Sunday, October 12, 2014

B-Movie Review: “Dr. Giggles” (1992)

In the early 1990s, Universal Pictures thought they had created the next Freddy Krueger. Their film may not have led to a pop cultural icon, but there’s no denying “Dr. Giggles” is a fun, fairly underrated fright flick from Grunge Era. 

With the runaway success of “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” it’s not surprising that so many movie studios actively sought out their own “horror” mascots, with the desire to replicate the Freddy K phenomenon. Some attempts were rather successful, such as with Chucky and Pinhead. Most attempts, however, were really, really forgettable -- ya’ll remember the wooden Indian from “The Fear” and “The Dentist,” don’t you?

Probably the most obvious mass market attempt at creating the next Freddy, “Dr. Giggles” is also one of the more entertaining. At heart, its has a pretty brilliant concept: what kid isn’t afraid of going to the doctor and getting shots, no? Even better, the guy playing the titular villain -- none other than Larry Drake, aka Benny the Retard from “Law and Order” -- is pretty much the definitive ham actor necessary for such an over-the-top performance. The end result wasn’t a great picture by any stretch of the imagination, but as seasonal guilty pleasure fodder, they rarely get as regrettably enjoyable as this one.

The opening credits for the film look like something left over form “Darkman,” as CGI blood cells pump their way through a poorly animated heart. This segues to an open heart surgery demonstration, in which the “doctor” gleefully carves up a patient … who is wearing a full suit and tie get-up. Of course, it’s no legit medical lab, it’s actually taking place inside a lunatic asylum, and the surgeon is actually a bona-fide schizo. After accosting a woman with a pair of severed arms, Dr. Giggles (named so because he does this light chuckle after every murder) slits the throat of a guard, yanks his ID, frees the patients and hits the open road for some fresh blood.

It’s the last day of school at Moorehigh High School, we’re were introduced to main character Jen (played by Holly Marie Combs of “Charmed” fame) and her poor man’s Johnny Depp boyfriend, Max. A suspiciously multicultural cast talks about hitting up “Breeders Hill” for a keg party over the weekend, while a doctor tells Jen she has a heart condition, which means she has to carry a monitor on her at all times.

We meet Jen’s dad and step-mom, and the rest of the 30-year-old cast trying to pass for high school juniors. In a black and white flashback, we see a little Dr. Giggles stitch up a teddy bear.

Conveniently, the kids give some background on Dr. Rendall, this doctor way back in the day who lived in a spooky house and allegedly killed a whole shit load of people. Because its what any normal human being would do, the kids decide to visit said spooky house, just because, with the African-American couple (of course!) getting separated from the pack. Sure enough, Dr. Rendall, Jr. shows up, in full physician garb, to jab a huge syringe through Doug E. Doug’s abdomen.

Overlooking the set of what I suspect to have been the same carnival from “Child’s Play 3,” the local po-po show up at makeout mountain to scare all of those no-good whipper-snappers off for the evening. Dr. Giggles decides to show up at the house of the woman next door and switch her medication. He then offs her by jamming a gargantuan tube through her nostrils. His quip? “It’s a good thing I make house calls.”

Meanwhile, back at the police station, the old white cop gives the young, black-talking young black cop some more exposition on the Rendall case from 40 years earlier.

Jen tells her boyfriend about how her mom died during surgery, which in no way, shape or form is any kind of foreshadowing, whatsoever. Pissed because her dad and her step-mom are upstairs doing the nasty, she chunks her heart monitor thingy into a fish bowl.

Doing his best Michael Myers impersonation, Dr. Giggles decides to go stalk some babysitters. He sneaks his way past a kid playing “Dr. Mario,” and decides to off a couple debating whether or not they should have unprotected sex. The female gets killed by a rectal thermometer (seriously), while the dude gets scalpeled pre-coitus.

So Jen runs off, leading to an argument between her daddy and step-mom. While daddy tries to find his daughter, the step mom decides to hit the Haagen-Daas instead. Enter Dr. Giggles, who decides to kill her with a stomach pump contraption.

Max cheats on Jen with some random skank who pretends to give his saxophone a BJ. Jen hides out in the house of mirrors, where Giggles offs one of her school mates via a HUMONGOUS Band-Aid. Back at the station, the old white cop pours himself a stiff drink and gives us the full story on what happened at the Rendall place back in 1957. Apparently, Rendall, Jr. snuck his way out of the homicide scene by stitching himself inside the corpse of his own mama!

Jen’s dad gets attacked by Giggles with a bonesaw, but the young black cop shows up and pops a cap in his ass. Giggles performs surgery on himself, and continues battle, this time using scissors and, of all things, one of those hammers used to test reflexes.

Dr. Giggles makes a dude’s head explode with a blood pressure machine (which, as we all know, is one of my greatest sustained childhood fears) and drugs Jen. He straps her to an operating table, with a bucket of hearts conveniently stationed adjacent to it. Following some electro-paddle fu, Dr. Giggles grabs a golf club (“it’s what doctors do best,” he quips) and engages in mortal combat with Max.

Cue our pre-finale, complete with a fiery doctor’s office, a meat hook attack and of course, plenty of activities that’ll certainly void the warranty on a number of medical apparatuses.

So, Jen is in the hospital, where a not-quite-dead Dr. Giggles emerges to slay a couple of orderlies and finish the job. After killing a surgeon with a homemade contraption consisting of every pointy sharp thing you could ever imagine, Jen shocks Giggles with a defibrillator and some spilt Aquafina, which allows her to pick up the patented Dr. Giggles Ultra-Stabber-9000 and finish him off, complete with her own pun de grace -- “Take two and call me in the morning!”

Not to be outdone, Giggles breaks the fourth wall with his own concluding quip, asking the audience “is there a doctor in the house?” before fatally collapsing.

The film concludes rather anticlimactically, with Jen visited in the hospital by her dad and philandering BF. And while the film doesn’t necessarily leave the door open for a sequel, it does do something kinda’ hilarious, as the movie’s end theme is the most generic rendition of “Bad Case of Loving You” ever committed to celluloid.

The film was directed by a guy named Manny Coto, who is probably best known for the 1997 box-office failure "Star Kid." As do most underperforming auteurs, he then found himself directing made-for-cable features. Per the Wikipedia, his last directorial credit was a Disney Channel production in 2001. Coto co-wrote the script alongside a dude named Graema Whifler, who is probably best known for directing a Red Hot Chili Peppers video or two.

The producer was Stuart Besser, who also produced a handful of Wes Craven flicks. The music was done by Brian May (but, uh, not that Brian May), who as fate would have it, also did the score for "Freddy's Dead."

Despite virtually zero horror competition at the box office, the movie performed poorly when it was released in late Oct. 1992. Grossing just $8 million, paltry receipts insured that Dr. Giggles wouldn't be making any return appearances at America's cineplexes.

As before, you’d really be stretching it to call “Dr. Giggles” a good movie, but it’s certainly a perfectly fine genre flick, especially for a mainstream horror movie from the timeframe. It’s goofy, it’s over-the-top and it tries way-too-hard, but then again, isn’t that what horror movies are supposed to do, anyway?

It's silly, it's gory, it's got a ton of groan-inducing jokes and some really, really inventive kills. Like a bowl of Butterfingers pumpkins from two Halloweens ago, it may not be the healthiest offering, but for a late night October viewing? Yeah, you could do worlds worse than this fairly underappreciated early '90s appointment.

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