Sure, Dr. Giggles is far from perfect but one must stop to consider that it came out at a time when the horror genre was at an all-time low. Studio horror pictures were at a staggering halt; the independent market hadn’t really begun to find its footing to the extend it has today; and 1992 was too close to the ’80s for the nostalgia factor to have kicked into full swing. Dr. Giggles came at a time when the horror genre was on life support and it should be commended for that alone.
However, there is more to appreciate about Dr. Giggles than the fact that it hit the scene at a transitional time. The film also has some merits of its own. There are several inventive kill scenes within the picture’s runtime. The sequence where Jennifer electrocutes the good Doctor and then impales him is pretty killer and some of the ways Dr. Rendell does away with his ‘patients’ are fairly inventive. The thermometer kill is pretty well done and the death by fire scene is also fun to watch. There’s a lot of blood and senseless carnage in the picture and it is done practically, which when compared to the CGI-heavy horror films of today, I have a high level of appreciation for. A lot of effort went into staging the films numerous kill scenes and most of them still look good today.
I won’t try to tell you that Dr. Giggles wouldn’t be better if the whole giggling gimmick had been abandoned in favor of a more serious concept. It’s obvious that the studio wanted to give the character a trademark – like Fred Krueger’s glove or Jason Voorhees’ hockey mask. But the incessant laughter ended up being one of the weakest points of the entire feature. Even so, I’m willing to overlook that in light of the fact that the late Larry Drake has some memorable one-liners that accompany his obnoxious laughter. He makes a series of bad jokes, both medically related and otherwise and some of them are almost funny. As he is dying, the Dr. asks if there is a doctor in the house, which is predictable, but Drake delivers it with such conviction that it’s actually funny. Also, the scene towards the beginning of the film where the Doctor Rendell is walking around with a pair of severed arms and suggests that the owner of the detached limbs should have kept his hands to himself is hard not to appreciate on some level.
One of the things about the film that does legitimately work is Holly Marie Combs as Jennifer. She undergoes the typical final girl transformation but she does so in a way that makes her relatable to the audience. Her heart condition makes the viewer sympathetic to her plight but she proves to be somewhat of a badass in spite of her weakness. Although Jennifer isn’t scripted in such a way as to shatter any cliches or leave a lasting impression, Combs brings her to life in a way that helps carry the viewer through some of the drier sequences in the film.
Another reason why I suggest that the film isn’t as bad as you remember is because it gets better with repeat viewing. I was not particularly impressed the first time I watched Dr. Giggles. But after giving it another chance, I was able to appreciate it quite a bit more. Taken strictly as popcorn entertainment and without the expectation of anything exceptional, it is entirely possible to enjoy this picture. I appreciate Dr. Giggles and its director Manny Coto (Tales from the Crypt 1991) for attempting to fill the void that was left in the horror genre in the early ’90s.
Dr. Giggles is a post Nightmare on Elm Street and pre Scream slasher film that doesn’t get everything right and does not redefine the genre but it makes an effort, features a likable final girl, and delivers some memorable kill scenes. If you have written Dr. Giggles off as unwatchable, consider giving it another chance and do so with an open mind. Also before getting to critical, consider the time in which the film was released and the fact that it attempted to do right by the slasher genre when it was ailing.