Camp films of all sorts were released in the early to late 80’s, covering both the genres of comedies including Meatballs (79), Parent Trap (61/98) American Pie 2 (2005)and the terrors of the Friday the 13th (80), Piranha (95), and Sleepaway Camp (1983). Then there are the films that do both at the same time like Addams Family Values and Pandemonium (82), Monster Squad (87). Released in 1987, Ernest Goes to Camp is a real reminder of the times when camp movies were still popular and possible without sounding antiquated and awkward.
The plot of Ernest starts off with an indian ritual determining a Brave’s courage. The ritual requires a knife, a tomahawk, and an arrow. Ernest is revealed to do a number of schticks that are re-dressings of his national commercials, all designed to show how incompetency of the Ernest P. Worrell character.
There is also a side set of chef “Chuck & Bobby” sketches that exists just to make messes and sound like gross meal plans. These sketches would get carried on the the “Hey Vern” show where Gailard Sartain (Chef on the Right) would carry on making fart noises for every special audio effect he would teach the child audience each Saturday morning.
But back to the main plot, in which the camp is assigned to take care of some juvenile delinquents from what we are supposed to assume is either a juvenile detention facility or just really lazy parents.
They have been conditioned to “spread ‘em” at any and all opportunity.
It is determined by the directors and scriptwriters that “Happy Together” by the Turtles is the delinquent theme song as weird as that sound to anyone else who has heard of heavy metal or rebellious music.
Ernest loses a six-digit debt to one of the kids during a poker game that will take 15 years to pay off.
One of the popular kids/rivals was child actor Richard Speight in his 2nd role ever. I would have to say that while he might have a made a full Indian headdress and a canoe in this movie, His work on Supernatural is really the better of his acting choices. In any case, he is really good at being the villain.
Current fans of ours may recognize Richard Speight as the Trickster from the series Supernatural. As the trickster, he is the pop culture junkie who makes the heroes aware of the the oddity of their abnormal conditions and activities when they begin to get comfortable being hunters.
Ernest Goes To Camp also has Scott Menville of Teen Titan fame. He wears the sleeveless denim jacket and green shirt.
Our head bellringer who lives up in the hills with the wolves is a big fan of Teen Titans so when I mentioned we were going to have any show with Scott Menville, he did a happy dance, rang the bells on his beached pirate ship and offered to drive everyone for mashed potatoes and pancakes.
There is a weird gag in which Ernest accidentally releases a go-cart to keeps driving itself all over the camp with no one stopping it throughout the entire film. Campers, developers, counselors and camp managers all just watch it go by with no consideration of changing the situation.
Ernest gets his posterior handed to him by Lyle Alzado (RIP!) who really does a good job as a single-scene bully. Anyway, Alonzo’s bully only has to last the single scene to turn Ernest from arrogant leader of boys to defeated and bloodied protagonist.
Ernest even has a solo song in which he is glad that the rain is covering up his tears and also glad that everyone thinks he is sad because of the rain instead of his continual screw-ups.
Along with the raising of the Juvenile delinquents is the plotline about rescuing the camp, a successor to the Indian peoples and traditions from the evil miner / development company led by Sherman Krader(John Vernon). As part of the attack, the camp jocks and the rebels join up together after each side has committed arson, assault, slander and burglary upon each other, they join up to turn the camp bus into an assault vehicle.
They rain down some flaming arrows, and even rain an entire squadron of box turtles onto the miners who all end up wearing them as earrings and nose rings and other fashion items. They use the auto go-kart to blow up the company warehouse and kill some folks with the super secret recipe of the gross-out camp chefs, that of the grayish green “Eggs-a-ronius.”
At the end Veron attempts to shoot Ernest three times in reminiscence of the opening indian trials, and even then, Ernest misses the point, plugging his fingers into the gun with his mantra “paper,rock,scissors”.
Gary Chapman sings Brave Hearts during the credits.
The mental age of the film “Ernest Goes to Camp,” featuring Jim Varney as Ernest P. (the P stands for “Powertools”) Worrell, has always been 10-12, AKA the age when the funniest thing in the world is fake vomit with chunks or old whoopee cushions or jokes made at the expense of siblings.
But “Ernest Goes to Camp” isn’t gross. In fact, on the relative scale of camp movies, it’s fairly gentle stuff. It’s kind of admirable in it’s memorabilia sake as a childhood movie
Dressed in the signature denim vest over gray T-shirt and platypus-billed cap, Ernest should be a second billed Daffy Duck, but without feathers — he’s almost his own cartoon likeness — and the same sort of rampant but scripted bad luck that we have grown accustomed to plaguing Daffy also bedevils our superhero Ernest too.
Ernest has always been a sort of walking zero, the definitive enjoyable sad sack. To those that have never seen an Ernest film, calling Ernest “accident-prone” is an understatement. The physical world is in rebellion against him. Everything he touches — golf carts, hammers, ladders, electricity, pumpkins, nature in all its various forms and guises, even milk! — becomes his sworn enemy. Life, alas, is not the friend of the Worrell family.
Ernest might be a dopey hayseed one would expect to see on Hee-Haw, like camp co-star Gailard Sartain, but Ernest is an eager dope. All Ernest wants to be is a full-fledged counselor at a boys’ summer camp named Kamp Kikakee.. Not a manager of the camp, but just a simple teacher of tots. Ernest has a single mission in mind while at camp: “Shaping and molding youthful minds into a focused world view.” And no one has ever been more ill-suited to the task. He is a Falstaff for a newer generation.
Although the film has always been little more than an extended slapstick showcase for the nosey-neighbor character Varney played in the localized TV commercials, it’s not the slapped-together piece of work you might expect based only on those shorts. John R. Cherry III, who created the Ernest character and directed Varney in his many duplicated commercials — and served as director and cowriter here — had a sense of how to set up a gag on screen, and he’s got a feel here for how to draw on his performers’ strengths.
As a result, the movie is inoffensive. Younger kids of today may still get a real boost out of its us-against-the-world spirit. It’s funnier than “Meatballs” (which, even with Bill Murray’s hairy-strawberry performance, wasn’t one of the movies’ prouder moments) as Ernest went for a smoother innocence rather than Meatball’s funky impudence. In its place, there’s an almost naive quality. Believe it or not, it’s kind of like Ernest — Eeyore bumbling and thumpingly big-hearted and one brick shy of a wheelbarrowload.
*Somebody actually decided to make something that should have looked or purposefully smelled or disgustingly tasted like Eggs Erronius, so gods help you if you try it.