Jim Varney: A Legacy of Laughter

Ernest is a guilty pleasure for lots of folks. The accident prone know-it-all first mushroomed into a bona fide pop culture phenom from a series of brilliantly manic commercials in the ’80s, which went on to spawn N-I-N-E feature comedies and the Emmy-winning Saturday morning TV series "Hey Vern! It’s Ernest!" (A personal fave of yours truly.)

Tragically, on February 10, 2000, we lost the great Jim Varney to cancer, but through the films featured in this tribute, he’s left behind so many gleefully silly cinematic moments as a true comedic treasure.

Namely, Ernest P. Worrell.

After a staggering 55 WEEKS lamming it among CineSchlock-O-Rama’s Most Wanted, the slapstick classic Ernest Goes to Camp makes its glorious W-I-D-E-S-C-R-E-E-N debut due in large part to more than 600 fans who made their voices heard via this website. Granted, our plea was for a proper "special edition" tribute to Mr. Varney’s legacy of laughter, but in the spirit of Ernest’s ever wide-eyed optimism let’s not abandon hope of seeing that someday.

Ernest Goes to Camp

4 of 5 stars / 1987

Ernest Goes to CampAs Kamp Kikakee’s less than handy handyman, Ernest strives to elevate himself above his station. His dream? To shape and mold young minds as an honest to goodness camp counselor. But as is his unfortunate way, he’s a bit too busy finding new ways to do himself bodily harm. Then one day Ernest’s sent to the Midstate Boys Detention Center to pick up six surly youngsters for whom it’s thought some fresh air will do some good. But once they land their first counselor in the medical tent, well, it’s up to good ol’ Ernest to set ’em on the right path. This is hampered about a third of the way in when a strip-mining outfit coyly called Krader Industries decides it’d be neat to level the camp in search of minerals. Trouble is, these are the last remaining lands of Chief St. Cloud (Iron Eyes Cody) and his forefathers, so Mr. Worrell and the kiddos must repeal the bulldozing invaders. CineSchlockers will spot gridiron tough and B-regular Lyle Alzado as the Krader henchman who really clobbers our hero good in the final reel.

Notables: Seven YouKnowWhutIMean?s. Eight pratfalls. Tribal dancing. Lunch tray to the brainpan. Deadly weapon flinging. Finger slamming. Mess hall brawl. Puking. Badger attack. Multiple explosions. Box turtle clamped to the nose. Ladder pogo sticking.

Quotables: Ernest talks tough before enduring a vaccination, "Real men can take it and I’m a real man! A man with a hearty smile! A stout back with grit in his teeth and nails in his knuckles! A man who’s never tasted quiche! [Sees huge hypodermic.] Is that the SMALLEST needle?! [Gets stuck.] I DID IT! I TOOK THE LINBURGH BABY! I AM JOSEF MENGELE!!! AHHH-OOHHH!!!"

Time codes: Continuing gag of runaway golf cart begins (3:34). Cracked cooks in search of the illusive Eggs Erroneous (17:08). Mean, nasty strip-miners eye Kamp Kikakee (26:24). ERNEST SINGS!!! (1:05:06). Death rains from the heavens (1:17:00).

Ernest Saves Christmas

5 of 5 stars / 1988

Ernest Saves ChristmasAfter successfully taking a 30-second commercial pitchman to the big screen, here’s where the lasting charm of Ernest P. Worrell really manifests. Varney’s comedic pallette broadens with the introduction of characters such as CineSchlocker fave "Auntie Nelda" with Jim in drag as an ever-crabby biddy in a neck brace. Also, there’s the under-appreciated pairing of portly Gailard Sartain and beanpole Bill "Bobby" Byrge as sort of a latter-day Laurel & Hardy. This outing, Ernest’s an Orlando cab driver just BUSTING with Christmas spirit who lucks into giving a free ride to jolly Saint Nick (Douglas Seale). The Claus wants to hand over the reigns of his intercontinental sleigh to a down-on-his-luck childrens TV host (Oliver Clark) who’s just inches away from starring in a holiday-themed slasher (a la Silent Night, Deadly Night). Of course, everyone, including Ernest thinks the old guy’s batty. Then there’s a teenage runaway with the very-nearly porno moniker "Harmony Star" (Noelle Parker) who rightly figures Ernest for an easy mark. Together they literally CRASH at Vern’s place. It’s basically nonstop, riotous pandemonium from there, punctuated by some genuinely, gulp, SWEET moments during the final reel. CineSchlockers will remember that same year Mr. Sartain, who has some of the flick’s funniest scenes, brilliantly portrayed the chaw-spitting sheriff by day and Klansman by night who woefully underestimated Gene Hackman and Willem Defoe‘s G-men in the classic Mississippi Burning.

