Growing up in the early 90s, I was very fortunate to have all three channels of HBO to help nurture my horror movie fixation. But while my mother turned a blind eye to the horror movies I digested via cable television, she absolutely would not rent them for me from Blockbuster. A bit of a double-standard, believe me, I know, but that’s how it was. So I was pretty much at the mercy of whatever the cable networks felt like showing, leaving me pining for the movies I coveted during our trip to Blockbuster every Tuesday. Among the numerous horror cover boxes I stared at longingly was Dr. Giggles, a movie I didn’t get around to watching until this afternoon.
Ever wait for something for twenty years? It kinda sucks.
Dr. Giggles (1992)
“Dr.” Evan Rendell, AKA Dr. Giggles (Larry Drake), is an escaped mental patient who desires nothing more than to perform surgery on anyone he can get his gloves on. Returning to the small town of his youth and the dilapidated old mansion he grew up in, Dr. Giggles sets up his new office; all he needs now are some patients. Enter Jennifer Campbell (Holly Marie Combs), a teenage girl with a heart condition who has a pathological fear of doctors. Boy, is she in the right movie. Dr. Giggles is immediately drawn to her, hoping to “save” her by performing the most difficult surgical procedure in the world: a heart transplant.
Like I said in the opening paragraph, I never got to see this as a kid, so I was left with no alternative but to imagine the plot. The story my diseased eight year-old brain concocted for Dr. Giggles managed to stick with me for so long, that until this afternoon, I had convinced myself for over a decade that it was the genuine plot of the movie. My version of Dr. Giggles went like this:
Dr. Giggles is a suave young doctor, perhaps played by Bill Pullman (since he appears as a masked, disembodied head on the box cover, I was left with no idea what he looked like). For some reason or another, he decides to become an antihero, not unlike the Punisher, and clean up the mean streets of New York City (why New York City, I haven’t a clue) using a variety of medical-themed devices of death. He would walk around in green and blue surgical garb (this impression no doubt fueled by his appearance on the cover box), killing junkies and punks in alleyways.
So, if you compare the synopsis of the actual movie with the synopsis of my version, you’ll see that I wasn’t even fucking close.
Anyhow, as far as the real Dr. Giggles is concerned, it’s a tongue-in-cheek horror comedy and isn’t particularly shy about the silliness. Larry Drake seems to be having a good time as the title villain, providing Dr. Giggles with his unique nervous laugh. Director/writer Manny Coto and co-writer Graeme Whifler manage to squeeze in just about every doctor and medical-related pun known to man in this movie, running them off in lightning succession. They’re entertaining in the same way that the Cryptkeeper’s endless puns are; once you get past the fact that they’re supposed to be stupid, you enjoy them a lot more. And I did get a genuine laugh out of his diagnosis of a game of Dr. Mario.
Like a lot of horror movies from this time period, Dr. Giggles offers a bevy of unbelievably gruesome and vile death sequences, conceptually, but cuts away at the moment of impact, leaving you fairly unsatisfied. Some of these deaths include a woman getting her stomach pumped to the point of disembowelment, endless bone-saw action, castration with a scalpel and a jagged thermometer rammed through the mouth. While these are all horrifically violent in spirit, Director Manny Coto chooses to pan or cut away from them at the most disappointing of moments, simply showing the blood spilling or collecting elsewhere.
As far as our cast goes, you’ve got the good and the bad. I’ve already praised Larry Drake for his performance as Dr. Giggles. If you don’t recognize him by name, you’ll likely recognize his face or his voice, as he’s a very prominent character-actor (I personally recognize him best as the voice of Pops from Johnny Bravo or as Durant from Darkman). Other talent included are Keith Diamond as the protagonist Officer Reitz. Diamond is best known, at least to me, as the voice of Agent Jay from Men in Black: the Series. Also on tap is none-other than Doug E. Doug as the token black guy. You know, Doug E. Doug? The guy from Cool Runnings and Cosby? The rest of the cast is one forgettable performance after another… Otherwise known as you’re standard horror movie line-up. By the way, the two-dimensional bitch character gets killed with a giant novelty band-aid. Classic.
So despite having a pretty good story and a handful of quality entertainers, Dr. Giggles falters from some uneven editing in regards to the violence (they won’t show a woman getting her organs sucked out but they’ll show a kid climbing out of the womb of his dead mother?). It’s some pretty run-of-the-mill fair, highlighted mostly by Larry Drake’s performance.