Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Bad Ronald (1974)



         Despite the absurdity of its premise, the made-for-TV thriller Bad Ronald is enjoyably creepy. According to the kooky logic of the film’s plot, it’s possible for a family to purchase and move into a house without noticing that someone’s living in a hidden alcove—because, apparently, the unseen squatter generates neither sounds nor smells that arouse suspicion. Whatever. The name of the game here is cheap thrills. In that regard, Bad Ronald achieves its goals well enough. Young Scott Jacoby, who built a minor career in features and TV projects from the late ’60s to the early ’90s, is suitably otherworldly as the title character, a mama’s boy in the Norman Bates tradition, and versatile director Buzz Kulik infuses ridiculous scenes with as much emotional reality as he can conjure. The actors comprising the solid supporting cast, including Dabney Coleman, Lisa Eilbacher, Kim Hunter, and Pippa Scott, hit their respective notes adequately, and, in a counter-intuitive way, the sheer improbability of the project works in its favor. Bad Ronald is so far-fetched that after the viewer gets over the weirdness of early scenes, a generalized acceptance for bullshit settles in, allowing the viewer to go along for the ride.
         At the beginning of the picture, middle-aged Elaine Wilby (Hunter) lives alone with her bizarre teenaged son, Ronald (Jacoby). He accidentally kills someone and runs home to Mom for help. She supervises the conversion of a pantry into a hiding place, and then she stocks it with supplies. This ruse works for a while, even though cops sniff around the house, suspecting Ronald of committing the murder. Then Elaine dies, so her house goes on the market. Enter the Wood family. They move in totally unaware of Ronald’s presence, even though he sneaks out from his hiding place at night, eventually fixating on the Wood family’s eldest daughter, Ellen (Eilbacher). And so it goes from there. To their credit, everyone in the cast plays this outlandish material straight, and several scenes tap into the universal fears of home invasion and voyeurism. Additionally, the trope of Ronald building a fantasy world through drawings he makes on the walls of his tiny room serve as a metaphor representing his delusional state.

Bad Ronald: FUNKY

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