Thursday, September 29, 2011

Worrell Peace!

Ernest Goes to Camp!  (Buena Vista Pictures, 1987)

Before the Camera:

Jim Varney  (The Expert)
Gailard Sartain  (Roadie)
Daniel Butler  (Dr. Otto and the Riddle of the Gloom Beam - he's Slave Willie!)
Iron Eyes Cody  (A Man Called Horse)
Lyle Alzado  (Zapped Again!)
Victoria Racimo  (Choke Canyon)
Patrick Day  (Bandwagon)
Scott Menville (The voice of Robin in The Teen Titans)
Jacob Vargas  (Devil)
Danny Capri  (Who Framed Roger Rabbit?)
Hakeem Abdul-Samad  (Wildcats)
Andrew Woodworth  (Ghost in the Machine)
Larry Black  (Pure Country 2: The Gift)
Richard Speight Jr.  (Open Water 2: Adrift)
John Vernon  (Animal House)
as Sherman Krader

Behind the Camera:

Directed by John Cherry

Produced by Martin Erlichman, Elmo Williams and Stacy Williams

Written by John Cherry and Coke Sams

Wow, now here's a pop culture phenomenon for you. Jim Varney started shooting local and regional TV commercials as lovable dimwit Ernest P. Worrell in 1980. With each spot - for products as diverse as milk, car dealerships, and banks - featuring his neverending annoyance of unseen neighbor Vern, Ernest's  popularity and fame grew across the decade until he was a national commercial spokesman in commercials for Coke products like Mello Yello. It naturally developed from there to take the character to home video - and in the mid 80's there were comedy tapes like Hey Vern! It's My Family Album, which let the talented Varney indulge his penchant for crazy characters by telling Vern about some notable ancestors in the Worrell family. Of course they also released a compendium of several dozen of the Ernest TV commercials as The Ernest Film Festival and a Volume 2 of same. Then, in 1986, the production company behind Ernest made an honest-to-goodness feature film starring Varney with the wonderful title Dr. Otto and the Riddle of the Gloom Beam. It turned out to be a completely off the wall comedy adventure with Varney essaying the title role, a would-be Bond villain named Dr. Otto von Schnick-Ick-Ick. There is a brief appearance by Ernest in the movie as well. This blog will be delving into Dr. Otto and the Riddle of the Gloom Beam in more, er, earnest down the road, but today we're really here to talk about another flick in the Worrell ouevre. In 1987, with the Ernest character now a definitely known presence in pop culture, and a money maker as well, someone decided there needed to be an actual theatrically released Ernest movie. I'm not sure what went on behind the scenes in the development of the script - but it appears that early on it was decided to jettison Vern completely and just let Ernest go about his business in a very family friendly way - highly appropriate for a character seen exclusively thus far in G rated antics hawking products on television or in those inoffensive videos - well, except for Dr. Otto, which actually has some darker moments, but I'm not sure very many people saw that one...so....
    Ernest P. Worrell is the maintenance man at Kamp Kikakee, a kids summer camp. Ernest is a goodhearted and somewhat dimwitted guy whose main goal in life is to become a counselor at the camp. He gets his chance when the camp brings in some juvenile delinquents for a second chance program. They manage to put their first assigned counselor into the hospital, so Ernest is assigned to them as he is more disposable than the other established counselors. While much character comedy and slapstick ensues, bad guys show up in the form of construction mogul Sherman Krader (Vernon) and his foreman Bronk Stinson (Alzado). They want to buy Kamp Kikakee in order to raze the camp and set up mineral mining on the site. The camp's owner, Native American Chief St. Cloud (Cody in his final film role), refuses to sell, leading to chicanery and skullduggery getting mixed in with Ernest's character comedy and slapstick for the rest of the running time. KnowhutImean?

Ernest gives Jake's Eggs Erroneus the hairiest of eyeballs.
    Ernest Goes to Camp was produced as an independent movie, but got picked up for release by Buena Vista, the releasing arm of the Walt Disney Company. So that was kind of cool. Thankfully the character did not get co-opted by Disney, as they probably would have had Johnny Depp play Ernest in a $400 million dollar Gore Verbinski movie by now. I am a sucker for movies and movie series like this, which take a comic character and drop him (or her) into a different themed comic situation for each flick and let the running gags fly. I mean, that's certainly a blueprint for movie comedy going back to Laurel & Hardy, Abbott & Costello, and The Bowery Boys. This movie isn't perfect, as it gets pretty sentimental pretty often, and is awfully PC with its treatment of Native American issues, but when the spotlight is looking for comedy and pratfalls and stays on Ernest, the movie is pretty danged funny, especially when he's interacting with camp chefs Jake (Sartain) and Eddie (Butler). It also gets a little edgier than a more recent family movie would, with Ernest on the receiving end of a pretty violent beating from Bronk, and Sherman Krader wielding a high powered rifle against Ernest in the climactic scene. The name actors in the cast all bring scads of value to the movie, especially Vernon; and it's great to see Iron Eyes Cody one last time. Everything else about the movie is workmanlike, nothing spectacular, and the movie is obviously pretty low-budget, but it also doesn't try to go beyond its means and keeps everything pretty down to earth.

Iron Eyes Cody and Jim Varney on set.

So, while it may not rank high on a list of "Important Cinema," it is a fun and goofy little movie that I can heartily recommend to Jim Varney or Ernest fans (of course) and anyone else who likes to watch chuckleheads tripping over stuff a lot.  All others need not apply.

Let's Get Out of Here ?

At approximately 1:18:05, one of John Vernon's henchmen realizes the combo of Jim Varney and Iron Eyes Cody is unbeatable.

Eye Candy ?

Victoria Racimo annoys me for some reason, so I'm going to say no. As she's the only female in the movie, that's an all-encompassing no.

Buddha Man's Capsule Review

Buddha Man says "Ernest Goes to Camp is some prime
unvarnished Varney."

Thanks for that one, Buddha M! And until next post, you Can Poke Me With A Fork, Cause I Am Outta Here!

1 comment:

  1. I miss Jim varney alot.'Erest Goes to Camp'I Love it. He was my Tv Hero. what a very funny man
    God Bless Him Rest in Peace