Bad Ronald (1974)

Bad Ronald (1974), directed by Buzz Kulik.

Ronald is a spoiled, nerdy teen artist who illustrates a private fantasy universe. When he "accidentally" kills a girl, his over-fond mother makes a secret room for him in their house where he can hide out until the police lose interest. When Mom dies Ronald is still there. A new family moves in with three teenaged daughters and Ronald, watching through peep-holes, takes an intense interest in their lives.

This is a cheap made-for-TV effort only 70m long, although judging by IMDB comments those who saw it at an early age found it memorably creepy. For some reason, girls find especially unsettling the notion of a unseen presence in the house, spying on them and fingering their intimate apparel when no one is at home.

And yet: there is something appealing about the "in-crowd vs outsider" here, the revenge of the ridiculed and unfashionable, represented by both Ronald and his mother.

If this had been done as a full-length feature film with a bigger budget and just a slightly harder rating, it might be remembered as a solid entry in 1970s thriller genre, terr-o-rama before slasher films became big. As it is, we have a minimalist made-for-TV effort, although it builds to a decent climax as the girls begin to realize the Awful Truth.

Ronald is played by Scott Jacoby (The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane (1976)) and his mother by Kim Hunter (The Seventh Victim (1943), A Matter of Life and Death (1946)).

I review this only because Jack Vance died recently and this is one of his very few IMDB writing credits. The others were two episodes of "Captain Video" and one of "Thriller".

Vance is one of my life-long favorite authors. He was well-regarded as a minor mystery writer but the bulk of his work was in science fiction and fantasy, where he is celebrated as one of the greatest stylists of the genre. Like many others, it is a shame he is not better known outside of fandom.

Bad Ronald is not a very characteristic work; perhaps a clue that Hollywood wanted something other than what he usually wrote. The book is darker than the movie: the original crime is rape and murder and he's not done yet. I don't recall any other Vance book where the protagonist is a psycho-killer.

(If you are wondering how Ronald managed certain things: he had a toilet in his secret room and flushed it only when hearing another toilet elsewhere in the house. When his own food stocks were exhausted he raided the family refrigerator in the night. His hygiene was poor and the family did notice an unexplained odor after a while, although certain objects buried in the crawlspace under the house may have had something to do with that).

Just as I had despaired of scrounging up replacements for disintegrating paperbacks, Vance's complete works became available as ebooks, DRM-free (but not $$$-free!):

Warner Archive DVD. Soft image, faded color.

Later: Warner Archive delivered a Blu-ray with vastly better color and detail. Now with subtitles.

From the Blu-ray:

For comparison, the old DVD: