Ernest Scared Stupid is a 1991 American comedy horror film directed by John R. Cherry III and starring Jim Varney. It is the fifth film to feature the character Ernest P. Worrell. In the film, Ernest unwittingly unleashes an evil troll upon a small town on Halloween night and helps the local children fight back. It was shot in Nashville, Tennessee like its predecessors Dr. Otto and the Riddle of the Gloom Beam, Ernest Goes to Camp, Ernest Saves Christmas, and Ernest Goes to Jail.
Due to its modest gross of $14,143,280 at the U.S. box office, Disney did not pick up the option after their initial four-picture deal with Cherry and Varney had run out, therefore making this the fourth and final Ernest film to be released under the Disney label Touchstone Pictures. All future Ernest films were independently produced, and following the financial failure of Ernest Rides Again, the films shifted to a straight-to-video market.
Its opening credits feature a montage of clips from various horror and science fiction films, including Nosferatu (1922), White Zombie (1932), Phantom from Space (1953), The Brain from Planet Arous (1957), The Screaming Skull (1958), Missile to the Moon (1958), The Hideous Sun Demon (1958), The Giant Gila Monster (1959), The Killer Shrews (1959), Battle Beyond the Sun (1959), and The Little Shop of Horrors (1960).
In the late 19th century, the demonic troll Trantor transforms children, teenagers and young-adults into wooden dolls to feast upon their energy in Briarville, Missouri. The townsfolk capture him and seal him under an oak tree, with Phineas Worrell, one of the village elders and an ancestor of Ernest P. Worrell, establishing the seal. Trantor vengefully places a curse on the Worrell family, stating that he can only be released on the night before Halloween by a Worrell. As part of the curse, every generation of Worrells will get "dumber and dumber and dumber", until the dumbest member of the family is foolish enough to release him from his earthly prison.
One hundred years later, Ernest, a sanitation worker, helps a few of his middle school friends, Kenny Binder, Elizabeth and Joey, construct a tree house in the same tree that unknowingly contains the dormant creature, after the mayor's sons demolished their own cardboard haunted house. When Old Lady Hackmore discovers this, she angrily leaves. Following her, Ernest learns the story of Trantor and idiotically reports it to the kids. Inadvertently, Ernest releases the troll. Joey is walking home from the tree house when he hears something rustling through the trees. Joey slowly walks and slips down in a muddy hole. Trantor grabs Joey's wrist and turns him into a wooden doll. Ernest finds Kenny's dad, Sheriff Cliff Binder, and explains the situation but Binder does not believe him. After none of the townsfolk will assist Ernest because of the upcoming Halloween party, he mounts a one-man (and one-dog) defense operation in preparation for Trantor's appearance. Meanwhile, Trantor captures a boy on a skateboard as his second victim.
Tom and Bobby Tulip, hoping to exploit Ernest, sell him various fake troll traps, but one backfires on the mayor's sons and Ernest loses his job. Ernest, Kenny and Elizabeth return to Hackmore, where they learn that only "the heart of a child, and a mother's care" can defeat the troll. Later that night, Trantor claims Elizabeth as his third victim as he sneaks into her house while she is resting on her bed.
While Kenny and his friend Gregg are walking, Trantor uses Elizabeth's voice to lure Kenny away, then takes Gregg as a fourth victim. Despite parents being upset at their missing children, Mayor Murdock and Sheriff Binder still proceed with a Halloween party at the school, believing the missing children will be there. Trantor appears there and takes the mayor's oldest son as his fifth and final wooden doll. In the ensuing fight between Trantor and Ernest, Trantor turns Ernest's dog Rimshot into a wooden doll before being repelled by soft serve ice cream on Ernest's hands. Kenny realizes that "mother's care" refers to milk and rallies a troll-fighting team to destroy them.
Back at the treehouse, Trantor successfully summons his army of trolls while Ernest unsuccessfully tries to stop them. The townspeople show up, only for the trolls to overwhelm and beat them up. Kenny and his friends arrive and begin destroying the trolls with milk. During the fight, Trantor escapes beneath the tree where he summons the powers of the underworld, making him invincible, especially to milk. Kenny unsuccessfully tries to destroy Trantor, who also turns Kenny into a doll. With the other townsfolk now backing him up and telling him to douse Trantor in milk, Ernest realizes that milk weakened the troll children, while unconditional love ("the heart of a child") would weaken Trantor himself. He takes Trantor and dances with him while the mob watches, overloading him with love, and finally kisses his snot-ridden nose, causing Trantor to explode.
With Trantor's destruction, Ernest is proclaimed a hero. All of the wooden dolls are restored, including those from the early 19th century, and life returns to normal. Sheriff Binder apologizes to his son for doubting him and Ernest. Ernest is happy that his dog is also back to normal.