“… a wagon is carrying the colossal head of a statue, the head of an emperor in marble, which bumps against the corners of the houses, chipping them.”
Based on a thriller novel by Jack Vance, who is better known for his science fiction and fantasy tales, Bad Ronald found its way to the screen via the glass teat on the ABC network’s Movie of the Week program. Yes, the major networks once made movies. Hard to believe, I realize, in this day of “reality” programming and the like, but it’s true. Most of the movies produced for ABC–as well as for NBC and CBS–were garbage, fondly remembered now for their camp value and little else.
Every once in awhile, though, something strange and memorable for the right reasons would air–Brian’s Song (1971), Duel (1971), The Point! (1971), The Night Stalker (1972), The Legend of Lizzie Borden (1975), Trilogy of Terror (1975). And this little curiosity… Bad Ronald (1974).
It’s not a “great” movie by any means, though it sure did make an impact on me when I first saw it as a wee lad. I have no idea if I saw it when it originally aired in 1974 (I would’ve been five) or when it was possibly rerun not long after. Whenever it was, I was young and impressionable.
It marked me.
Bad Ronald‘s twisted set-up–a misunderstood teenage boy in the Norman Bates mold kills a neighborhood girl after she taunts him and his domineering mother hides him from the cops within a secret room within the house–gripped me and haunted me for years. I told friends about this movie whenever I could, but I never met anyone who had ever seen it. And I suspect many thought I was making it up.
It had been issued on VHS at some point… but I only caught up with it again when it was shown on cable in the late-1980s. I was disappointed. Its power had faded. Like many of the films that make the biggest impact on you when you’re a child, they fail to live up to the significance you’ve given them when you view them as an adult. You hyped it too much over the years… falling in love with how your skull cinema screened it nightly rather than the less impressive reality.
Nevertheless, after the disappointment of watching it again, I still talked about it to anyone who’d listen. The premise was just too warped to shelve away. And the actors involved–Scott Jacoby, the excellent Kim Hunter, a brief straight turn by future comedic bumbler Dabney Coleman, and a young Lisa Eilbacher–all made it impossible for me to dismiss. It was schlock to be sure.
But it was my schlock.
While the flame of fond memories had dimmed, I looked forward to the day when one of the genre specialist video companies like Anchor Bay or Synapse Films issued a proper DVD of it. In 2009, Warner Brothers released the movie as part of their worthy Archive Collection. Like the majority of the discs in this series, the quality isn’t great… we’re talking burned-on-demand discs here… but it’s hard to complain since a movie like this is probably never going to see a remastered release.
Earlier this week I finally showed Bad Ronald to my partner in crime. It was the first time I’d seen it since the late-1980s. Surprisingly, I liked it much better this time around. Sure, on a technical level the movie is unimaginative and symptomatic of the drab, no fuss camera set-ups and lighting schemes so popular at the time in television movies and sitcoms.
But Bad Ronald gets under my skin. While watching it this week, I was shocked by how vivid many of the scenes, especially the one below with the girl on the bicycle, were to me.
It was like no time had passed….
Not so bad. Just misunderstood.
Mother sees him with different eyes.
Hopefully, his date will view him differently too.
See the talented young man beneath the awkwardness.
But the “date” goes wrong and Ronald is humiliated.
Best to just take a short cut and get back home…
Unfortunately that short cut intersects with her lifeline…
Triggering a chain of events…
changing the both of them forever.
In time he’ll reflect that it should have ended at that moment.
On the bricks…
His head splattered, his life ended.
Less trouble that way.
But at this moment, not knowing what awaits them in the coming seconds…
Both are grateful to be alive.
One doesn’t seem thankful at all.
One… only grows angrier…
While one grows tired of the role he’s being forced to play.
How come she doesn’t see his uniqueness?
But she’s not buying it.
He’s just a creep.
What he’ll always be.
The sooner he drops dead… the better.
“Take it back!”
It’s escalated too far for that.
He knows it.
She certainly does.
Maybe she should have been grateful after all.
Left it at that.
Learned to say “thank you” and bowed out…
Without hurting any feelings.
No one likes to have their feelings hurt.
It hurts more than you can imagine…
It feels like the pain will never end…
Even though it’s been only seconds.
It feels like you’re free-falling…
It feels like you’re being smashed into a million little pieces…
It feels like you’ll never get out of this misery…
It feels so final.
Like your life has just ended.
On the bricks.
But maybe mother can help.
She’s always seen you with different eyes.
Love won’t make it all go away though.
Love doesn’t make problems disappear.
Especially since murder has a way of complicating things.
“We’ll have to hide you.”
Prison will offer no mercy for such a talented young man.
At least all is forgiven.
Maybe in time… others will forget all about it.
They’ll learn to forgive too.
“You’ll be able to live in decency and cleanliness!”
There will be plenty of room.
No one will find you.
“It’s the perfect illusion!”
“You must learn to be quiet.”
It’s the only way to survive.
After awhile… couple of months…
People will forget.
Everything will be fine…
“I must be the only one who knows you’re here.”
“Two knocks for danger… four for safety…”
It’s a matter of survival.
There’s nothing to be afraid of…
You’ll leave one day…
It’s best to keep up appearances.
Pretend that this has never happened.
Ronald just never came home.
He could be anywhere.
I’ve been working on my Spike Jonze piece for Little White Lies magazine this week and his latest film, of course, has been on my mind. The trailer looks beautiful and I can’t wait to see it. It certainly looks like Jonze has captured the melancholy and gentle anarchy at the heart of the story.
The great Forrest J. Ackerman, the man who unleashed countless monster kids into the world with the publication of his magazine Famous Monsters of Filmland, died last night in Hollywood at the age of 92. He will be missed.
I got a chance to meet Forry back in the late 1990s at the World Horror Convention in Phoenix, Arizona and he was kind enough to pose for a picture with me and some friends as well as show us the rings he received from the legendary Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff. He also talked about those iconic masters of horror and I could have listened to Uncle Forry, as he was widely known as to his many fans, all night. I always meant to journey down to Hollywood to visit his fabled Ackermansion, his treasure trove of a house filled with cinematic arcana devoted to science fiction, horror, and fantasy… but alas, I never did.
You can read more about the king of genre fandom here.
My friend and fellow Odyssey writing workshop comrade Dave Schwartz’s first novel is now out in the UK. It’s called Superpowers and deals with the… oh, I’ll just let him tell you all about it: