GENRE: Contemporary Suspense
SETTING: California, USA
TIMESPAN: a little over a year(?)
FILM WIKI: link
PURCHASE: link, link
MY GRADE: B+
FROM PUBLISHER: Up to his seventeenth year no one regarded Ronald as anything but a rather large, overfed youth, probably best ignored. Perhaps that was the trouble--no one really took a good look at Ronald. Except for his devoted mother, who saw only the son she wanted to see. Who, then, is Ronald? Ronald is that faceless unknown who waits - to take, to grab what he needs, to become the ultimate invader.
Ronald Arden Wilby lives with his divorced mother, Elaine, in a two story, four bedroom, two bathroom house at 572 Orchard Street in the Oakmead area (p. 10) of California. She works at Central Valley Hardware. His father is Armand. They divorced ten years ago and she got the house in the settlement. Ronald's described by his mother as being slightly overweight, nice-looking, and gets better than average grades at school. He has dark hair, 'heavy hips, shoulders perhaps a trifle too narrow, long legs and arms', a long straight nose and full lips. He feels he's 'superior to the ordinary person' and is more 'intelligent'. He's about to turn seventeen in less than a week. He likes a girl named Laurel Hansen. He fantasizes about receiving her 'underpants' for his birthday.
On his birthday, a Saturday in August, he walks to Laurel's house. She's in the pool with a few friends and they pretty much ignore him so he walks home. That's when eleven-year old green-eyed blonde Carol Mathews runs into him on her bike. As she's falling off her bike he catches her and kisses her and gropes under her skirt. He drags her onto the property at Hastings Estate. She's screaming so he covers her mouth with his hand and she bite him. He smacks her, then rapes her underneath a tree, telling her to 'relax' and tells her 'This is going to be fun. Really it is'. She can hear her mother calling for her, she's trying to yell and won't promise Ronald not to tell anyone what he's done, so he strangles her. He got a shovel out of the shed and buried her. He saw Carol's father Donald stop in the road when he found her bike lying there. He put it into the back of his station wagon and left.
Ronald realized he'd left his new birthday jacket behind while he was burying Carol so he went back to get it though it was dark. Police were there searching around since Carol never returned home and that's the area her father found her bike. He returned home without his jacket and confessed to his mother. He lied and told her that Carol wanted him to 'do it' with her and when he wouldn't give her money afterward like she wanted, he accidentally killed her. His mom was upset and asked how he could do such a thing. She couldn't figure out what to do with Ronald. He asked if he should go to the police. She wants to hide him somewhere until she could save enough money for them to flee. She has aspirations of him becoming a doctor. They work until four in the morning to transform the main floor bathroom into a secret room for Ronald to live in. They call it his 'lair'. It's underneath the staircase and you can't tell it's there now. They hang a picture where the bathroom door once was. In the kitchen pantry wall, below the shelves, they cut open the bottom and make a secret door that leads into the bathroom. That's how Ronald will come and go, on his hands and knees, from the bathroom into the house and how his mother will deliver his food and other things to him.
The next day, two officers come looking for him and said they have 'several items of evidence' suggesting he may be involved in Carol's murder. The items are his jacket, which has blood on the hem, and shoes from his house look like they could have made the footprints that were in the mud at the crime scene. They also found the fake note that she had Ronald write and leave in his room, stating that he'd done something bad and had run away. They showed up again six weeks later just to check and see if she'd heard from Ronald.
Christmas has passed and Ronald's still in hiding. He kills time by exercising with cheap equipment his mother's bought him, and writing a fantasy novel about a land called Atranta. He thinks about how he's not sorry for what he did to Carol and said it was 'such wonderful fun'. His hatred for Laurel grows by the day and he blames her for what happened to Carol.
His mother has surgery for her gall bladder and he's left alone for eight days. While she's gone he gathers some tools and makes a trapdoor in the bathroom that opens up into the crawl space, giving him access to the outside. Sometime after she's back home she goes back to the hospital and dies there from complications from her previous surgery. Ronald learns of it by hearing a relative inside the house with a real estate agent. Ronald makes two peepholes in the wall so he can see into the house.
Ben and Marcia Wood buy the house. Ben is an Army veteran and works for the phone company. They have three daughters- 13-year-old Barbara, blonde, 16-year-old Althea, blonde-brown hair, and 17-year-old Ellen, who's got brown-gold hair and gray eyes. He's angry at the girls because school is about to start and they get to go have fun. He says they must suffer as he's suffered and jokes about getting them pregnant.
