Ernest Undead (Short Film)
by Steven Spoerl
“Trolls! Trolls! Save the kids! Trolls!” are the lines of dialogue that open Rick Whitehead’s Ernest Undead, as an MPAA-style design advises viewers this feature will be rated R for “pervasive strong horror violence and gore, language and sexuality” over pitch black rather than blue, green, or red. As opening sequences for musically-indebted short films go, that’s an extremely promising start. Follow that with a quiet shot of a graveyard that recalls both the cinematography of Roger Deakins and classic horror films, then people are going to be paying attention. When all of that winds up being a prologue to a visceral main plot that unfolds over Creepoid’s “Gout”, from their extraordinary self-titled LP, there’s no way it won’t get coverage on this site.
Having such a well-informed and artfully executed introduction opens up a world of potential directions but the route Whitehead chooses to go is both genuinely unexpected and ridiculously enjoyable. It’s not too far after a brief flashback look at the titular character that the plot of Ernest Undead reveals itself: a quiet unassuming suburb (shot and presented in an enticingly muted autumnal palette) is thrown into fear as an increasing number of children are kidnapped… by trolls. Yes, trolls. A little further down the line and a gang of “young Creepoids” (an utterly inspired concept brought to its fullest realization) have collected and fully intend on retaliating after turning down various temptations- the stranger in a van with candy bit is used to great comedic effect- at the hands of the trolls. They take matters into their own hands for a while before enlisting the help of an old friend. How they get to that point is best left unspoiled here- just know that it’s incredible.
While the story unfolds and the plot’s pushed into the exhilarating realms of surprisingly grounded absurdist black comedy, Creepoid’s “Gout” provides a considerable amount of atmosphere that helps elevate Ernest Undead to thrilling and unexpected heights. It’s gorgeously lensed throughout, an absolute joy to watch, and is a definitive declaration of Whitehead’s talent. Between the arthouse triumph of Are You Okay and the madcap glee of the low-budget suspense/horror-aping Ernest Undead, the bar has officially been set for 2014’s musically-driven short films- hopefully the rest of the field rises to the challenge. Watch Ernest Undead below and stick around for the absolutely insane stinger at the end. Buy Creepoid here. Say no to trolls. Enjoy.