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Monday, October 21, 2013

Ernest Scared Stupid

One of my favourite things to do as a child was to go to the movie theatre and watch a movie.  Ever since I was four years old and watched my very first movie on the big screen (which embarrassingly for me was "The Care Bears Movie"), I always loved going to the cinema, buying a movie ticket, grabbing the largest size popcorn bucket that I could (making sure that the concessions clerk put extra butter on every possible kernel), and watching magic happen on the big screen.

Unfortunately, with the way the movie industry is these days, there's really not a lot out there that I would actually justify paying the cost of admission to go out and see.  Maybe it's just the lack of originality these days, or maybe it's just the fact that I'm not interested in seeing a seventh installment of the "Fast and Furious" film series, but I don't find going to the movies as much fun anymore as I did when I was a kid.

Of course, it's all subjective.  What I might deem excellent, others might find cheesy and corny.  And what others might deem as Oscar worthy, I might want to shower it with Golden Raspberry Awards.

Now, here's a question for you all.  Do you remember what movies you watched in the theatres as a child or teenager?  Surprisingly enough, I do.  And in a lot of the cases, those movies ended up becoming some of my all-time favourites.

I mean, it's pretty difficult to hate on a classic Disney film.  I remember seeing both "Bambi" and "Cinderella" in the movie theatre when both were re-released for a limited time (before Disney started to transfer their movies onto VHS/DVD/Blu-Ray), and loved them both.  I also remember watching "Twister", which was definitely a movie that you had to watch on the big screen with surround sound!  I still remember the day that I took my niece and three nephews to the movies to watch "Wall-E", which surprisingly went well, given that everyone was fourteen and under when we went and saw it.

I also remember watching "The Simpsons Movie", "The Santa Clause", and "Mrs. Doubtfire" in theatres, and having positive reactions to all of those movies.  And, I must have liked the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles a lot because I not only saw all three movies in the cinema, but I saw the first film of the series twice - one of which was the screening that tied my Ninja Turtle themed ninth birthday party together in a nice green bow!

But I have to be completely honest with all of you.  Some of the films that I remember watching in the movie theatre have not aged well at all.  Some of the movies that I really loved and enjoyed watching as a kid are the same movies that I don't particularly enjoy at all as an adult.

I remember being so excited when I learned that "Honey, I Shrunk The Kids" was getting a sequel, and I actually remember cleaning out my junior savings account just so I could watch "Honey, I Blew Up The Kid".  And then once I got to the movie and watched the whole thing, I left very disappointed.  Enlarging a toddler just wasn't as interesting as shrinking four teenagers and throwing them into a backyard.

Don't even get me started on "Freddy Got Fingered".  It remains the only movie that I have ever walked out of.  I don't know what Tom Green was thinking when he made that stinker, but it was foul.

Oh, and there's a certain series of films that starred the late Jim Varney in which I happen to have a love-hate relationship with.



Of course, everybody knows the role that made Jim Varney famous.  And there have been many films that have featured his iconic character of Ernest P. Worrell - some of which were better than others.

I can't think of a single bad thing to say about 1987's "Ernest Goes To Camp".  The film remains a classic in my mind, and I could watch that one over and over again.  Sure, it's silly and unbelievable in parts, but it's got a lot of heart!

Same deal with 1988's "Ernest Saves Christmas".  That film also had a lot of heart...though I didn't find it as laugh out loud funny as its predecessor.  It was still a good film though.

But on the flipside, we have 1990's "Ernest Goes To Jail".  I went and saw it in the movie theatre when I was around nine years old.  At the time I saw the movie, I thought that it was fantastic, hilarious, and just plain funny.  So, when I saw a DVD compilation that included this movie along with two other Ernest films, well, I had to buy it!  It was only five dollars, and one of the movies was "Ernest Goes To Camp".  

But when I sat down to watch "Ernest Goes To Jail" at home some 22 years after I watched it for the first time, I didn't find it as funny.  In fact, I kind of hated it.  Unlike "Camp" and "Christmas", this movie just lacked...well...everything.  I will say that Jim Varney did a good job in the film, but everything else about it was bad.  It was a real letdown, especially since I remember loving it as a child.

But, then again...our tastes change as we grow older, right?

I think that's why I was a little hesitant to do a blog entry on the third Ernest film on the DVD collection.  It, too, was a film that I remember loving in the movie theatre.  I know that my sister and her boyfriend really wanted to go and see it, and they offered to take me along too since I was a huge Ernest P. Worrell fan as a child.  And, since it was Halloween themed, I thought that it would be a fantastic idea to watch this film and make it the topic of today's Monday Matinee.  But what if I ended up hating it like I did with "Ernest Goes To Jail"?  It would have been an absolute disaster!

Fortunately, when I fired up the DVD player and pushed play, the movie still held up, and I still liked it...even if the film itself was a box office disaster and was critically savaged.



Of course, we're talking about the film "Ernest Scared Stupid", which has Ernest and a group of children battling against gigantic trolls who are released back into a Midwestern community to cause terror to its residents.



