Saturday, December 10, 2011

Ernest Saves Christmas (25 Days of Shitmas Day #10)

Ernest Saves Christmas (1988)

Starring: Jim Varney, Douglas Seale, Oliver Clark

Writers: Ed Turner & B. Kline

Director: John Cherry (John R. Cherry III)

The Story:
Current Santa travels to Orlando, Florida to pass down the Father Christmas torch. The next contestant- local TV kid show personality, Joe Carruthers. You see, he's been playing the Kris Kringle card longer than he should, and the magic is starting to drift. Current Santa is becoming kinda senile; taking notes and shit to remember which child was naughty and which one was nice. Dude should have passed down the torch a long time ago. Anyhoo, at the airport, current Santa meets up with cab driver, Ernest P. Worrell, who takes him to the Orlando Children's Museum so he can propose this gargantuan offer to Mr. Carruthers. One thing leads to another, and current Santa gets thrown in the slammer for being a crazy old coot. This slings some shit into the yuletide fan, for sure. It becomes a race against time for Ernest and a teenage runaway to break current Santa outta jail so he can convince Joe Carruthers to become the new Santa by 7:00 P.M. on Christmas eve. If they don't succeed, a whole lotta kids will be waking up the next morning to a big bunch of fucking nothing under the Xmas tree! DEVASTATING.

The Rant:
I got some history with Jim Varney and his iconic (yes I said iconic, dammit) character, Ernest P. Worrell. Varney was born and raised in my hometown of Lexington, Kentucky. Hell, he even went to the same high school as my older siblings. I was never given the blessing of walking the same school halls as this great man, as my family decided to move to Orlando and I got to go to a really shitty high school. Still, Ernest Saves Christmas was filmed in Orlando, I've probably stepped on the same pavement as Varney, so... WIN! Anyway, back to the whole Ernest thing. Before Goes to Camp was released, Varney was showing up all over the place in TV commercials for Mello-Yellow and many other products. In Lexington, this was a big fucking deal, especially for a kid. If you grew up in this town and didn't religiously follow UK basketball or horse racing, there wasn't a whole helluva lot else to do, except watch the fuck out of some TV. Sure, a lot of kids growing up in the 80's vegged out on NES and TBS, but I lived that shit. Chose it over chillin' with friends and bike riding to the mall on the regular.

Anyway, the Ernest Character became pretty damn popular after a slew of commercials for Convenient Food Mart, where he would shop with his bestie for the restie, Vern. The cool thing about these commercials was that the viewer was Vern, thanks to first person perspective. Ernest was talking to you, hanging with you, making an ass of himself directly in front of you. It ruled. Needless to say, I was elated to find out about Ernest Goes to Camp (there were some Ernest themed stuff beforehand, but Goes to Camp was the first big one), and while that movie was fan-fucking-tastic, there was no “Vern” moments. Crushing. Thankfully, this problem is rectified inErnest Saves Christmas, during a scene where Worrell and Harmony Starr/Pamela Trenton (the teenage runaway) deliver a Christmas tree he saved from the highway to Vern's house. As a youngster, this scene alone made Saves Christmas a much more complete feeling experience than Goes to Camp. Still to this day, I consider Saves Christmas and Ernest Scared Stupid the absolute best out of the Ernest films.

It makes me laugh to read so many negatively fueled reviews towards Ernest movies, especially Saves Christmas. If you actually take the time to call such a film “stupid”, then the joke is ultimately on you. If you weren't spending so much time dissecting why they're stupid, you may actually discover that there's some heartfelt shit layered in each and every one of these films. I'm pretty certain that director John Cherry and Jim Varney weren't aiming for the fucking Oscars while making these films; they were probably just having a good time. It works for me. I'm watching Saves Christmas twenty years later and still finding a ton of shit to laugh about, and even kinda shed a few unabashed tears. Awwww.

Of course, the late Jim Varney was on top of his game here, and he as usual unleashed his awesome ability of portraying many different characters. A personal favorite is a Florida snake rancher Worrell personifies in order to sneak current Santa onto the set of a Christmas horror movie (which, by the way, looked fucking awesome) in another attempt to convince Joe Carruthers to become the new Santa. Aside from the multiple personalities, Varney pulls off a shit-ton of funny faces and legitimately humorous one-lines, and even a few moments of seriousness when voicing his love for Christmas and belief in Santa Claus. The late Douglas Seale is pretty damn convincing as the 'my time is up' Santa Claus. I always envisioned everyone's favorite red dressed jolly bastard to be a little more on the heavy side, but I'm down with a slim Kris Kringle. Seale definitely excels in the cheerful spirit of the character, and the dude's eyebrows certainly scream “this IS Saint Nick”. Noelle Parker plays Harmony, a teenage girl Ernest and Santa pick up while on their way to the Orlando Children's museum. Harmony has secrets and spins a lot of lies that Santa can see right through. When I was a kid, I for sure had one of those 'older babysitter' type crushes on this character. There's just something about Harmony's rough attitude and disbelief that makes me love her, and Parker fits herself into it nicely. Plus her late 80's attire is fucking amazing. If anybody is a weak link, it's Oliver Clark as Joe Carruthers, potential candidate for new Santa. He's not bad, and he has the generic Mr. Rogers shit down pat for his portrayal of a host for a kids TV show, but there's just something about him that seems off. Maybe it's the fact that he reminds me of Grampa in Silent Night, Deadly Night by appearance, and that shit gives me the fucking heebie-jeebies.

There's not much by way of SFX, save for the bad ass sleigh riding segments in the finale. I'm pretty sure the reindeer standing on the ceiling is just upside down room trickery, but whatevs... I dig it. I'm just gonna say I love the shit out of Ernest Saves Christmas and finish this up with a few of my key favorite moments.

Ernest drives cab #69!

M. V. M. V. M. V. M! V!

atch vicariously through the eyes of Vern as Ernest destroys shit!

Snowflake fingerprints. Proof that the crazy old man REALLY is Santa Claus!

3 proud members of the Christmas jailhous ensemble. The "Eat M Raw" belly shirt is a must own!

Hah! That's all.

Best. Face. EVER.

Happy Holidays from Shit Movie Fest and Back Online Back On Duty!!!!
- Eric King


  1. I seen Ernest Scares Stupid, go to both Camp and Jail recently but it's been a long time since I seen him Save Christmas. Reading Eric's review brought back a lot of memories!

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  3. Totally agree with you here, Eric. This is my favorite of the Ernest films, all of which I own, including the elusive Dr. Otto and the Riddle of the Gloom Beam. I also grew up in Florida, and loved how this flick showcased what Christmas in Orlando was like. Varney was a true talent and this displays him in his prime.