Directed by: John Cherry
Written by: Charlie Gale and Coke Sams
Starring: Jim Varney, Eartha Kitt, and Shay Astar
Reviewed by: Tyler B.
"Bring me the head of Ernest P. Worrell!"
Halloween and horror go together like puzzle pieces. They are intrinsically linked and the seasonal change in fall bringing out the orange autumn colours easily brings along with it the hauntings of ghosts, monsters, demons, and trolls. And that's exactly why it's celebrated as the favourite time of year by any and all horror fans - because it's our official yearly holiday! It's that time of year to go all out and make your home look like a graveyard or haunted house, dress up and scare the neighbours and kids, and partake in all the rituals to keep the evil spirits away. Most of the time when it comes to Halloween and horror movies though we immediately think of the scariest films we've seen, but who would have thought that slapstick redneck comedic character Ernest P. Worrell himself would crossover into the horror genre and fight off some nasty trolls on Halloween!? So does the movie actually attempt to scare us stupid or will we just feel stupid after watching it?
Long ago in Briarville, Missouri a terrible troll named Trantor terrorized the town (that's a tongue twister!). Trantor tried to resurrect his wicked race of evil trolls by stealing the town's children and turning them into little wooden carvings, but his plans were thwarted by none-other than Ernest P. Worrell's (the late great Jim Varney) great granddaddy. Now he rests enslaved beneath an oak tree which must never be disturbed. Or so the town legend says. Jump forward to present where school kids Elizabeth (Shay Astar) and Kenny (Austin Nagler) enlist Ernest, the local town garbage man, and his dog sidekick Rimshot to help them build a tree fort to thwart off the school bullies. Dim-witted Ernest picks the 'perfect tree' on Old Lady Hackmore's (Eartha Kitt) land which happens to be Trantor's prison. With a few knocks on wood, Trantor is freed and stalks, scares, and steals the town's children completing his evil deeds and is about to unleash his army of trolls upon Briarville. Will Ernest be able to convince the parents and stop the troll before it's too late? Or will Ernest just end up being scared stupid?
Ernest Scared Stupid was released to theatres in 1991 and the last Ernest film released theatrically under the Disney/Touchstone label. The film successfully mixes the slapstick humour of the previous films with the spirit of Halloween and actually manages to be quite an effective PG-rated family horror film. Jim Varney's bumbling character is, in my opinion, at top form in this film and all the kid actors do a great job. It's sad to see that really the only kid actor to successfully advance their career was Shay Astar (Jack Ketchum's The Lost) where as the others haven't done anything else. Charlie Gale and Coke Sams' script is surprisingly well written for an Ernest film and they successfully built a scary Halloween horror tale that is a great stepping stone into the world of horror for any pre-teen, and even great fun for all seasoned horror veterans as well. There's a lot of great dialogue and jokes sprinkled throughout and enough scares and trolls to make this a Halloween-themed must see.
Another great thing about Ernest Scared Stupid is all the practical effects and the troll make-up. This stuff is gooey, slimy, and nasty, and I would not want to run into one of these fat trolls in my town, no sir, and they were created by none other than the Chiodo brothers themselves! The same folks who brought us Killer Klowns from Outer Space! Hell, even a few of the trolls resemble some of the Killer Klowns and they even have the same sort of spinning death effect when they die; a definite nod to their previous work. And speaking of referencing other horror films, the opening credit sequence features clips from classic public domain horrors such as Nosferatu (1922), The Killer Shrews, and The Brain from Planet Arous among others. And because the film takes place around and on Halloween the look and feel of Ernest Scared Stupid reflects the season perfectly and Bruce Arntson and Kirby Shelstad's score perfectly captures that fun and spooky atmosphere.
Is it asking too much for a Special Edition DVD (or in my wildest dreams a Blu-ray release) of Ernest Scared Stupid? Personally, I really don't think so. The current DVD was released way back in 2002 and shouldn't be too hard to find. I'm sure you could easily grab one off Amazon for ridiculously cheap. Unfortunately there are no special features whatsoever. I'd really love to see a behind-the-scenes on the make-up for the film with some insight from the Chiodo brothers of course, and would love to hear a commentary track from Jim Varney if ever one was recorded. The film is presented full frame on the DVD. Since the film was shot open matte it's not a bad thing, but the intended aspect ration of course would be 1.85:1 since it was a theatrical release. And audio features a Dolby digital surround sound track.
Ernest Scared Stupid is an essential Halloween favourite of mine and I watch it every Halloween season. I remember seeing it at the university theatre as a young lad with my mother and absolutely loving it, and yes, I did cover my eyes on a few occasions. For a family horror film it has a great blend of comedy and horror and has just the right amount of scares and laughs to initiate the young and entertain the old. It may only be PG, but it's well worth the watch. The creature effects are outstanding, Jim Varney as Ernest is at his best, and the film oozes Halloween spirit. In all honesty, Ernest Scared Stupid and the new Halloween classic Trick 'r Treat are two of the only films that I feel capture that fun, playful, and mysterious Halloween atmosphere to what I remember it being as a kid. Now where is the Special Edition DVD or Blu-ray?!?! Essential!
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