Ernest Scared Stupid (1991) — Jim Varney trolled us all

“How ’bout a bumper sandwich, Boogerlips?”

Justin’s rating: Rimshot!

Justin’s review: In Ernest P. Worrell’s reign as the king of mugging, he covered a surprising amount of holiday and seasonal territory in his movie series. After going to summer camp and saving Christmas, it wasn’t much of a leap to see Jim Varney’s popular doofball explore the rich tapestry of Halloween.

Ernest Scared Stupid is one of those relatively rare kid-friendly horror movies that actually managed to traumatize its audience with a couple of genuine scares. And you wouldn’t think so, considering that this is a movie where a dorky sanitation worker accidentally unleashes a troll on the town by building a treehouse over its lair. This is kind of perfect for Ernest, because he’s totally into the spirit of Halloween, what with all of its costumes and spooky stories. So why not take the holiday to the next level by fighting a troll?

Helping to set right what he once set so very wrong, Ernest teams up with a crazy witch (Ertha Kitt) and a group of local kids who are pretty much there to be killed by the troll. Wait, did I say “killed?” This is a family-friendly flick, so they get turned into wooden figures instead, which is somehow far more terrifying. Then again, these parents were totally OK with letting their kids hang out in the deep woods with a strange adult man, so their little ones probably won’t be missed much.

These movies offer all involved a free hand at overacting — and that includes the camera operator, who often whip-pans back and forth between people talking and gets right in their faces. And it’s the sheer giddy silliness of it all that lured many-a-youngster into complacency before the real jump scares happen. You simply don’t expect them, and when they do, that’s the sort of thing that messed some kids up for life.

And it’s weird to say that, because it’s not like the movie really hides the troll at all. He’s there in the opening scene, hanging out in the open thereafter. But when the troll uses Ernest’s voice or shows up into the bed of a little girl, that’s when the silly becomes sinister.

Critics greatly disliked Ernest Scared Stupid when it came out in 1991, and it wasn’t like it made a fortune at the box office, either. But enough kids saw it anyway that it ended up becoming part of their Halloween tradition. That’s how cult is born, my friends, and it’s harder to kill than a warty troll.

Didja notice?

  • The opening credits, with Ernest mugging and old timey movie clips, are so much fun to watch — and it’s a catchy theme song!
  • Ernest’s cleaning machine
  • Oh no not the doll!
  • This is where Ertha Kitt went to retire
  • Every crazy lady needs a flamethrower
  • The Botswana montage, it’s genius
  • The food-firing weapons
  • He watched Hulkmania once in slow-mo?
  • Ahh a Mario Bros reference
  • Troll Love Songs: The album
  • “You really wouldn’t sacrifice someone, would you Ernest?”
  • The very long pause before Ernest yells when his hand gets slammed into the dumpster
  • That’s a giant bear trap

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