We few, we happy few, we band of brothers…for he today that sheds blood with me shall be my brother…and gentlemen in England now a-bed shall think themselves accur’d they were not here, and hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.
-Shakespeare, Henry V
Remember flipping channels? In the age of cable boxes and on-screen guides, it’s sort of a lost art. Now and then one would stumble across something fantastic, or something that seemed hilarious when paired with the last show you had one. Like when Beavis and Butt-head were flipping channels: “You’re sending that many men against Rambo? Well, you’d better bring a lot of (click!) zip lock bags!”
Most of the time flipping channels was just a waste of time, but now and then you would come up with a delightful sort of “organic mash-ups.” Like the time I caught “St. Crispin’s Day speech” in which Henry V pumps his army up for battle on one channel, then flipped over and caught the big battle scene from the end of Ernest Goes to Camp.
Everyone I knew loved Ernest Goes to Camp, even though I don’t think any of us had ever seen any of the Ernest commercials that made him famous in the first place (I sure don’t remember any of them). After all, though poop jokes ruled the playground, very few kids shows in those days dared to use bathroom humor. Ernest Goes to Camp opened with Ernest looking into a toilet and going “eewwwww.” The 1980s was an era of summer camp movies, and Ernest stands out among them.
When it came out, Ernest Goes to Camp was sort of a go-to example when writers needed to refer to a bad movie. The Far Side had Siskel and Ebert watching it in hell. Perfect Strangers had Larry and Balki working as flight attendants (for some reason) unable to calm down unruly passengers with the promise of an Ernest Goes to Camp screening.
But my friends and I loved it. When I got to middle school and met kids who’d gone to the other elementary schools in town, I found that they loved it, too. I like to imagine that it had more of an impact on my generation than any of us would probably like to admit. Maybe I’m just being crazy here, but there must have been people at Occupy Wall Street who had their first stirrings of anti-corporate sentiment watching Ernest and the Camp Kikiki gang take on the evil developers and construction workers with flying turtles and flaming eggseronious.
The movie was enough of a hit to spawn the Ernest Saturday Morning Show, which people seem to remember fondly. I shouldn’t really comment, since I haven’t seen an episode in 25 years and only remember bits and pieces, but I do remember a segment in which he played a vampire hosting a TV show, and some kid in the audience was hassling him to prove his was a real vampire. “What are you, from Missouri or something?” the vampire said. “You gotta see it to believe it?” I’d seen enough Missouri license plates in Iowa to know that Missouri was the “Show Me” State, but did kids from the East Coast pick that one up? I often think that being willing to tell jokes kids may not get now and then is a sign of a good kids’ show. He never had a Halloween special of his own, exactly, but the next two movies - which focused on Christmas and Halloween themes, respectively, - were probably made with holiday TV airings in mind.
Ernest Saves Christmas didn’t have the same magic as Ernest Goes to Camp, but I was still excited when Ernest Scared Stupid came out - I remember that it was the first movie I was ever allowed to see without any adult supervision. Twenty some years later the only thing I remember all that well is a bit in which Ernest is reading a fragment of a manuscript reading “Thou canst destroy the best with mi k.” The obvious missing letter was L, but Ernest assumed that the word was “Miak,” and took the gag a step further by actually finding a jar of miak. “Bet you didn’t think I could find it out of season!” he crows.
Well, I also remember that there was a bit here about the “unconditional love” of mothers. This came out the same year as The Last Halloween. What was going on in 1991? Why were all the producers trying to tie sappy bits about motherhood into Halloween programming? Was it all supposed to be an anecdote to the supposedly anti-family sentiments people thought they saw in The Simpsons at the time?
Watching it now for the first time in years, it does spark a lot of synapses in my brain as bits and pieces come back (always a fun experience, no?) and I notice some familiar decorations on the walls in the classroom they show in the beginning. I’m old enough now to know who Eartha Kitt was and particularly enjoy her portrayal as an old weirdo. But beyond that, well… the “troll” beast just isn’t that scary, or even that spooky. I think there could have been a great Ernest take on the “monster in the woods” motif (a motif dear to my heart), but this sort of falters in comparison to Ernest Goes to Camp. Banding together to fight an evil corporation just seems to inspire me more than spraying milk on an otherworldly beast, or even defeating it with unconditional love while an angry mob chants “kill him” (which might be slightly more touching if the thing’s head didn’t explode, but at least I didn’t learn any valuable lessons). I’m also a bit bummed that all the leaves in this thing are green - despite the decorations on the walls in the school, you only occasionally get any real Halloween vibe from this, and I seem to remember more of it. Still, it’s perfectly watchable and some of Ernest’s lines are pretty funny.
Ernest Scared Stupid is pretty harmless. It’s not exactly Henry V, but any one who turns on something with the word “stupid” right in the title ought to know what’s coming and not complain. Scared Stupid may not live as fondly in my memory as the venerable Ernest Goes to Camp. But, hey…at least no one was hurt.