This review is part of a series in which the author watches all of the Ernest movies in order, even though some day he will die.
There’s always one house in every neighborhood that goes way overboard on Halloween. Dad puts on a super-realistic mutant costume and jumps out at kids with a live chain saw when they walk up his driveway. The kids cry, dad laughs like it’s a joke the kids’ parents are in on, all just harmless fun, and the children leave with bags full of trauma. Ernest Scared Stupid is that moment stretched for 91 minutes.
I’m sure most people who saw the movie when they were little probably didn’t have my reaction, which was to lose my god-damned mind with terror, cry for hours, and sleep in my parents’ bed for a week. To be fair to the movie, I was 4. But I still venture the question to the filmmakers: What the f*ck were you thinking?
Even before the vividly realistic two-nosed troll that steals children out of their beds shows up, the movie is already teeing off on its audience. Early on, there’s a scene where Ernest, a garbage man in Briarville, Missouri, gets stuck in his truck’s trash compactor. Trying to stop the walls from closing in, he grabs a baby doll to wedge into the gears. Ernest makes the baby plead for its life, tells it he’ll “send its family a nice card,” and then we watch its head get crushed.
I actually remember thinking to myself during this scene, as a 4-year-old, “something is wrong here.” But my uneasiness passed, as I relaxed into the familiar pattern of Ernest fraternizing with miscreant underdog kids and being pooped on by birds. This particular group of bad child actors is under siege by the town bullies, who look like a miniature Insane Clown Posse with no makeup.
With Ernest’s help, the geek squad builds a tree fort in the woods to replace the haunted house the bullies destroy. Its “impregnant” defenses of guns shoot cans of dog food and hurl entire pizzas, and keep mullet douche and penis head at bay. But unhappily, the fort was built in the tree under which Trantor, an evil troll, was imprisoned by one of Ernest’s ancestors 200 years before. Old Lady Hackmore, a Magical Negro who somehow knows everything about everything to do with trolls, warns Ernest that he will accidentally unleash Trantor by being an idiot. Which he does by reciting the incantation Hackmore warned him not to. The kids get spooked and run off, leaving him alone.
Trantor appears, corners Ernest, roars, and then vanishes into the night to hunt children. One of Ernest’s flock of nerds falls into a muddy ditch in the woods, not yet aware that there’s a monster on the loose. He tries to scramble up the bank but can’t get any good footholds. He cries for help, and his flailing hand catches Ernest’s, who says, reassuringly, “Hey, I gotcha.”
“Thanks, Ernest. I thought I was a goner,” the kid says before looking up, seeing this, and screaming and screaming and screaming:
That’s right, not only does Trantor have two noses, tiny, beady eyes, face spikes, giant ears and a slimy, constantly roaring mouth, he mimics the voices of people you love as he chases you. And when he catches you, he turns you into a little wooden doll and takes you back to his tree, where your life force nourishes disgusting seed pods that contain his offspring.
For the rest of the movie, Ernest and Lady Hackmore try to stop Trantor as he eliminates all the protagonist children, one by one, while taunting them in the voices of their fallen friends. Kooky!
The most insane scene among many, many insane scenes is when a mother comes into her daughter’s room to scold her for preparing for a Halloween party too slowly. The girl asks her to check under her bed, and mom tells her to stop being immature and leaves. The girl works up her courage and looks under the bed herself. She finds nothing there except a beloved teddy bear. Sighing in relief, she lifts herself back up onto the bed, nuzzles into the bear, rolls over, and opens her eyes to see this:
Add in blood and delete a few of the shots of Ernest falling down stairs, and you have any low-grade R horror of the day. You wouldn’t even have to change the scare moments, which would be made only maybe 25 percent more startling if the troll bit the kids’ heads off. To belabor the point some more, let’s recap.
Until now, the bad guys in the Ernest movies have been: a mining CEO in a windbreaker, America’s cultural drift away from the true meaning of Christmas, and Jim Varney with hair gel. Then, Ernest fights a Hell creature that looks like an anal wart with teeth.
Things come to a head when Trantor finally collects all the dolls he needs to unleash a small army of subordinate trolls. There’s a melee between the trolls and the townsfolk, who discover that they disintegrate when splashed with milk. With the guidance of Ernest’s multiple personalities, the humans prevail, but declare victory prematurely. While the battle is unfolding, Trantor returns to his tree and calls upon evil spirits to make him sprout tentacles, horns and giant claws (see first photo). I actually never saw the end of the movie until this latest viewing, because at that moment I ran screaming from the room.
Let me say a few things about this movie other than that it seems like it was deliberately made to give toddlers panic attacks. Ernest squeezes in some good eye-rollers, Chuck and Bobby give faithful performances as greedy salesmen, and Eartha Kitt puts more effort into acting Hackmore than the character really deserved. There’s also a lot of Rimshot the Dog cuteness, until Trantor the f*cking troll turns it into wood.
But it was pretty much the last Ernest movie people would ever be seen watching in public again. Scared Stupid made $10K less than Goes to Jail at the box office, and the follow-up, Ernest Rides Again, was such a flop that it consigned every subsequent release to the direct-to-video market.
I admit to having a chip on my shoulder, so maybe I’m wrong. Maybe it’s a great movie and the relentless bad child acting doesn’t feel like getting stung in the ears by hornets. And maybe Trantor isn’t a big middle finger from a studio that gave zero sh*ts. Perhaps I’m wrong to think that Ernest Scared Stupid would have been less frightening and more calibrated to its target market if it was a montage of Ernest’s ‘Nam flashbacks.
But I don’t think I’m wrong. Thanks for the nightmares, *ssholes.