The Original ‘We Have a Ghost’ Wasn’t Funny At All. It Was Dark As Hell
The new Netflix horror-comedy We Have a Ghost is all about what would happen if a family discovered a phantasm in their attic and turned him into a social media star. In this case, it’s a ghost named Ernest, played by David Harbour, sporting a Neil Hamburger-esque combover for some reason.
The movie is occasionally very silly, clearly drawing influence from wacky 1980s comedies like Beetlejuice and Splash, as well as family movies like E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. Harbour has specifically said that he took inspiration from the character of E.T. for his performance, but for all we know, that was just an excuse to justify pounding back a six-pack of Coors at one in the afternoon.
This is kind of surprising, given the movie’s source material. We Have a Ghost is based on the viral short story Ernest by Geoff Manaugh, which was first published by Vice in 2017, eventually sparking a bidding war for the film rights. The original story goes through many of the same beats as the film but is far more cynical: The patriarch of the family, Frank, takes advantage of the ghost in both versions of the story, using the haunting to achieve celebrity. But in the movie, Frank is a well-meaning, albeit cranky, dad played by the charming Anthony Mackie, and his exploitative urges never get much more severe than, say, selling videos of Ernest to Dr. Phil.
In the short story, though, Frank straight-up tortures Ernest for the amusement of his social media followers, dunking buckets of water on him, drunkenly bursting into his room with “a strobe light, playing heavy metal music on a portable speaker” and tying him up with “discount climbing rope” during dinner parties for guests to take videos and selfies. Ernest isn’t even the ghost’s real name; it’s just given to him by Frank because he “looks like Ernest Borgnine.”
In the film, Frank’s son takes off with Ernest in order to solve the mystery of his identity – in the short story, the pair leave because they’re both clearly fleeing from an abusive alcoholic who is taking out his own impotent rage on whoever he can. And while we don’t want to give away what happens at the end of We Have a Ghost, in Ernest, we learn that the titular specter was murdered by his own uncle, who was later “killed in a drunk-driving accident.” Which is depressing as hell.
Making it extra-bleak: These tragic details are all revealed by Jimmy Kimmel.
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