The episode of Best Horror Movie You Never Saw covering Dr. Giggles was Written by Eric Walkuski, Narrated by Jason Hewlett, Edited by Paul Bookstaber, Produced by John Fallon and Tyler Nichols, and Executive Produced by Berge Garabedian.
It’s no secret that the early 90s are not viewed as a primo time for horror movies. Post-the slasher burnout of the ’80s, pre-the resurrection of the genre thanks to Scream, it was a time where only the truly faithful went to the theaters to indulge in their favorite genre. And yet, we were given some memorable flicks that you almost certainly wouldn’t see in theaters today. Movies like Leprechaun, Man’s Best Friend, Body Parts, all graced the big screen, while today they’d almost certainly be sent right to VOD – maybe unless they were produced by Jason Blum. Another title that one can’t even picture getting a theatrical release? That would be Dr. Giggles (watch it HERE), a movie I just can’t picture getting an “elevated horror” update from A24 any time soon.
If you haven’t seen this cheesefest, let me explain the rather simple story: Years ago, in the sleepy town of Moorehigh, a psychotic doctor was killed by local townspeople after it had been found out he’d disregarded his Hippocratic Oath in a rather severe way. His son was never found, hence a local legend was born about the missing – and presumably crazed – little fellow. Cut to some 30 years later, and it turns out the boy has taken up the family business… albeit in the form of performing gruesome surgeries in a mental institution. Doctor Giggles, as he’s called thanks to his overwhelmingly jolly nature, has finally come into his own and is looking to travel back to his home town to mete out some revenge for dear old pop. But what Dr. Giggles doesn’t realize is that in the midst of his rampage he’ll find his true calling in the form of a teenage girl in need of a heart transplant. The doctor will see to it that she gets what she needs by any means necessary. Safe to say, the doctor is out… of his mind!
While not exactly revered in the horror community, there’s no doubt a small contingent of us are true Dr. Giggles supporters, and there’s no shame involved in that. Behold the gleeful nastiness of this movie; the ridiculous carnage wrought by Larry Drake as Evan Rendell, a maniacal wannabe doctor with a predilection for creative methods of murder and bad puns. I mean, even Freddy Krueger would slap his forehead at some of the groaners delivered by Evan. (Examples: “He should have kept his hands to himself,” “Have a heart,” “Just wait until you get the bill.” etc.) Here’s a movie that knows just what it’s doing, playing its gruesome mayhem with a wink and a nod – and maybe even a giggle – inviting you to laugh along with it. And when it comes time to let the bodies hit the floor, director Manny Coto does so with aplomb, coming up with a variety of amusingly morbid ways to dispatch a rather sizable group of mostly unsympathetic characters.
Released in 1992, this movie was an eye-opener for young burgeoning movie fans like yours truly who were still figuring out the twists and turns of the horror genre. Here’s a movie that you would probably not claim is “good,” not by traditional standards. But is it bad? It’s completely self-aware, from the moment the title hits the screen. Coto knows his premise is unexceptional on its own, so he loads the film with moments of cheesy bad comedy and over-the-top kill sequences sure to leave you doing a bit of giggling of your own. The movie wears its own shameless ridiculousness as a badge of honor. I dare say, even people who don’t like horror movies may very well find themselves amused by Dr. Giggles, for it exists so happily in its own bizarre world, and it gives no shits about what you think of it. Is this outsider art? Is it transgressive cinema? Probably not, but holy hell does it achieve a certain level of admirable lunacy.
And it’s not just a tongue-in-cheek pun-fest. In its own strange way, Dr. Giggles is actually kind of a creepy movie. While Evan is more or less a goofy figure, Larry Drake plays him sincerely – and Larry Drake was a bit of a scary dude, rest his soul. His looming presence in the movie is unsettling – he seems to tower over every one of his victims – and does that face of his ever fill the screen. Those bulging eyes are pretty hard to shake off – no wonder they were featured so prominently on the movie’s poster. And his signature giggle indeed gets under your skin after a while, although to be fair, some might get tired of it sooner than others. Drake was a woefully underused actor in the 90s – he was best known for his Emmy-winning role as Benny in L.A. Law – but aside from Dr. Giggles and Darkman, we were largely deprived of seeming him often on the big screen. A shame because he had a great character actor’s face and probably could have brought us several more memorable performances if given the chance.
