“Our town has a doctor, and his name is Rendell.
Stay away from his house, he’s a doctor from hell.
Chopped up his patients, every last one.
And cut out their hearts, purely for fun.
So if you’re from Moorehigh, and you should should get sick,
Then fall on your knees, and pray you die quick.”

- Dr. Giggles

The nursery rhyme in Manny Coto’s 1992 slasher Dr. Giggles never caught on with horror fans like the “One, Two, Freddy’s Coming for You” song in the Nightmare on Elm Street films or “The Ballad of Harry Warden” in My Bloody Valentine. The film had better luck, but it still seems underrated, which is too bad, because Dr. Giggles is quite a bit of bloody fun that’s just waiting to be reappraised and celebrated.

Dr. Giggles—which celebrates its 30th anniversary this year—is one of the best comedically tinged horror slashers of the 1990s. It features a greater visual eye than material like this typically got and a fiendishly enjoyable performance by Larry Drake, who might also be known by horror fans as Durant in Sam Raimi’s Darkman or for being “Santa” on the “And All Through the House” episode of Tales from the Crypt.

In the film, Drake plays Evan Rendell, a dangerous mental patient known in his institution as “Dr. Giggles” because of his obsession with being a doctor and his childlike, menacing giggle. After he escapes his institution and leaves a bloodbath in his wake, Rendell returns to his hometown of Moorehigh, where his murderous physician father was killed by a mob in the 1950s.

Rendell sets up operations in his father’s old office and begins exacting his revenge on the town with an array of outlandish yet deadly weapons, including a spiked thermometer and a particularly nasty stomach pump. But Rendell also sees the opportunity to heal with troubled teen Jen (Charmed’s Holly Marie Combs), who has a heart condition. Rendell believes he can perform a heart transplant on Jen, which will allow him to succeed where his father failed with his mother.

A movie like Dr. Giggles lives or dies on the skill of its execution, and fortunately, its makers were up to the task. Coto—who co-wrote the script—directs this film with so much more style than what you would expect a movie like this to have. Sure, many scenes consist of Drake going around killing people and making puns, but he does it with far more creativity than movies like this typically get.

Dr. Giggles literally opens in the bloodstream of one of his victims, rendered with charmingly unrealistic CGI, and has another wonderfully executed sequence where its villain chases Jen through a hall of mirrors. Coto and director of photography Robert Draper film it like a horrific homage to the funhouse scene in Orson Welles’ noir The Lady from Shanghai.

It also is amazing what Dr. Giggles gets away with, considering what happened during post-production. According to Coto in an interview on the Killer POV podcast, he had to cut much of the gore before the MPAA would grant him an R rating. Still, a lot of blood remains, as well as some crazy stuff that surprisingly made it through, including Drake operating on himself to remove a bullet and the younger Giggles cutting himself out from inside his mother’s body in a flashback.

Dr. Giggles also does a good job of walking a comedic line so it never veers into outright spoofery or becomes a live-action cartoon. Fortunately, it has the solid character actor Drake to sling one-liners right and left. In one scene, he says, “Have a heart,” before literally throwing one at a cop, and in another he quips, “If you think that’s bad, wait till you get my bill,” after badly injuring someone with a body saw.

In the hands of a lesser actor, Dr. Giggles would come off as embarrassing or unbearably corny. But Drake plays the role with the right amount of restraint. Each of his lines come off as hilariously funny and make you giddily await his next pun. He even manages to sell the moment where—on the verge of death—he breaks the fourth wall to ask the audience, “Is there a doctor in the house?”

Dr. Giggles undeservedly hasn’t gotten the special edition Blu-ray treatment it deserves domestically, but thankfully it’s very easy to watch via streaming. It’s a witty, bloody time capsule from the early 1990s that I highly recommend. You might even find it’s just what the doctor ordered.

Trailer via JoBlo Horror Movies:

  • Alan Dorich
    About the Author - Alan Dorich

    Alan Dorich (@whatalanwatches) is a lifelong movie fan who has probably seen Halloween: Resurrection (and a host of other films) one too many times. His views on movies also can be found at Letterboxd.