Mill Creek Entertainment // 1991 // 92 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // September 9th, 2011
The last line in defense against trolls, goblins and good taste.
Decades ago, a small Missouri town buried a troll under a great oak tree, in hopes that future generations could avoid being terrorized by the snarling, drooling beast. The caveat: if an ancestor of Phineas Worrell (Jim Varney, The Beverly Hillbillies) disturbs the tree, the troll will be set free. Flash forward to the present and Ernest P. Worrell (Varney again), a local sanitation worker, bungles his way to the sacred tree and unwittingly unleashes the troll from his eternal slumber. The troll only needs five young souls which will allow his brethren to come alive and bathe the world in darkness and gloom. With the help of a local eccentric (Earth Kitt, The Emperor's New Groove) and some spunky kids, Ernest is going to need all the help he can get to take down one of mother nature's nastiest creations!
Jim Varney was a master actor. I mean that as a compliment and not a snide, sarcastic comment on the late actor's credible talents. Varney was able to take a dumbed-down character and make him not only lovable but also sincere. There is something tangibly warm and likable about Ernest P. Worrell, the dunderheaded backwoods goof who created more problems than he solved. Varney infused Ernest with the mindset of a child, the lankiness of Mr. Bill, and the silliness of Jerry Lewis. It's to Varney's credit that while many of the Ernest movies get tiresome long before the end credits roll, the character of Ernest rarely wears out his welcome.
I'm an unabashed Ernest fan and enjoyed his previous theatrical releases, including Ernest Goes to Jail and the original that started it all, Ernest Goes to Camp. The creators of the Ernest movies eventually started to tailor Ernest's misadventures around holidays, including Christmas (the disappointing Ernest Saves Christmas) and Halloween, which brings us to 1991's comedy fright-fest misfire Ernest Scared Stupid.
Ernest Scared Stupid is the sort of movie that includes cliché after cliché after cliché. There are adults who don't believe the kids that something terrible is in the woods. We witness a dog driving a car. An old witch lives in a creepy house that holds all the secrets of the thinly constructed plot. Dialogue includes such phrases as, "How 'bout a bumper sandwich, booger lips!" The action is rather dull, and the characters are all culled from a stock trove of blandly drawn townspeople who collectively have one personality trait: dullness.
The saving grace of Ernest Scared Stupid is, not surprisingly, Ernest. Jim Varney hams it up like he's the last pork platter on the planet; his cries, mugging, and goofiness is charming even when it goes not only over the top but around the moon and back again. Many of Varney's other characters (an old woman with a neck brace, a cowboy, etc.) also come out to play, although none of them get as big of a laugh as Ernest. Varney is truly an example of a diamond in the rough.
It's a shame the screenplay by director John Cherry III and producer Coke Sams (Best. Name. Ever.) is so lackluster and banal; the troll theme is about as tiresome as, oh say Troll or Troll 2. The child actors are all rather obnoxious (one kid even does a John Wayne impression that made me want to metaphorically punch him in the face with a tarantula), while the adult actors stand around reacting to bad dialogue and Ernest screwing up. Eartha Kitt gives it her all, as the elderly lady Hackmore, but her bug-eyed scene chewing and weird voice ticks only goes so far. The troll itself is only slightly more impressive than a pricey Wal-Mart costume; his mouth moves as convincingly as most props you can buy at your local Halloween store.
I wish the creators of this film would have taken a little more time and created an interesting story and supporting characters, instead of throwing together random plot points so Ernest can be the star of the show. Even with a talent as big as Varney, Ernest Scared Stupid falters under the weight of flaccid direction, stale writing, and uninteresting character development. Ernest may be stupid, but he should have been able to find a smarter screenplay than this.
Warning: Ernest Scared Stupid might play well with pre-teen kids (especially during Halloween), but the movie's ghastly monsters may give younger viewers nightmares.
Ernest Scared Stupid is presented in 1.78:1 widescreen in 1080p high definition. Mill Creek isn't a studio known for churning out stellar transfers, but this Blu-ray edition looks surprisingly better than expected. While the transfer does have issues -- including moments where defect and grain show up fairly heavy -- this is a nice looking image that should please fans. The soundtrack is presented in Dolby 2.0 Stereo in English and is far less impressive than the video transfer. Although the soundtrack is serviceable (the dialogue, music and effects are all evenly recorded and distinguishable), I can't say there's a lot of dynamic range to this mix. No alternate subtitles or language tracks are available, nor is there a single bonus feature.
Ernest Scared Stupid may not be a horrible movie, but it is the
bottom-of-the-barrel filmmaking for the Ernest film catalog.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Mill Creek Entertainment
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 92 Minutes
Release Year: 1991
MPAA Rating: Rated PG