Review Date: August 14, 2009
Released by: Warner Brothers
Release date: 8/18/2009
Region 1, NTSC
Full Frame 1.33:1
Everyone has their first horror memory, and for me itís Bad Ronald
. We never had cable TV growing up in Northern Canada, but during the summers Iíd visit my relatives right near the Saskatchewan/North Dakota border. Since they were so close to the States, theyíd get television feeds of all the US cable channels through their big-as-a-house satellite. My brother and I would stay up late those nights seeing what kind of obscurities would pop up (read: movies with nudity) and then came Bad Ronald
. The title enticed, and even if it looked sort of dated for what at the time had to have been about 1987 or so, the premise of a nerdy kid being locked in a room under the stairs by his mother was too off-beat to ever forget. I donít even think we made it through the whole movie, but nevertheless memories of this odd, eclectic little television movie have always remained.
Long a ďwhat was that movie called?Ē memory for those who grew up watching late night cable, Bad Ronald
has endured as one of the most requested ďput it on DVD!Ē TV movies out there. Count the threads on the forums Ė throughout our ten year life every year or so someone new will start a new thread asking about this obscure little television shocker. It has niche value written all over it, and is thus a perfect candidate for Warner Brothersí new ďArchive CollectionĒ line. The ďArchive CollectionĒ, found at www.warnerarchive.com
, burns DVDs on a per request basis, allowing buyers the ability to own hundreds of obscure movies without the market for a mass produced release. Thatís good news for a Bad Ronald
, so letís just see how bad old Ronnie is on his 35th anniversary.
Ronald Wilby (Scott Jacoby
, The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane
, Return to Horror High
) is an awkward, quiet high school sophomore. Heís into fantasy novels, drawing and looking after his ailing mamma (Kim Hunter
, The Planet of the Apes
, Two Evil Eyes
). Soon, she says, heíll become a doctor to cure her of her sickness. Soon, unfortunately, doesnít come soon enough, when Ronald does a very, very bad thing. After getting rejected at a pool party with his peers, Ronald sulks home only to be accosted by little Carol Matthews (Angela Hoffman
). He grabs her and demands she says sorry after insulting him, but when he throws her down she hits her head on a cinder block, dying instantly. Ronald buries her in a shallow grave and runs home to tell mamma. She isnít impressed.
Clearly of the Margaret White vintage (although admittedly a predecessor in 1974), Elaine Wilbyís certainly got a few screws loose. She devises a plan to pretend that Ronald ran away from home, all the while hiding him in a walled in bathroom beside the staircase. Through a small hidden door in the pantry, sheís able to pass him food and other vitals, but otherwise all the walls and windows have been covered by wallpaper or drywall. The plan was for Ronald to lay low inside for a few months until the case was closed, but things didnít quite work out as expected. First, the cops, led by Sgt. Lynch (John Larch
, Play Misty for Me
, The Amityville Horror
) immediately find Ronaldís dirty, incriminating jacket and secondly, Elaine dies before there is ever closure to the case. Knowing not what to do, Ronald stays hidden inside his boxed world.
Inside the room, Ronald slowly starts to immerse himself in a fantasy world, writing his own mythical novel and inventing a land called Antranta. He paints his walls with baroque figures of valore and prestige, imagining himself to be the king. Whoís the queen? Well, sheís about to move in. Shortly after Elaineís death, a new family moves in with three nubile daughters. Naturally, thatís what drives Ronald to upgrade from eavesdropping through echoes in the vents to full fledged voyeurism via drilled holes in the walls. He picks the middle child, Althea (Cindy Eilbacher
, The Slumber Party Massacre II
) to be his bride. Slowly he works up the courage to leave the room, first to take food from the fridge and second to read through the eldestís diary, but as time transpires and his affection blooms, itís time for Ronald to show some love. Some creepy, awkward, People Under the Stairs kind of love.
comes from the seventies, the golden age of the TV movie and the decade that brought us Duel
, The Night Stalker
, Trilogy of Terror
, Donít Be Afraid of the Dark
, and proto-slasher Home for the Holidays
before peaking with Dark Night of the Scarecrow
and Donít Go to Sleep
in the early eighties. It comes from a time when TV movies were not mere downgrades from theatrical films or reality filler like they are today. In the seventies, TV producers were making movies of the week that explored perverse subject matter that didnít abide by Hollywoodís accessible, cookie cut three act structure. You couldnít release a non-stop car chase like Duel
today, and you certainly couldnít release Bad Ronald
Running a scant 71-minutes, it hardly has a third act. Itís more like a setup to reclusivity and the slow, deteriorating aftermath. The ending tacks on the inevitable mother-son Psycho connection, but Bad Ronald
really aspires to much more. The thing that always scared me as a kid was not that there could be a psychotic nerd hidden within my house walls, but that such a nerd, or someone like myself, even, could actually be abandoned and forgotten by everyone around. The idea of your mother, your sole line of support, dying without any warning, is just scary stuff. Itís traumatizing. Bad Ronald
certainly explores that fear to great effect, but itís what it does afterwards that sets it apart from obvious inspirers like Psycho.