Released in theatres on October 11, 1991, the film did poorly at the box office, only earning a total of fourteen million dollars.  Although I don't know exactly what the budget of the film was, I imagine that the realistic looking make-up designs and special effects on the troll costumes themselves meant that there wasn't a whole lot of profit.  In fact, I probably wouldn't be surprised if the film owed money at the end of shooting.  As a result of the film doing so poorly, the next four Ernest films (Ernest Rides Again, Ernest Goes To School, Ernest Goes To Africa, and Ernest In The Army) were all direct-to-video releases.

But you know what?  I have a soft spot for this film.  I don't care how critics rated it.  To me, it's a wonderful Halloween film to show to children.  Yeah, the trolls might be scary looking, but that's really about the only thing that's scary about it.

What's interesting about this Ernest film is that it begins in the small community of Briarville, Missouri in the 19th century.  A troll by the name of Trantor is chasing a little girl through a dense forest in hopes of capturing her for his ultimate plan.  At the time, he already has four children from the village captured and turned into wooden dolls.  If he can get five dolls, and have them placed inside of his lair, the energy spawned will release other trolls into the world, putting humanity at risk.  But before Trantor can get his claws on the child, the townspeople capture him, and the elder of the village - Phineas Worrell - orders Trantos to be sealed underneath an oak tree never to be heard from again.  But before Trantos is sealed away, he warns that one of Phineas' ancestors will unseal him, and he will come back to Briarville to finish the job.

Flash forward to Briarville, Missouri.  The date?  October 30, 1991 (weirdly enough, the day after my grandmother passed away).  We meet some of the kids in the town's elementary school.  There's Kenny (Austin Nagler), the son of the town sheriff.  There's Elizabeth (Shay Astar), a girl who does a report on the trolls based on legends that she researched.  There's Joey (Alec Klapper), a nerdy kid who helps Kenny and Elizabeth build a haunted house.  And, there are the sons of the Mayor of Briarville, Matt and Mike Murdock (Richard Woolf and Nick Victory), who bully Kenny, Elizabeth, and Joey every chance they get.



Oh, and then there's Ernest P. Worrell (Varney), the town garbageman who is fairly inept at his job and completely mucks everything up.  But of course, he is the descendant of Phineas Worrell - and according to Elizabeth's report, part of the curse that the troll issued against Phineas was that each of his ancestors would grow dumber and dumber.

But although Ernest is not exactly well liked by the adults of the town, Kenny, Elizabeth, and Joey like and respect him and they can often be seen hanging around him and his dog, Rimshot.




In fact, when Elizabeth, Kenny, and Joey have their haunted house destroyed by the Murdock boys, Kenny and Ernest decide to go into the woods outside of Briarville and build a treehouse.



Unfortunately, the tree the group selects happens to be the one tree where Trantos has called home for over a century.  And when longtime resident Francis "Old Lady" Hackmore (Eartha Kitt) discovers what they've done, she immediately panics.  After all, her own sister was one of the troll's victims (which leads to the question - just how old IS Old Lady Hackmore?), and she knows all too well about Trantos' last words...about how a descendant of Phineas Worrell would be responsible for unsealing him.  And the final straw came when Ernest discovers the legend of Trantos himself and actually performs the very ritual that ends up releasing the troll back into the town of Briarville.

And almost immediately, Trantos takes his revenge.

Of course, Trantos has to recapture five children all over again, and he starts by quickly nabbing Joey in the forest after he trips and falls while running out of the woods with Kenny and Elizabeth.  Shortly after, he attacks an innocent skateboarder, whom he quickly turns to a wooden statue as well.  When word gets out of Joey's disappearance, Kenny and Elizabeth run back to their treehouse where they discover a wooden statue that looks just like Joey.  They try to warn their parents and the rest of the community about the trolls, but nobody will take them seriously.

Meanwhile, Trantos is stepping up his quest to release all of his troll cousins into the world.  After all, he has to make it happen before midnight on Halloween.  On Halloween night, he happens to catch two more victims.  He sneaks into Elizabeth's bedroom and makes her victim number three.



And, then when Kenny witnesses Trantos turn a boy named Gregg (Steven Moriyon) into his fourth victim, he barely manages to escape from his clutches.  After all, if Trantos had captured Kenny, he would have been the fifth victim.

But before the night is over, Trantos will strike again at the school Halloween party, successfully capturing his fifth victim and managing to live up to his prophecy of bringing trolls back out into the world to get their ultimate revenge against the innocent citizens of Briarville.  Can Ernest and Kenny find a way to stop Trantos and rescue the other kidnapped children from his clutches?

I won't spoil the ending for all of you, but I will offer you a few clues.



See this beverage up above?  It actually doubles as a secret weapon.  Apparently a certain group of creatures have lactose issues.

Old Lady Hackmore discovers another method of fighting back against Trantos...and it involves a slice of pepperoni pizza hugging a cute little bunny rabbit (and no, I'm not making this up.  Just remember...this film takes place on Halloween).

And, let's just say that the duo of Tom and Bobby Tulip (John Cadenhead and Bill Byrge) contribute to the battle against the trolls...in their own peculiar fashion.

All in all, it's a light, fluffy film with a lot of hilarity, trolls, and dairy products.  Win-win in my books.

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