Saturday, December 31, 2016

Tribute 2016

The film and TV world lost a number of beloved and talented individuals in 2016.  Saying goodbye to these remarkable people is not easy, but here is a gallery of the year's lost.

As always, any omissions are not intentional, and I would welcome comments on your memories of those featured here, or those that I may have inadvertently left out of the gallery.

To all we lost in 2016, Godspeed, and rest in peace.

Sylvia Anderson

Kenny Baker

David Bowie

Michael Cimino

Larry Drake

Fyvush Finkel

Carrie Fisher

Bernard Fox

Ron Glass

John Glenn

Florence Henderson

David Huddleston

Steven Hill

Arthur Hiller

Pat Harrington Jr.

Dan Haggerty

Guy Hamilton

Ken Howard

George Kennedy

George Michael

Noel Neill

Bill Nunn

Jon Polito


Debbie Reynolds

Alan Rickman

Doris Roberts

Nancy Reagan

Theresa Saldana

William Schallert

Angus Scrimm

Garry Shandling

Gareth Thomas

Alan Thicke

Robert Vaughn

Peter Vaughan

Abe Vigoda

Gene Wilder

Van Williams

Fritz Weaver

Alan Young

Zsa Zsa Gabor

Vilmos Zsigmond

Friday, December 30, 2016

2016: A Year of Blogging

It's difficult to believe, but the year 2016 is all but done.

Here on the blog, we used the time this year to look at the extraordinary return of Chris Carter's The X-Files in January, and celebrate the landmark 50th anniversary of Gene Roddenberry's Star Trek (1966-1969). I will continue to blog classic Star Trek episodes in 2017, until I get through all 79 shows.

Special weeks were also devoted on the blog in 2016 to Tarzan and Westworld, and the premiere of Star Trek: Beyond.

TV series I covered on the blog this year included Millennium (1996-1999), Man from Atlantis (1977), Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (1979-1981) and, of course, Space:1999 (1975-1977). 

In terms of Saturday morning series, I had the pleasure of reviewing Blackstar (1981), and Tarzan (1976), to name just two Filmation series.

I also spent some time in 2016 revisiting the Die Hard films, and disaster movies of the 1970s.

What's ahead?

Well, 2017 holds tremendous promise. There's a lot to look forward to.

Star Trek: Discovery will bow sometime in May, unless another delay is forthcoming. Also due to return this year: Twin Peaks and Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Also, May 19th will see the premiere of Alien: Covenant, and July 2017 will see the arrival of the next film in the re-booted Planet of the Apes saga: War for the Planet of the Apes.

And what else?  

Well, 2017 also happens to be the 40th anniversary of a little franchise called Star Wars. I'm sure I'll find some way to mark the occasion.

There's also a new King Kong movie to look forward to, and Blade Runner 2.

In terms of the blog's longevity, we're moving into Year 13, starting in April. It's crazy to think that I've been blogging that long.

I want to thank readers, as always, for sticking with me, and continuing to visit the blog, and I hope you will continue to do so in the 12 months ahead. I'll keep writing, if you keep visiting.

Thank you for sharing these past 12 months with me, and I want to wish you all a very happy 2017.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Cult-TV Movie Review: Bad Ronald (1974)

Young Ronald Wilby’s (Scott Jacoby) most recent birthday also falls on the tenth anniversary of his parents’ divorce. He now lives with his over-protective and paranoid mother (Kim Hunter). After having dinner with his mother, Ronald attends a pool party for a girl he is attracted to.  Instead of finding acceptance, he is mocked and teased

On his way home, Ronald is again mocked by a young girl, Carol Matthews (Angela Hoffman). She tells him that he is weird, and that his mother is weird too. Ronald flies off the handle, and pushes Carol. 

She falls over, and dies after hitting her head against a cinderblock.  Afraid, Ronald buries Carol’s body and runs home to his mother.

Mrs. Wilby suggests that the only option is for Ronald to hide in the family house, since police will soon be looking for him. She and Ronald work together to seal off the first floor bathroom, and make it accessible only through a panel in the pantry. Inside the hidden room, Ronald has a bed, running water, and his art supplies.

Ronald hides out in his room -- doing his exercises and studies -- until one day his mother tells him she has to go to the hospital for surgery.  She never returns, and Ronald stays in the family house as it is put on the market, and sold to a new family.