Drake’s bulky frame and intimidating mug stand in stark contrast to the object of his twisted desire. Holly Marie Combs‘ Jennifer is a successfully likable protagonist, fragile and appealing in that special girl-next-door way. The sincerity of Jennifer’s scenes, matched with the troubling nature of her heart condition, provide a welcome distraction from Drake’s demented murder sequences. Every slasher movie requires a Final Girl you truly care about, and there’s no doubt Combs brings an aura of fresh-faced virtuousness that makes her easy to root for. Rumor has it Jennifer Aniston auditioned for the role and didn’t get it – which might be just as well. Imagine having to sit through the puns of Doctor Giggles and the Leprechaun back-to-back.
Though Combs’ proves to be a charming protagonist, the same can’t be said for most of the folks in her home town, and it’s safe to say you won’t really miss any of Dr. Giggles’ victims after they’re gone. Jennifer has the reliable stable of unremarkable friends, including a chode of a boyfriend who you keep waiting to see get knocked off. Spoiler alert: sadly, he somehow survives the movie, very barely redeeming himself toward the end. The rest of the cast gets iced in spectacularly messy ways, and if the movie isn’t always a splatter-fest, it does plant some pretty ghastly images in your head. One dude gets castrated via scalpel – which is totally fine because he was wearing a backwards baseball cap to bed. Said dude’s girlfriend gets her temperature taken in a most uncomfortable fashion; a woman has her stomach pumped in a manner that might make you swear off ice cream forever, and a local health practitioner makes the acquaintance of the most comically oversized blood pressure cuff you’ve ever seen. I’m not really sure where Dr. Giggles finds some of these instruments, but if he made them himself he absolutely missed out on what could’ve been his true calling: making hilariously impractical murder gadgets for society’s wackiest slashers. Apparently, the film ran into a lot of problems with the MPAA, as the organization was really cracking down on gore in horror movies back in those days, which might explain why the movie doesn’t have more in-your-face bloodletting.
Dr. Giggles isn’t just a affable freak who randomly picked serial killer as a profession. Naturally, he has an origin story, and the almost scary fairy tale nature of just how Evan Rendell became so nuts is one of the movie’s high points. It didn’t hurt that his daddy was a maniacal doctor himself, a man who snapped when his wife became terminally ill and took to ripping people’s hearts out in order to find the right one for his beloved. A dude that sick just has to have his own nursery rhyme – and guess what, he does! (“The town has a doctor and his name is Rendell…” etc) When it became obvious the town would simply not stand for his heart-snatching antics, Dr. Rendell had to protect his son at any costs. And if that meant sewing the kid inside the corpse of his dead mother, then so be it. The younger Rendell seemed destined to be a nut-job anyway, so a move of this kind probably helped put him right over the top. The reveal of the maniacal little kid bursting out of his mother’s body is legitimately disturbing, so much so that you don’t mind that it’s just a tad far-fetched. It’s pure yuck.
The movie is respectably made from a technical standpoint – it’s not remembered for being an A-list production, but it’s certainly not a low-budget affair by any means, with crisp cinematography, appropriately gloomy production design and a compelling music score all aiding the overall picture.
Writer-director Manny Coto wasn’t a significant name in the movie business back in the 90s, but you certainly may have seen his name on television the last couple of decades. Coto has written for legit shows like Star Trek, 24, Dexter and American Horror Story. The latter is surely closest in spirit to Dr. Giggles, with its warped humor ad grisly death sequences, so it’s nice to know that while Coto has moved on to bigger and better things, he still gets a chance to flex the same unhinged muscles he did back in 1992.
Revisiting this movie recently was an absolute blast. It made me feel young again. Movies like this helped shape my love for the genre. Of course I revere the classics: The Exorcist, Night of the Living Dead, Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Those are brilliant films, it goes without saying, and they legitimize a genre that still has trouble being taken seriously by people who don’t know better. But the Dr. Giggles of the world are wholly part of why I love this stuff. It’s weird, it’s crude, it’s brazen in its efforts to gross you out and make you laugh. Why shouldn’t we admire a movie like this, one that sets its modest goals, achieves them, and leaves you giggling in the process?
Refreshingly, Dr. Giggles was a one and done. No sequel ever materialized, which is sensible when you consider how the bad doctor goes out at the end, and it stands on its own as a weirdly satisfying slasher with a very dark sense of humor. Going to the doctor is usually an unpleasant experience, but this is one appointment you shouldn’t bail on.
A couple previous episodes of the Best Horror Movie You Never Saw series can be seen below. To see more, and to check out some of our other shows, head over to the JoBlo Horror Originals YouTube channel – and subscribe while you’re there!
Originally published at https://www.joblo.com/dr-giggles-1992-revisited/