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Dr. Giggles

DR. GIGGLES is not the best kind of horror movie, but it’s a kind I like: the kind that knowingly, shamelessly embraces absurdity and formula. It says okay, I am a slasher movie, my theme is “a killer doctor,” step aside and I will do my thing. So you kinda know what it’s gonna be, and you get a laugh from some of the specific choices or smile with satisfaction when that thing you were assuming had to happen does happen.

We first see the good doctor (Larry Drake in his feature film followup to DARKMAN) demonstrating an experimental surgery to his colleagues in the observation deck. But then we realize that he’s not supposed to be doing this – he’s escaped his cell in a mental institution, he’s cutting up one of the doctors, and the “colleagues” are other patients. Security there nicknamed him Dr. Giggles because he’s a John Doe and he does indeed giggle alot. Drake is so good at the creepy giggling I wonder if he brought it to the character and they rebuilt the movie around it.

The protagonist/Final Girl is 19-year-old Jennifer Campbell (Holly Marie Combs six years before Charmed), recently diagnosed with a heart condition that may require routine surgery. That’s terrifying to her, though, because her mom recently died during a routine surgery. She’s embarrassed to be wearing a heart monitor and for some reason doesn’t even tell her boyfriend Max (Glenn Quinn during Roseanne, before Angel) that the reason she won’t drink when they go out is because her doctor told her she couldn’t, not because she’s a lame wet blanket who hates partying and fun.

Meanwhile another more rowdy group of neighborhood youths participates in that old small town pastime of breaking into the abandoned mansion that everyone knows belonged to a doctor who went crazy and removed a bunch of his patients’ hearts. That’s Dr. Evan Rendell Sr., and we happen to know that his escaped son Evan Jr. a.k.a. Dr. Giggles is hiding somewhere in here.

Another good tagline they used was “The doctor is out… of his mind!”

Though Dr. Giggles is an escaped mental patient who returns to his childhood home like Michael Myers, he seems equally inspired by Freddy. He makes bad puns and there’s a scary nursery rhyme about him that everybody knows. They also have the thing where the cop who’s newer to town (Keith Diamond, BABY BOY) doesn’t know the whole history and figures out something is being hidden from him, which was not in any Freddy movies at the time this came out, but has since been in FREDDY VS. JASON.

The backstory of Evan Sr. and Jr. is pieced out across the movie. Early on there’s a goofy scene where Dr. Giggles looks at a photo of his father and remembers his childhood, when dad would come home from the hospital or clinic or whatever and he’d be in his room with his homemade doctor gear cutting open his teddy bear to remove some stuffing. He tells his dad he wants to be a doctor when he grows up (yeah, I think he figured that out) and then it pans across to show that he has a whole wall of teddy bears with thick black stitches across their bellies.

We later learn that Dr. Rendell’s whole trip was trying to do the world’s first heart transplant to save his dying wife. Dr. Giggles finds out that Jennifer has the same heart condition that his mother had, and decides to do surgery on her. But he’d probly have even less success than his dad, since he never actually studied medicine, he’s still basically playing doctor.

But he knows all the cliches. He likes to saythings like “Visiting hours are over!” or “Was it my bedside manner?” before he stabs you with a scalpel or slashes you with a bonesaw or stuffs a thing too far up your nostril or pumps your guts out with a machine or whatever. I spent the whole last act wondering if the fact that they hadn’t used “Take two of these and call me in the morning” yet meant they were saving it for a sequel, or actually had too much pride to use something so obvious, or what.(The answer is pretty satisfying.)

He also does more absurd things like leave a voicemail that says “I’m your new doctor, and I’m standing right behind you” and then is sure to be standing right behind you when you play the message. He has lots of bizarre surgical tools (some of his own design) but I’d argue his best move is wrapping a blood pressure armband around a guy’s neck and pumping it to suffocate him. That’s more effective than his second best move: grabbing a human heart out of his buck of human hearts, throwing it at a guy and saying “Have a heart!”

Another colorful part is this cool shot from inside a mouth:

The doctor theming also extends to non-murder scenes. A neighbor is seen watching Ben Casey. A kid is seen playing Dr. Mario. There’s an awkward moment when Jennifer is looking pensively out the window eating an apple just so dad (Cliff DeYoung, THE SUBSTITUTE) can question why she’s snacking right before dinner and she can say, “You know what they say, ‘An apple a day keeps the doctor away.’” (This is before anyone knows there’s a killer doctor on the loose. I wish it was an actual thing where apples ward him away like garlic to vampires.)

I think maybe the best joke is when he removes a bullet from himself like Rambo and so many before him, except he does it laying down with all the surgical blankets laid out and says “Forceps,” and what not to himself as if he’s working with an assistant. (Of course he does drop the slug into the traditional metal canister.)

But the best scare, or at least gross out (because this is legitimately disgusting) is the flashback to the cop watching over the bodies of the senior doctor’s victims and seeing seven year old Dr. Giggles tear out of the stomach of his dead mom, where his dad had sewn him in. Jesus christ, DR. GIGGLES!