The new family in the house, the Woods, has three girls -- Babs (Cindy Fisher), Althea (Cindy Eilbacher) and Ellen (Lisa Eilbacher) -- and none of them are aware of the stranger in their midst, hiding in the walls.

“An old house like this has its own memories.”

For years, perhaps decades, a generation grew up remembering the TV-movie about the boy who lives behind the walls of his house. 

In the 2010s, Bad Ronald (1974) was finally released on DVD so that generation could stack the film up against childhood memories.  (Beforehand, some folks confused it with Crawlspace [1972].

Delightfully, the telefilm, directed by Buzz Kulik still holds up today, at least from a dramatic and artistic standpoint.  Bad Ronald is a horror movie, it’s true, but one with a pitiable “monster” in Ronald Wilby. The murder he commits is accidental, and the teenage boy kowtows to his (nutty) mother’s desire to infantilize him and keep him forever in the family house.  He willingly submits to her plan to avoid prison, and of course, that’s the movie’s central irony.

In order to avoid a mandatory prison sentence for murder, Ronald Wilby voluntarily imprisons himself in the walls of his house; becoming a voyeur but not an active participant in life.  Inside his prison, Ronald has his art work and book -- about the fictional, fantasy kingdom of Atranta -- and he retreats there on a near permanent basis. The only thing that rouses him to the real world: adolescence. Ronald is driven by his hormonal desire for one of the daughters of the new tenants, believing she could be with him, and join him in his fantasy world.

This is a fantasy too, of course.

The first portion of Bad Ronald is all about his mother’s indoctrination. Mrs. Wilby limits his entire world to one room, not for genuine fear of law enforcement, but out of her overwhelming and possessive desire not to be abandoned (as her husband abandoned her).  She then imposes on Ronald a strict regimen of rules and behaviors, which ensure that he will forever be under her thumb, and under her roof.

These rules are all for her, I might add. They are not, strictly speaking, about Ronald's well-being.

When Mrs. Wilby dies unexpectedly (apparently from complications of gall bladder surgery), Ronald is left with no companionship, no guidance, and no will of his own. Instead of attempting to leave the house and rejoin the world, he doubles down on his prison, though modifying it so he can spy on the new tenants, the Woods.  

One of the best (and creepiest) scenes in the films finds one of the girls walking into the pinprick light of one of Ronald's peep-holes, and realizing that the walls have eyes.  Her comings and goings, her life, has been part of his "escape" from reality.

Ronald is a monster, as the movie makes plain. His murder of Carol is accidental, as is the death of Mrs. Schumacher. She’s the neighbor who dies of a heart attack when she sees him in the house unexpectedly.  But Ronald attacks and abducts at least two people, and his intentions, let’s say, aren’t exactly pure. 

But despite Ronald’s anti-social ways, the audience understands him. He’s been nurtured and nourished by a pathological mother, and he is, in some senses, a normal teenager.  He wants what all teenagers want. Friends. Love. Connection.  But his mother’s pathology her indoctrination of him to her strange rules, has made him unacceptable to any one he would choose to court.  In short, Ronald is alone, and has no real chance to be anything but alone.

I love the way film locates the “horror” in the house. Ronald is the master of that particular domain, and has an advantage, since no one realizes it is inhabited by an interloper. Once outside the house, Ronald loses all his power….he is instantly captured by the police in the finale. He doesn't even make a good fight of it. The film’s most tense and successful scene, however, Ronald him bursting out of the fake wall, facing his victims, and, finally, in a sense, facing his situation and the world around him.

Bad Ronald is strange and discomforting. Ronald has some qualities in common with Psycho's (1960) Norman Bates. He seems strange and sick, but not evil.  

Dangerous definitely, but not evil. 

His story is a tragedy because Ronald's mother steals his life away from him, and turns him into a monster; or more aptly, a “ghost.” One sensed, but unseen. One present, but forever on the periphery of society, and family.  When he breaks out of the walls, he is breaking out of the prison his mother has fashioned for him, and which he has mindlessly come to accept as the status quo.

There’s a lot going on in the TV film, from the central theme of a stifling and sick motherly love, to the idea that one’s art can provide an escape of sorts, when one is confined, or limited by the real world.  In other words, it's a horror (TV) movie with a lot of ideas behind it.

But Bad Ronald is most likely remembered so fondly for its off-the-charts creep factor.  For the idea that there could be a monster hiding in the walls of your house, watching your every move…

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