Notables: Four YouKnowWhutIMean?s. Jurassic puppetry. One Catholic school girl outfit. Incarcerated Kringle. Gratuitous John Wayne impression. Senile Santa. Multiple snake bites.

Quotables: While weaving through rush hour traffic, Ernest proclaims, "I have lived my life in the fast lane! I have an almost supernatural feel for the road beneath my tires … reminds me of my old days on the figure-8 track!" Chuck attempts to fathom flying reindeer, "You know what I think that is? I think those are Latvian goats! Wait a minute! It could be ALIENS!"

Time codes: Ernest’s fine rendition of "Oh, Christmas Tree" (3:38). First introduction of "Vern" to the movie franchise (23:28). Ernest in disguise as an uppity aide to the governor (38:10), Auntie Nelda (43:10) and a guy who really, really likes snakes (46:46). The Creature From The Black Lagoon covered in moss (50:24). Clever ode to Bugs Bunny (1:24:00).

Ernest Goes to Jail

3 of 5 stars / 1990

Ernest Goes to JailMore stretching by Varney. This time he also plays Ernest’s mean, nasty look alike Felix Nash who’s doin’ hard time at Dracup Maximum Security Prison. In fact, he’s got an appointment with ol’ Sparky. Ernest’s a bank handyman who daydreams about being a clerk. Chuck and Bobby are night watchmen obsessed with overly elaborate schemes to apprehend would-be thieves. And in a series of events ONLY possible in this sort of picture, Worrell is called in for jury duty and lands BEHIND BARS with Nash free to case the bank and paw comely Ms. Sparrow (Barbara Tyson). CineSchlocker fave Charles Napier has all-too-few scenes as Dracup’s volcanic warden. The runaway waxer at the beginning and antigravity slapstick ending seem strained, but Varney mines some real gold once in the slammer. Great closing line also. CineSchlockers will easily spot pompadour’d Randall ‘Tex’ Cobb who played the biker bounty hunter from hell in Rasing Arizona.

Notables: Three YouKnowWhutIMean?s. Eight pratfalls. Flashlight to the brainpan. Lightening bolt attack. Involuntary magnetism. Lobster to the face. Gingerbread man assassination.

Quotables: Bank security chief Chuck warns Ernest about Bobby’s hair trigger, "Do you realize you could have caused a serious accident here? Perhaps even a blood bath!? This man is a coiled cobra ready to strike at the slightest irregularity!" Another impassioned speech, "I’m Ernest P. Worrell, an upwardly mobile American at his best. And I know that if I pay my taxes, bathe and floss regularly, I will ascend the ladder of success hand over foot." Ernest emotes, "The hole!? The hole like in solitary the hole?! Like in real prison?! Real, really, really, really, really REAL prison!? The hoosgow! The slammer! The joint! Alcatraz! San Quentin! Sing Sing! OH, NO! I’m in JAAAIIILLLLLL!!!"

Time codes: This Nash character is one tough hombre (8:12). Ernest’s extensive wardrobe (14:06). The ol’ "This wire’s got a SHHOOOORRRRRRRRRRRRTTTT in it" gag (15:50). Same lawyer from Ernest Goes to Camp (22:30). A whole slew of impressions (35:47). Requisite confrontation scene of any flick where an actor plays dual roles (1:09:52).

