disc. No complaints here, the movie looks excellent in high definition. Sure, the modest budget is even more obvious with the increased resolution that the format offers but in terms of a providing a film-like viewing experience, there's nothing to complain about here. There's the expected amount of natural film grain but no print damage worth discussing. There's nice depth to the picture and a very welcome increase in detail over the less than ideal DVD-r release that WAC afforded the film a few years back. Skin tones look good, black levels are fine and color reproduction is nice. There are no issues with any noise reduction or edge enhancement problems. No complaints here.
The English language DTS-HD 2.0 Mono soundtrack is a quite solid. Optional subtitles are provided in English only. Again, this is a nice upgrade over the previous DVD-r, which sounded a bit muddy. The film's roots still show here, the mono track is a little flat, but it's quite clean and quite clear. The levels are well-balanced and there are no problems with any hiss or distortion to report. The high end is a little bit shrill in spots but otherwise, this is fine if understandably limited in what it can do.
Aside from a very basic menu and chapter selection (spaced at ten minute intervals) this release is completely barebones.
While it may be derivative and even a bit problematic in the script department, Bad Ronald has still got some creepy atmosphere and a good lead performance working in its favor and making it worth a look. The Warner Archives Blu-ray upgrade offers a substantial increase in terms of picture quality and sound quality from the past DVD-r edition. This looks and sounds very good. Recommended for fans, a decent rental for everyone else.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.