HorrorFest 2009: 'Bad Ronald'
Welcome to HorrorFest 2009.
One of the earliest titles I did in this series this month was a look at the Warner Archives release of "Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark," a '70s TV movie that has a passionate cult audience that remembers the film from childhood. The other title they sent me at the same time has a similar nostalgic charge for audiences, and again, I knew the film by name and reputation, but I never saw it back when it originally aired, so I came to it fresh.
"Bad Ronald" is one of those films that I've had many people mention to me over the years as a film that terrified them when they saw it, and that they would love to own or to see again. My advice to those people is to leave it as a memory, because I doubt it's going to terrify anyone who sees it now. It's not a bad film, per se, but it's also not very scary. More than anything, it's a sad little film about a kid who makes one terrible choice and then pays for it with everything he has.
Scott Jacoby stars as Ronald Wilby, a high school outsider who lives with his mother. His dad is long-since-gone, having accepted a payoff of $30,000 from his mother to just disappear and never come back. Ronald's a fantasy-minded kid, constantly drawing and imagining his own magical kingdom, but he knows that his mother wants him to grow up to be a doctor. He loves her and wants to do what she asks, but he's also trying to find a way to reach out to his peers and be part of the group.
On the afternoon of his birthday, he goes to see a neighbor he's got a crush on, and when she rejects him in front of a bunch of friends, mid-pool party, Ronald storms off. He runs into her younger sister on the way home, and when she calls him "weird" and insults his mother, he snaps, and he throws her off her bike. She hits her head on a concrete block, and when Ronald realizes she's dead, he makes the worst choice of his life. He buries her, then heads home to tell his mother what he's done.
She panics, and together they come up with a plan. Working through the night, they seal up the downstairs bathroom as if it was never there, and then add a secret door in and out of the room through the pantry. She tells him that he has to stay out of sight until everything's calmed down and they can move.
Unfortunately, Mom ends up in the hospital.
Even worse, she dies there, leaving Ronald totally alone in the house.
When another family moves in, Ronald becomes fixated on the youngest of their teenage daughters, Babs (Cindy Fisher), setting up a potentially creepy cat-and-mouse game that is unfortunately truncated. It's a great set-up for a film... a kid living in the walls, a ghost of sorts, with no one aware of his existence. The problem here is pacing. The film is just over an hour long, and it's at least a half-hour of screen time before the family even moves in, and then once they do, things continue to simmer until the last fifteen minutes or so. It leaves the entire film feeling unbalanced and rushed.
I know this is one of those things I'm never supposed to say, but this is a film that could absolutely stand to be remade. I'd love to read the novel it was based on, because I'm guessing there are choices made in the film that were made because this was a TV movie. The script by Andrew Peter Marin chickens out time and again, and especially towards the end.
The film looks like a TV movie from the era, cheap and poorly lit, but there are some solid performances here, and the set they built for the house is a good one, which helps since it's practically a character in the movie. Overall, I like the idea of the film more than the execution, but I'm glad I finally caught up with it. This is exactly the sort of title that the Warner Archives program seems designed to finally get back into circulation, and I'm really pleased it's one of the titles they put out.
You can order "Bad Ronald" directly from the Warner Archives site.
HorrorFest 2009 runs every day of October 2009. Except when it doesn't.
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