Ernest Scared Stupid

2.5 of 5 stars / 1991

Ernest Scared StupidLet’s see, got Christmas covered. Ah! Of course, Halloween! Here Ernest’s even unsuccessful as a sanitation engineer, OK, a garbage man. Generations before, a Worrell helped the people of Blainville entomb Trantor the Troll (Jonas Moscartolo) beneath a tree, but not without falling victim to a family curse producing progressively dimmer and dimmer Worrells on down the line to, well, you know who. There’s way, way too much stuff in this flick with these chatterbox kiddos that Ernest helps build a treehouse — in exactly the WRONG spot. Naturally, Trantor’s unleashed and begins making collectible wooden figurines out of every yard monster within reach. Pretty soon the whole town’s crawling with TROLLS that hatch from snot-covered brussels sprouts thanks to the truly demented Chiodo Brothers. Ever the responsible, yet clumsy citizen, Ernest dutifully does his best to clean up his supernatural mess. Bobby returns with a new Chuck of sorts in John Cadenhead as fast-talkin’, wheeler-dealer Tom Tulip. CineSchlockers will be nicely surprised by former Catwoman Ertha Kitt as Old Lady Hackmore. How’s that for a horror movie name?

Notables: Three YouKnowWhutIMean?s. Four pratfalls. Bird poop to the face. Pizza flinging. Troll cam. Giant novelty can opener. Gratuitous John Wayne impression. Exploding troll.

Quotables: When cornered by Trantor, Ernest yelps, "Boy, I sure hope you’re from Keebler!" And throughout the rest of the flick, "TROLLS!!! TROLLS!!! TROLLS!!! TROLLS!!! TROLLS!!! TROLLS!!! TROLLS!!! TROLLS!!! TROLLS!!! TROLLS!!! TROLLS!!! TROLLS!!! TROLLS!!! TROLLS!!!"

Time codes: Ernest’s more sophisticated kin (3:32). Varney launches into a history-themed cavalcade of characters (13:52). Ernest dimwittedly unleashes an evil scourge (23:00). Bobby and his new sidekick (31:48). Killer Klowns From Outer Space fans will recognize this hansom fella (1:16:24).

Slam Dunk Ernest

1.5 of 5 stars / 1994

Slam Dunk ErnestBefore Air Bud … before Space Jam … soared Air Ernest. Who better than Mr. Worrell to pair with five black janitorial technicians who daylight as city league b-ballers? Well, ANYONE actually, given the grim chain of disaster unleashed during a credit-sequence flashback when an adolescent Ernest (A.J. Bond) attempts an ill-advised 3-pointer and proves the blue-jeaned demolition man’s destructive powers are exponentially intensified on the hardwood. For this reason, Ernest’s mop bucket colleagues (led by Cylk Cozart) wisely exclude him from their coffee break pickup games, but somehow find themselves obligated to let him become the team mascot in a championship run sure to see the "Clean Sweep" team discovered by the NBA. Cue Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as "The Archangel of Basketball" who presents our wannabe playa with a pair of piezest sneakers that afford Varney the opportunity to explore a variety of silly walks, but more importantly, these flubber-esqe magic feet turn jersey number "negative zero" into a dunkin’ hero. In all, it’s disappointingly routine stuff with a noticeable lack of Jimbo’s typical high-energy schtick and amusing array of side characters. CineSchlockers will note Kareem’s brief scenes apparently forever grounded a film career that flew highest in Airplane!

Notables: Three YouKnowWhutIMean?s. Two pratfalls. Racking. Scalp signing. Gratuitous Bogart impression. Curled cobra mimicry. Multiple basketball montages. Orgasmic money talk.

Quotables: No love from the brothers, "You’re not just white. You’re whiter than white. You’re a redneck!" Ernie from the Block is undaunted, "Ah, the mens locker room. Tank of the titans. Temple of testosterone. I bet you guys are male bonding as we speak. Right arm! Out of state! Frozen!"

Time codes: Worrell’s first slam dunk (5:40). Why the big guy never removes his cap (13:15). Fan friendly refs to Ernest Goes to Camp‘s "Krader Construction" and "Kik-a-kee" (18:30, 49:45). Kareem finally joins the picture (23:55). Behold the world’s first haute couture redneck (1:04:00).