Marcia notices that food goes missing sometimes, like deviled eggs and pie. She doesn't know it's Ronald sneaking into the kitchen late at night to scavenge.
One day when everyone's gone, he snoops in Ellen's room and 'inspects her underwear'. He opens her perfume and accidentally spills some. She notices it later and accuses the youngest, Barbara, of doing it. Another day he snoops in Althea's room and finds her diary. He tries to open it with an opened up paperclip but the tip breaks off inside the lock. Later Barbara's suspected of doing it.
Ronald takes a liking to Barbara. He thinks she's 'adorable' and 'desirable'. He both loves and detests her and thinks she's a 'sexy little scamp'. He fantasizes about raping her one day when she gets home from school. She's in middle school/junior high and gets home before her sisters. One day he crawls out of his lair and waits for Barbara. She's in the kitchen and when she turns around, Ronald's there in the doorway. He grabs her, she struggles, and he punches her and forces her to crawl though the secret door into his lair. He gives her a pen and paper and makes her write a fake note saying she's run away to be with 'hippies'. He forces her onto his cot and for struggling, he punches her on each side of her face. He strips her down, ties her ankles to the cot and ties her hands together and gags her. He makes a noose for her neck. One end is tied to something on the wall and he holds the other end. Her sisters come home, then her parents. They call the police because she's missing. He rapes her multiple times later on after her family's gone to bed. Ronald calls it 'lovemaking'.
The middle daughter, Althea, goes missing. Ellen, the oldest daughter, comes home. Her boyfriend Duane is with her. He's the brother of Carol, the dead girl, and is one or two years older than Ronald. They find a fake note that was written by Althea saying that Barbara called her and that she's going to go see her. Though it's Althea's handwriting, it's disguised so Ellen knows something's up. She thinks Ronald has kidnapped both of them since he's on the loose.
Ronald has Althea in his lair. It wasn't told how he got her into it, just that she was home alone when it happened. He told her Barbara had been there but left when she got bored. He raped Althea multiple times and kept the noose around her neck too. She pretended to be sick. She went over to the toilet to pretend to throw up and took the toilet lid off and hit Ronald with it somewhere on his face or head. Blood was everywhere. He kills her but it isn't said how.
Duane comes up with a plan. He tells Ellen to sprinkle flour all over the kitchen floor when she goes to bed so they can see if there are any footprints on it the next morning. Sure enough there's prints that lead out of the pantry over to the refrigerator and back. Duane spotted the secret door in the pantry, figured out somehow that there was a hidden bathroom that Ronald lives in, and went snooping around in the crawl space. He found the trapdoor and bags of Ronald's garbage. He also found the graves of Barbara and Althea. They went inside and told her parents about their findings.
The mother dipped a paper towel in gasoline, lit it and threw it into the secret room. Ronald burst through the wall, on fire, and ran out of the house. He ended up down the street at Laurel's house, in her closet. Her mother heard something and opened the closet door. Ronald ran out of the room and ran though the glass patio door. Laurel's father chased him though the yard and punched Ronald in the head. He fell into the pool and stayed there until the police took him away.
Ellen and Duane are driving past the house. The family has since moved out of it and they're watching a new family with three young children move in.
NOVEL VS. FILMS
In the film after he accidentally knocks Carol down as she's riding by, she's verbally abusive, telling him he's all dressed up to impress 'Laurie' and that he and his mother are 'weird'. He knocks her bike down (that'll teach her!), tells her to apologize, she won't so he grabs her, she slaps him, he lifts her up by her head and throws her back. She hits her head on a cinder block and dies (first photo below). He's remorseful and repeatedly tells her he's sorry. He confesses to his mother. While talking about what to do with him, she rubs his head like a dog while he chews on an apple (second photo).
In the novel and film there's a nosey neighbor named Mrs. Schumacher. In the film she's always looking in the Wilby's windows like a peeping Tom but she doesn't do that in the book.
In the film, one day while the new family's at school and work, Ronald goes into the kitchen and sees Mrs. Schumacher watching him through the window. He walks towards her, she has a heart attack, falls down the stairs and dies. Ronald doesn't want to get blamed for her death so he goes outside and buries her in the crawlspace.
In the film Ronald doesn't spill Barbara's perfume but he did try to break into Althea's diary.
