By: Mike DePietro
NIAGARA UNIVERSITY, N.Y.- A few days ago, the Wire’s wonderful Entertainment Editor, Nina Grenga asked me if I wanted to try to get an article in for this week’s issue. I said “Nina, that sounds terrific. I’m writing about Ernest movies.” She said “Sounds goo- Wait, what did you say?” I said “I’ll have it to you in the morning.” She said “Wait. Hold on. Maybe you could do something more contemporary you know? I just think that might hold readers’ attentions better.” I said “Nina, you’re an absolute genius. I’ll see you in the morning.” She said “Wait, let’s talk about this!” As I hung up the phone, I heard “Please, for the love of God, don’t write about…”
To be honest, that conversation never really happened but you know what, intros are hard. Anyway, without further ado here’s the top 5 best Ernest movies according to me.
#5- “Ernest Saves Christmas” (1988)
Perhaps the most well known of all the Ernest movies, “Ernest Saves Christmas” follows Ernest P. Worrell (played by the late, great Jim Varney), a hapless half-wit with a heart of gold, as he tries to help Santa Claus find his replacement. The plot is very reminiscent of 1994’s “The Santa Clause” starring Tim Allen, except this one is better because it’s got Ernest in it.
The movie is notable for being the only Ernest film to feature Vern, a silent, never shown on-screen character from the earliest series of Ernest commercials, as well as the short lived “Hey Vern, It’s Ernest!” children’s television series.
The film also introduces some of Ernest’s popular internal personalities like Lloyd the Snake Guy, and Auntie Nelda who would go onto appear in later films in the series. In the end, “Ernest Saves Christmas” is a Christmas classic that families will surely get a kick out of around the holiday season.
#4- “Ernest Goes to Jail” (1990)
It’s a hilarious case of mistaken identity when the police confuse Ernest for a ruthless crime boss named Mr. Nash (also played by Varney). Now Ernest must clear his name and put Nash back behind bars. One of the zaniest films in the series, “Ernest Goes to Jail” has some iconic gags including Ernest on a runaway floor buffer, Ernest eating a pen in jury duty and Ernest becoming “Electro Man,” wherein Ernest is sent to the electric chair and gains magnetic powers.
The film also marks the first appearance of Rimshot, Ernest’s adorable Jack Russell Terrier sidekick.
With an ending that needs to be seen to be believed, “Ernest Goes to Jail” remains one of the best overall distillations of the character and the series as a whole. KnowhutImean?
#3- “Ernest Goes To Camp” (1987)
When Ernest finally gets the chance to fulfill his lifelong dream of becoming a camp counselor, he gets a little more than he bargained for when the group of boys assigned to him turn out to be from a juvenile detention center. In the first full-length Ernest film in the series, Varney’s acting prowess is on full display here as he gives a surprisingly emotional performance throughout (if you can make it through Ernest mournfully singing “Gee I’m Glad it’s Raining” without getting watery around the eyes, then you are dead inside.) How he didn’t bring home the 1987 Academy Award for Best Actor is beyond me (curse you Paul Newman, you sexy devil you…)
While not as wacky as later flms, “Ernest Goes To Camp” delivers plenty of laughs while also showcasing a lot of heart. The film proved that you could take a character from a series of commercials and actually craft a wonderful touching story. In the end, director John Cherry delivers one of the best 80’s misfit stories ever committed to celluloid. 10/10, must watch cinema.
#2- “The Importance of Being Ernest” (2002)
While Jim Varney purists might object to the inclusion of this oft-maligned series reboot, you have to applaud the filmmakers (notably first-time screenwriter Oscar Wilde) for trying to upend some of the series conventions that had admittedly gotten stale by 1998’s “Ernest in the Army.” Colin Firth’s Ernest (or Jack as he’s sometimes confusedly called) isn’t as goofy or silly as Varney’s but if you can approach it with an open mind, it’s not bad.
The film is also notable for being the only Ernest film to receive a full-length novelization. While it’s definitely worth a watch, I’d wait until you’ve seen the rest of the series before you do.
#1- “Ernest Scared Stupid” (1991)
When a demonic troll starts kidnapping children and turning them into wooden dolls, it’s up to Ernest to save the day in this 1991 comedy horror classic. Though the story is surprisingly dark for an Ernest movie, it still features all the zaniness you come to expect from this beloved franchise. In fact, it might be the funniest film in the series. While maybe not as well-written as “Ernest Goes to Camp,” “Stupid” delivers an altogether more entertaining ride. If you’ve never seen an Ernest movie, start here.
Honestly, I can’t say enough great things about this film. From the production design down to the musical score, everything about this movie is fantastic. Even the special effects for the trolls are still impressive by today’s standards. As a child, it was my first foray into horror films, a genre that has subsequently become my favorite. From the opening montage full of B-movie references, right down to the gross-out finale, “Ernest Scared Stupid” is a wildly entertaining spookfest the whole family will enjoy.