Genre: Horror, Thriller
Director: Manny Coto
Stars: Larry Drake, Holly Marie Combs, Cliff De Young
The psychopathic son of a mass-murdering doctor, escapes from his mental institution to seek revenge on the town where his father was caught. The giggling doctor kills his victims with a surgical theme. His goal being to give one of the townfolk a heart transplant.
When I was 12 and really got into horror films I watched everything I could. I burned through all the slasher franchises available on video at the time, as well as quickly going through the inventories of every video store within walking distance of my house. Slashers were my favorite genre at the time but nobody was making slasher movies anymore. The slasher boom of the 80s was long over and we were still five years away from Scream breathing new life into the slasher genre. But there was Dr. Giggles, the first rated-R movie I watched in theaters, that was bold enough to be a slasher film in a period when nobody made slasher films. Recently watched it for the first time in over 20 years because I honestly haven’t heard anyone talk about it in 20 years.
The Forgotten Slasher
Dr. Giggles earned around $8 million upon it’s theatrical release. I’m not sure what the budget for the film was but I’m fairly certain it was more than $8million. This movie basically bombed and for a horror film that had a late October release that’s something of an embarrassment. Perhaps it was opening the same time as Candyman and Reservoir Dogs played a hand in hampering the box office potential of Dr. Giggles but I’m going to say that it’s because the movie was a slasher. It hit theaters, me and apparently not many others watched it and then it was gone. It had some life on video but not enough to make an impression. Dr. Giggles is definitely not a cult film because nobody really remembers it. There’s not a lot of info for the movie on it’s imdb page and the wikipedia entry for Dr. Giggles offers no new insight. Probably didn’t help that the movie was critically panned when it came out so not many people wanted to bother with what they already knew would be an underwhelming slasher.
Being from 1992 is one of the things that certainly makes Dr. Giggles unique. When you think of forgotten slashers, either good or bad, the topic is usually films from the 1980s – the late 1980s at that when the slasher craze was dying down. The major franchises had even stopped for awhile. Friday the 13th effectively stopped with the eighth film in 1989, The Nightmare on Elm Street franchise killed off it’s main character and the Halloween franchise was dying a slow, agonizing death. The most recent slasher prior to Dr. Giggles that enjoyed any sort of success was Popcorn and that success was all on home video. Dr. Giggles, however is one of the most ideal slasher movies I’ve ever seen. That doesn’t mean that it’s a great movie, it has more than its fair share of flaws, but if someone wanted to know exactly what a slasher film was, Dr. Giggles fits that description perfectly. While some obscure slashers have been forgotten by time because they were “too quirky”, “too intellectual” or “too boring” or just plain “too shitty,” Dr. Giggles is mostly forgotten because it’s “too much of a slasher film.”
The Reviews Were Right
“Nobody ever turns on a light, looks behind a door or walks home in the company of someone else.
The screenplay is stitched together from variations on cliches used by or about the medical community.” – Vincent Canby New York Times
“Boasting a strong central performance in the title role by Larry Drake (who was a convincing villain in Sam Raimi’s “Darkman”), picture is aimed at the low end of the shock audience. More care in scripting and fewer cheap yocks could have resulted in a viable new paranoid horror myth well-timed to America’s ongoing crisis in health care….
For every clever scene there’s a groaner, particularly the staging of a Combs nightmare starring Drake that takes place before she’s ever seen him.” – Lawrence Cohn Variety
“Manny Coto turns to co-writer Graeme Whifler time and again for punch lines in a desperate attempt to revive a script that begins in critical condition and ends up DOA…
“Dr. Giggles” is a parade of so many horror cliches that you’ll feel a sense of deja boo.” – Richard Harrington The Washington Post
Dr. Giggles is indeed the most cliched slasher film you will ever find. You’ve got Larry Drake as the titular character who is an escaped mental patient. He returns to his hometown for revenge. In this hometown there is an innocent high school girl (Holly Marie Combs) with a heart condition. Her friends, who are all into “dangerous things” such as marijuana and sex, are all murdered one-by-one. With each murder Dr. Giggles has some “witty” medical pun or quip. There’s an abandoned house in the woods that all the neighborhood believes is haunted – and this is the place where Dr. Giggles calls home and the climactic moments of the film take place. While he is undeniably a human he’s still the slasher-film trope of a seemingly unkillable human as there are more “Oh he’s not really dead” moments to draw the film out longer. Dr. Giggles is so ridden with cliches that you’ve probably seen it but because it’s so much like every other slasher you don’t remember it.
Why I Remember Dr Giggles
There are a few reasons actually. First and foremost is a flashback about Dr. Giggles as a child. His father was about to be murdered by a lynch mob and needed to get the kid out of the house somehow. What does he do? He stitches the boy inside his mother’s freshly dead corpse. Later, in the morgue, he cuts himself out of the body with a scalpel. It’s a gruesome and shocking scene that imprinted upon my memory in a strong way. It terrified me when I was 12 years old and has stuck with me for a long time. When I discuss Dr. Giggles and tell people why they need to give this movie a chance – THIS scene is why. It sticks out because a lot of the film is pretty goofy – so goofy to the point that it almost feels like a comedy. Then comes along this truly shocking scene that breaks from the humor the movie had going.
There is another scene that sticks out which I always liked. Dr Giggles goes into a house, kills the fornicating teenagers and on his way out he sees the younger brother playing Dr. Mario on the Nintendo. The boy is so engrossed in this game he never notices the blood drenched killer standing behind him. And all the doctor has to say is “Incurable.” I think I remembered it so well because, hey it’s Nintendo and Dr. Mario is a fun game.
Finally there is the fun performance of Larry Drake. His most notable role was probably as Barry, the mentally retarded clerk on L.A. Law but between his role here as Dr. Giggles and his role as Durant in Darkman, Larry Clarke became one one of my favorite underrated actors. Really, the guy should have had more starring roles. He makes a great, fun villain in this movie. In closing, Dr. Giggles really is a movie worth tracking down. It’s no cult film but it’s a slasher film I’ve always enjoyed that created a lasting impression on me. It’s a movie I enjoy sharing with others and am constantly surprised by how few people remember or have even heard of this movie. Pick up this movie sometime, I highly recommend it.