As kids, most people had the “ability” to allow their imaginations to run wild and not only suspend their disbelief, but alter their beliefs based on what they see, read or hear. By the time you become an adult, most people can still suspend disbelief, but are able to discern the difference between real and imaginary afterwards.
Being that we are so close to Halloween, “scary” movies are showing more frequently than they would be any other time of year. For children, this is a time that can affect sleep for weeks or even months to come. While many new movies are being released annually in the horror/thriller/scary genre, in my own and in the minds of many others that were pre-teens in 1991, one movie targeted our specific demographic and left an impression that led to many sleepless nights, “Ernest Scared Stupid”.
It may seem ridiculous to believe that an “Ernest” movie could have been the driving force behind the nightmares of children aged 5-12 (and possibly older) in 1991, but speaking from personal experience, it was. The typical Ernest movies featured slapstick comedy that worked well at giving its “younger” audience some good laughs. Whether he was escaping from jail after being setup by his doppelganger, joining the Army, saving Christmas or even simply going to school, the ‘Ernest’ movie series was a nationwide hit amongst children and their parents alike.
Before all of the tablets and multi-TV households, the ‘Ernest’ movies took place when family members shared a single TV and came together to spend quality time as they experienced the magic of movies via a VHS rental or ‘made for TV’ movie playing (if they were not able to see the movie in theaters). I remember going to the theater to see the ‘Ernest Scared Stupid’ movie, being excited and ready to laugh and leaving with an expression I would assume is similar to that of someone that went to see “The Ring” expecting a “Rom-com” about marriage.
While ‘Ernest Scared Stupid’ does contain some of the slapstick humor viewers came to expect with other Ernest movies, it had a whole other element that, while suggested in the title, was not taken seriously enough by the kids and their parents that went to see it, “Scared”. The catalyst that perpetuated so much fear from myself and others was one of the most underrated scary movie characters I have experienced on the big screen, “Trantor” the troll. While Freddy Kruger and Jason Voorhees are scary in their own right, they are very methodical and have a relatively contained “danger zone”. If I had been midway or late into my teens when Ernest Scared Stupid was released it probably would not have even been a ‘blip’ on my radar, but being a preteen that participated in many of the activities featured in the movie, it was a direct hit. In other horror/thriller movies, the victims usually did something that went against what society viewed as okay at the time (and still today), such as drinking, drugs, and/or having pre-marital sex. At around 7 years old, I was doing none of those things, nor was I going to any streets named “Elm” or Camps named “Crystal Lake”. What I was doing, was building tree houses in nearby “woods” and riding bikes around with friends. Even more unnerving than the victims having similar hobbies to me, was the fact that there was no rhyme or reason for who Trantor attacked, other than that they were kids. The fact that even if I complied with and adhered to societal norms/standards, I was still a target, stuck with me for many nights beyond when I initially saw the movie. At one point (when Trantor jumped up after being hit by a truck) I remember screaming out loud, in the theater, due to being so actively engaged in the movie’s plot. Coming from someone that had the attention span of a goldfish swimming in soda as a child, keeping me focused enough to scare me like that is no easy feat.
I have encountered people in my age group that say they saw Ernest Scared Stupid and laughed or thought it was dumb (which I usually meet with a laugh and silent disbelief of their response). I am sure there are those that saw the movie and did not have the reaction to it that I did, and with the technology available today, to a child, the props and costumes may seem too fake to warrant any fear. If you find yourself looking for a good “Halloween Movie” to watch on the couch or pull out the laptop and watch in your tent as you camp with your family, ‘Ernest Scared Stupid’ is a great throwback choice.