Ernest Goes to Africa

2 of 5 stars / 1997

Ernest Goes to AfricaShot back-to-back in South Africa with Ernest In the Army, this entry finds Mr. Worrell longing for the tender warmth of female companionship. But his bonehead efforts to woo a spectacled diner waitress spiral into international intrigue when Ernest inadvertently fashions pilfered African jewels into a yo-yo for his crush Rene (Linda Kash). This is also the only flick of the franchise with a BODY COUNT thanks to Jamie Bartlett as a mustache-twirling goon named Thompson whose idea of a good time is locking someone in a limo chock full of poison-fanged vipers. Nearly as nasty is Prince Kazim (Robert Whitehead) who, when he isn’t being "entertained" by undulating harem girls, likes to bury underachieving henchmen up to their chins and let his pet rhino play kickball with their skulls. Really, it’s hilarious, honest! Anyway, Thompson mistakes our lovebirds for sticky-fingered spies and hauls them off to The Dark Continent where hijinks ensue as Ernest must rescue his damsel from the lascivious clutches of Kazim and escape into the cannibal-infested wilds of Africa in a GOLF CART!!! As always, our hero’s skills as a master of disguise prove valuable and zany, particularly as rapier tongued "Hey You, the Hindu."

Divided between Ernest Goes to Africa and Ernest in the Army are two-part stabs at Ernest Greatest Hits Vol. 1 (30 mins) featuring about 100 classic commercials certain to elate fans and Your World as I See It (30 mins) with Varney’s over-educated Astor Clement introducing colorful members of the Worrell clan who wax philosophic about as much as their shallow gene pool will allow.

Notables: Four corpses. Two YouKnowWhutIMean?s. Five pratfalls. Knuckle cracking. Gratuitous crocodile snot. Watermelon seed spitting. Brassiere used as slingshot. Chloroforming.

Quotables: Ernest the lover, "Guys like me, we have to travel the lonely road. A rebel! A lone wolf! Leaving a trail of broken hearts behind me … It’s time for the rogue of the open road to set off again on his quest for high adventure. Another place, babe, another time!"

Time codes: Doesn’t take an ophiologist to know this ain’t no cobra (15:30). Ol’ goldfish-in-the-disposal gag (18:58). Ernest goes to Africa! (27:40). Auntie Nelda to the rescue — it’s also her final appearance (38:42). Marvel as everyone pretends it isn’t raining during the nail biting "Battle of Truth" finale (1:19:00).

Ernest in the Army

3 of 5 stars / 1997

Ernest in the ArmyOriginally titled Stormin’ Ernest, this marks the slapstick saga’s final chapter. It’s especially poignant given that Varney’s longtime friend, collaborator and director John Cherry steps in front of the camera as Ernest’s buddy Ben. Nowadays, Worrell’s dodging golf balls at the local range, but dreams of driving the "big rigs" like Ben and other "army people." Naturally, just as Ernest joins the reserves, a golf-obsessed Arizian madman invades neighboring Karifistan with the fiendish intent of luring American "infidels" within range of his, gulp, Pluton missile. Thankfully he and his ilk are so inept that ERNEST can foil this scheme with the aid of an orphan boy (Christo Davids) and a comely cub reporter looking to make it big (Hayley Tyson). Mixed among Ernest’s delirious desert antics is a sharp satire of America’s first "As-seen-on-TV" war with General Rodney Lincoln and his aide (Jeff Pillars and Duke Ernsberger) spending "Operation Sand Trap" obsessed by giving rousing press briefings and arranging potentially heroic photo ops. CineSchlockers will also be amused by the running ode to 007’s Ernst Blofled right down to the fluffy white pussy.

Notables: Two YouKnowWhutIMean?s. Four pratfalls. Titlest air attack. Puking. Jellyfish to the face. Exploding outhouse. Nose hair clipping. Pancake to the brainpan. Gratuitous John Wayne impression.

Quotables: Ernest can’t believe his luck, "What about boot camp?! What about tough GIs? Grueling work!? The breaking down of one’s self-esteem with strong language, insults and the clever use of profanity!?" And Mr. Worrell’s final nugget of sage advice, "STICK BY YOUR BUDDY!!!"

Time codes: Mr. Cherry joins the picture (4:32). Sergeant Glory briefs the troops (10:14). Varney channels O’Toole’s Lawrence of Arabia (29:28). Ernest + Electric Fence = Hilarity (59:15). A touching reunion (1:20:44).

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