The 1970s were a prolific decade for horror-based TV movies, but only the two most famous — Don't Be Afraid of the Dark and Steven Spielberg's Duel — seem to still have any traction. One of the neat but largely forgotten little gems of the era is the 1974 creep-out Bad Ronald, which successfully mined the always unsettling idea of a stranger lurking within the walls of a family home.
Scott Jacoby stars as the title character, an awkward, fantasy-obsessed loner who is so socially out-of-touch that he doesn't even pick up on how ruthlessly other kids tease him. In a moment of bad temper, he accidentally kills young girl from his neighborhood. After he confesses to his doting single mother (Kim Hunter, from A Matter of Life and Death last month), they devise a plan to build a secret room in the house where he can hide from the police. Apparently, Ronald is an expert carpenter; Mom, however, is not well, and it's not long before a new family moves in.
Jacoby, who was also in the memorable Jodie Foster thriller The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane (and whose brother Billy got chilly in 1981's Bloody Birthday), is effectively but not extravagantly weird as Ronald. There's lack of sensationalism that gives Bad Ronald a nice grimy tone, even though its "Afterschool Special" nature keeps it all tamer than the material deserves (apparently John Holbrook Vance's original novel is quite savage, and this Ronald is a puppy dog in comparison). There's some decent retro camp value and it's all reasonably lean and well-paced inside its tight 70-minutes.
Bad Ronald also stars Dabney Coleman, Cindy Fisher, Cindy Eilbacher and Lisa Eilbacher, and was directed by TV veteran Buzz Kulik, who was responsible for the 1971 hit Brian's Song.