Drake was still doing his Emmy-winning and Golden Globe nominated role on L.A. Law, as the lovable, developmentally-disabled Benny. Playing against type had recently hit paydirt for DARKMAN (where he played the sadistic crime boss Robert E. Durant) and the pilot for Tales From the Crypt (where he was an escaped mental patient turned ax-murdering Santa). But this was the one attempt to turn him into a marquee name, and a horror icon. And it kind of worked! It seems to have been a flop, at least in theaters, and never got the long line of increasingly ridiculously sequels it deserves, but I think anybody of a certain age familiar with horror movies thinks of him as Dr. Giggles. I certainly did and I never saw the movie until now.

It has one of the last few scores by the great Australian composer Brian May (MAD MAX, ROAD GAMES, TURKEY SHOOT, STEEL DAWN, HURRICANE SMITH). It’s not his only horror movie though – he also did FREDDY’S DEAD: THE FINAL NIGHTMARE.

There are other ways it has an unusual pedigree for a horror movie. It’s produced by Dark Horse Entertainment, the Portland based comic book publisher turned movie production company behind THE MASK, TIMECOP, BARB WIRE, MYSTERY MEN, HELLBOY, R.I.P.D. and POLAR. I almost watched it when I did a piece on ‘90s comic book movies for Polygon, but I determined that (like VIRUS) they made it a comic book after the movie was already in the works. It’s written and directed by Manny Coto (COVER-UP, STAR KID) with co-writer Graeme Whifler (who must be an interesting dude because he wrote SONNY BOY and directed videos for The Residents, Snakefinger, Renaldo and the Loaf, Oingo Boingo and Red Hot Chili Peppers).

This entry was posted on Monday, November 18th, 2019 at 12:49 pm and is filed under Horror, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

14 Responses to “Dr. Giggles”

  1. Looking forward to reading this review. I’m fairly certain I saw this one theatrically but can’t honestly remember. I do remember that this was a great concept, and Larry Drake had the perfect look for the role — unhinged and creepy as hell.

  2. Great read, Vern. Your medical pun game is strong. Really had me in stitches and was exactly the shot in the arm I needed.

  3. I always love to drop the random piece of trivia that the guy who made the two good seasons of STAR TREK: ENTERPRISE before he moved on to being the showrunner of 24 also was the guy who made DR. GIGGLES.

  4. Oh wow, so this was the movie that had, like, legendary status among my group of friends when I was 10. My friend Micah had seen it and described it to the rest of us and he made it sound like the scariest thing ever. I think it was the first time I’d encountered the idea of a doctor but who wants to kill you, and it freaked me out to the point where I’d just go stare at the VHS in Hollywood Video and worry about it. Never did get up the nerve to actually see it, even all these years later, but it doesn’t sound like it was worth that much stress actually.

  5. This review is just what the doctor ordered!

  6. This is not a great horror movie but I appreciate how much Drake commits to the part. I particularly like how he’s still giggling and doing his shtick while he’s sewing himself up, but he’s also playing the pain somewhat realistically. It gives Dr. Giggles a few more layers than you might figure.

    Another part I always remember is the part where Doug E Doug goes into the bathroom to put the condom on before sex. Was that a thing back in the day? Then he loses it down the toilet or something and decides to go without, saying, “Maybe she won’t notice.” Man, the state of foreplay must have been dire in the early 90s if dudes were expected to emerge from the bathroom fully sheathed and skip right to the insertion.

  7. Yeah, Mr M, that’s the kind of thing you expect from couples that have been married for a few years.

  8. If you guys haven’t read Mr. M’s review of this one from a decade ago, you’re missing out. I consider it definitive.

    Dr. Giggles

    Dr. Giggles came out in 1992, sort of a no man's land for horror movies. The slasher cycle of the eighties had gone down in the flames of c...

  9. I’m excited for this series.

    And the idea of an apple keeping away an evil doctor like garlic to vampires is awesome, I agree, I wish there would be a movie where this happens. Maybe the doctor even gets defeated by being dropped off in the middle of a giant apple orchard. Every direction he turns he sees more apples. He eventually falls to the ground writhing and foaming at the mouth. The end?

  10. Haven’t seen this since it came out but I remember being amused by the way the cop broke up the teen party.

  11. grimgrinningchris

    November 21st, 2019 at 3:30 pm

    Had to go and sully a great review/write up with Anthony Keidis’s goofy, loathesome mug leering at me at the end of it…

  12. I loved DARKMAN about as much as Vern loved it’s sequels back when this one came out. So I was dying to see this but did not get a chance to in theaters. I just remember my first thought watching it was that Drake played a great psycho “doctor” and that if they had made a Spider-Man movie he would’ve been the perfect Dr. Octopus. I wonder if in the end Raimi even considered him for that role.

  13. I never saw this one and never will, but I was listening to Doug Loves Movies in the car today and they were playing Who’s Tagline is it Anyway, and the tagline was “Open wide this Halloween.” So, having seen this review pop up recently, I was obviously yelling “DR. GIGGLES!!” at the radio…and I was shocked when one of the guests actually came up with DR. GIGGLES!

    Turned out it was actually the tagline for SAW 3. :shrug:

  14. Don’t give up so easily. You still could see DR. GIGGLES one day. You just have to believe.

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