In the film he doesn't assault Barbara in the kitchen. He attacks in her bedroom. He also put up a piece of his artwork on her wall. Barbara runs out of the house to Mrs. Schumacher's next door and Ronald runs inside though a different door. This part is more exciting that what's in the novel since it has Ronald outside of the house for the first time since he killed Carol months before.
He sneaks up behind Duane Mathews with a long figurine-type thing off the shelf, hits him with it then puts him in his lair, gagged and bound.
Althea sees light coming through one of the peepholes Ronald made, then she sees him put his eye up to it and screams like a banshee. Then Ronald comes bursting through the wall (instead of a glass door like in the novel), runs outside, falls down a few steps and is caught by the police.
People in their reviews describe Ronald as lonely and strange but we only met him a week before the first murder and I didn't see any of that. Nothing about him leading up to the first murder made me think he was odd or different. He seems pretty passive and easygoing and a definite mamma's boy. She dictates his future and tells him he's going to be a doctor and he goes along with it without expressing an opinion.
I don't like that Ellen and Duane figured out that Ronald kidnapped both sisters or understand how they come to that conclusion. No one had seen or heard from Ronald since Carol was murdered many months before yet they knew he was behind the disappearances? And Duane figuring out there was a hidden room is one thing but to know it was built around bathroom? Nope.
The ending was silly and could have been so much better. I really wish Ronald had gotten away with his dirty deeds but it wasn't to be. He could have gone on to anonymously terrorize the neighborhood and there could have been a sequel or three. The ending of both films were better than that of the novel.
None of the rapes are detailed at all.
THE FILM: The only way the film was better than the novel was the ending, with Ronald crashing through the wall and running outside. It's more believable than that of the novel. I don't understand why he didn't just escape through the trapdoor in the lair, down into the crawlspace, then outside to freedom when he saw Althea staring back at him though the peephole.
Also in the film the girl he likes, Laurie Matthews (Laurel Hansen in the book), is the older sister of Carol, the little girl he kills. In the novel they aren't related.
Actress Lisa Eilbacher played oldest daughter Ellen. I know and like her in the so-bad-it's-good Charles Bronson film Ten to Midnight.
You can watch Bad Ronald here, part 2.
There's a French version from 1992 called Méchant garçon and you can watch it here. I don't speak French and have no idea what's being said but I watched it anyway. It wasn't good. It's boring for the most part and not suspenseful. Ronald was played by an actor named Joachim Lombard.
The film's in French until the new British family move into the house, then the rest of the film has French subtitles. It opens with a black screen with white credits rolling. During that we hear a female screaming and struggling with someone. Next, Ronald's at home talking to his mother, likely confessing something. Soon after that Ronald's in bed crying, remembering what he'd done. He was at the beach one night or early morning and it looks like he attempted to rape a girl. She has long curly brownish-red hair. She got away, fell and hit her head on a rock and died.
There are only two daughters, Mary and Stephanie, husband and wife, and the husband's French assistant, Christine. Christine is kidnapped and raped at least once and there's nudity. Stephanie is kidnapped and taken into the lair too while Christine's there but I don't think she's raped. They chose to have Ronald rape the adult instead.
Unlike in the book and US television version, Ronald escapes the house after his mother dies. He flees to a dock and tries to steal a boat but it wouldn't start, so he goes back home.
The only other interesting part was at the very end after Ronald fled the house after the mother sees him in the kitchen and slings a pot of hot water in his face. The next scene was of the camera moving slowly down the hallway of a hospital. Ronald narrated the scene. They show him in a hospital bed with much shorter hair and ointment on his burned face as he looks into the camera. I guess he was telling us what happened after he fled, or what he was thinking by committing those crimes. That epilogue of sorts wasn't in the book or US film version and I liked that we (meaning those who speak French) got some knowledge of what happened to him afterward.
Book and movie reviews for Bad Ronald by other people can be found at:
Bleeding Skull, Cheese Magnet, Coming Soon, Culture Shock, Detours, Discard Treasures (the best review that I've read on this novel), DVD Panache, Final Girl, Fright, Jerry's House of Everything, Made For TV Mayhem, Movies, Nostalgia Central, Reflections, Scared Shiftless, Stomp Tokyo, Wopsploitation.
These are my own screenshots except for the two DVD cover photos, which I got separately online.
Bad Ronald is included in a trilogy of John's novels titled Dangerous Ways from 2011.
A big thank you to Jason for giving this book to me.