Not unlike Mrs. Bates, Ronaldís mother had a stifling presence. Sheíd always squelch his aspirations to write or draw in favor of Ronald taking a more traditional career path. Itís only when locked off from the world, and in effect from influence, that Ronaldís able to express creativity. The walls become a beautiful mural or royal paintings and itís in the smallest space that Ronald conceives of the grandest fantasy world. When Ronald finally exits his cell and reenters the real world, itís as if he sees it anew, like a prisoner granted parole would. Itís become a glorious new world for Ronald, and the things this transformation says about how ambitions and creativity are stifled by the pressures of conformity are actually quite profound for a little television movie.
This all sounds a little too After School Special but make no mistake, Bad Ronald
is one lean little creeper of a movie. Again, Ronald himself is not nearly as creepy as he is quiet and sympathetic, but the entire premise is one off enough to disturb with possibilities. Could you keep your sanity cooped up in a place like that? What would it be like to hear your mom die but be unable to do anything about it? How would you tell the woman you love that not only have you been living in the same house, but that youíve been spying on her through a hole in the wall? Itís some pretty perverse stuff, and something that understandably has never been emulated since. Bad Ronald
is one of those rare gems that presents this most absurd of scenarios in as simple and unstructured a manner as can be presented. Itís something the cinema never did at the time, and with the death of the golden era of TV movies, itís been locked in walls ever since.
Directed by Buzz Kulik (whose perennial sports weepy, Brianís Song
, no doubt already secured his induction into Made for TV heaven) effectively blurs the lines between monster and victim in the way he lets this bizarre little tale unfold. For the most part, Ronaldís actions are not underscored by any dramatic music to make him seem crazy or unhinged. The movie just rolls on without preconception or trajectory. It just is. Indeed, Ronaldís more often than not seen less as a threat and more as an empathetic victim. As a viewer, you donít know whether to be shocked at Ronald, scared of the scenario or maybe even a little hopeful that he will indeed get his girl. It may not hit like a ton of bricks, but piece by piece Kulik builds an unforgettable world of detachment, and even if it is my first horror memory, it certainly wonít be one Iíll ever forget.
Much talk has been made as to whether or not titles from the Archive Collection will hold up compared to the usually high caliber Warner Brothers releases. If Bad Ronald
is any indication, well, the juryís still out. A cheap little full frame made for television film from 1974 is hardly the source to use as a benchmark, and honestly, this release doesnít set the bar too high. Itís sadly interlaced, and since itís clearly a movie sourced from film elements, the interlacing must be a product of the time of digital transfer. Warner has been leading this mass digital archival of all their works for years, so itís entirely probable that this transfer for Bad Ronald
is itself an older artifact.
That said, apart from the interlacing this is far than just a VHS transfer. The image holds together well without any lines or video abstractions. There was only a single moment at the 19:25 mark where the film had some waving visual distortion. Otherwise, it is presented well with strong edges, moderate sharpness and a fairly clean canvas. The colors could have used a boost, seeming a tad muted, but trust me when I say this is a marked step up from those VHS-rips weíve all been passing around for years.
is presented in its original English mono track, and it sounds about what an old TV movie should. Itís fairly flat and the orchestral soundtrack certainly sounds dated. Surprisingly, though, thereís no hiss or crackle, which is usually something that comes part and parcel with films like this. There wonít be any complaints here.
First thingís first. The cover art is hilarious. The font they chose for ďBad RonaldĒ is nicely fitting, but the image of Ronald wearing what looks to be a hyper-saturated Hawaiian shirt while holding some tourist merchandise looks like it should be from ďRonaldís Bikini Beach PartyĒ more than anything else. The original VHS art
was an unsettling creation in itself, itís a shame Warner didnít use that instead. Similarly, the back, with Ronald putting his nemesis in a head lock looks so harmless (especially with the headlockee almost in mid-smirk) it looks like heís getting ready for a noogie. The rest of the packaging is the generic royal blue that all Archive Collection titles contain.
Sadly, none of the films in the Archive Collection line have any extras. In actuality, they donít even have their own menus. Basically, you pop it in, get a short preview for the Archive line and then it stops on a generic menu with the only option to play the film. There are arbitrary chapter stops inserted every ten minutes, which is uniform to every Archive Collection release. Considering the impact this little TV shocker has had on those that have viewed it, some retrospective extras certainly would have been welcome. Simply having the chance to obtain this rarity in a preserved digital format, though, is a virtue that trumps all else. Also of note Ė the DVD itself is a computer burned DVD+R and not a minted DVD duplication. Itís kind of surreal to have a DVD+R from a legitimate company, but from the hard stock insert to the color DVD label, Warner has certainly done their best to make each printing feel as authentic as a regular release.
is a simple but unsettling television testament to the fear of childhood abandonment and the effect it can have on young, impressionable minds. Its document of a boy gone crazy in an under the stairs cellar still remains one of the bizarre originals in cinema, with a lingering structure that could only be achieved on television during the golden era of the movie of the week. Warnerís sadly interlaced transfer does nothing to distance us from that forgotten era, but thankfully the transfer is still overall a large improvement over the old VHS. The sound, too, is audibly much better. There are no extras, but at least the cover still is pretty hilarious. Bad Ronald
is without a doubt one of the true TV movie classics, and after a long, trying lockup in a room of obscurity, itís ready to be seen anew. Donít pass up the chance to let a little Bad into your life. Order it now through www.warnerarchives.com
Movie - A-
Image Quality - B-
Sound - B+
Supplements - F
- Running time - 1 hour 11 minutes
- Not Rated
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- English mono