The 1974 made-for-tv movie is a psychological thriller about a teenage murderer hidden inside the walls of a Victorian home in Oakland, California.
When Ronald Wilby, a slowly degenerating psychotic teen (Scott Jacoby), accidentally kills a taunting little girl and buries her body in panic, his neurotic mother, Elaine (Kim Hunter) hides him away in a sealed-off downstairs passageway.
When the police come knocking, Ronald’s mother tells them that her son hasn’t been seen since his birthday. They search the house and find his soiled jacket, stained with spots of blood, and a letter to his mother that says he did something terrible and ran away. The police see it as a shabby confession and leave, believing Elaine Wilby doesn’t know where her son has run off to.
Ronald and his mother wait several months for things to die down. Under no circumstances is he allowed to leave the secret lair as their nosy neighbour is watching the house like a hawk waiting to squeal when and if Ronald is seen again.
They hope that when the case is eventually dropped, they’ll be able to move away.
Locked away, Ronald reverts to an intricate fantasy world that he calls Atranta and rules over as Prince Norbert. He covers the walls with paintings of the characters in his imaginary world.
Elaine experiences problems with her gallbladder which require a visit to the hospital and an operation. She informs Ronald that she’ll be away from him for a week and fills his hideaway with canned goods, telling him not to leave it until she returns from the operation.
Unfortunately, she dies from complications but Ronald does as he’s told and doesn’t leave the false room.
Within a few months, the house is sold and a family with three pretty daughters moves in, unaware a demented psychopath is still in hiding.
Ronald creates peepholes in every room to spy on the three teenage daughters and in the process grows more deranged and becomes obsessed with their youngest daughter Babs (Cindy Fisher).
The oldest girl starts dating the brother of the little girl he killed, which aggravates Ronald because he bullied him long before the accident.
Ronald starts to make a correlation with his fantasy world and the real world and starts referring to himself as the prince from his story and little Babs as the princess who falls in love with him. The evil duke becomes the boy dating the eldest.
When the girls’ parents take a short vacation, Ronald uses the opportunity to turn his fantasy into a reality. He leaves his hiding space with the intention of bringing his princess to his mystical land and ridding the world of the evil duke.
Jacoby was a natural for the role, having already played a disturbed teenager who attempts to murder his stepfather in the rarely seen feature film Rivals (1972).
The film was based on a paperback book published just one year earlier in 1973 by John Holbrook Vance (better known as sci-fi writer Jack Vance). The novel was an unlikely choice for a television adaptation and even though much of the book’s contents remained intact, all of the disturbing brutality was removed (Ronald rapes and kills the girl at the start of the novel).
Roger Aaron Brown