Twisted Terror: Dr. Giggles Review
Dr. Giggles sets out to be a parody of bad slasher movie clichés. Unfortunately, there’s a very thin line between being intentionally bad and just plain bad and Manny Coto’s film doesn’t walk it with the requisite skill. It’s a film which offers a certain amount of diversion, particularly for genre aficionados, but it’s nothing which we haven’t seen a hundred times before and good parody needs more than sick one-liners and a succession of familiar scenes if it’s going to be effective. It needs genuine affection, style and wit; qualities which are severely lacking in Dr. Giggles.
Some years ago, the citizens of Moorhigh punished mass-murdering doctor Evan Rendell by treating him to a good old fashioned lynching. Dr. Rendell’s son, Evan Jr. escaped the wrath of the townspeople by dint of being sewn inside his mother’s corpse. Unsurprisingly, the result was a slight mental difficulty but after 33 years in an institution, Evan (Drake) returns to avenge his father’s death with his own peculiar brand of medical mayhem.
On the invaluable IMDB, someone comments that “this is film is so cool… there is no scares in it…” which seems to me to be one of the fundamental problems with Dr Giggles. It tries very hard to be knowing and post-modern in its approach to the genre but it’s so removed from itself that it never has the guts to get down and dirty. The murder scenes are reasonably gory and occasionally inventive – death by ice cream is a new one on me – but they are flung together with little thought for the overall effect and the lead-up to each one is singularly lacking in tension. Quite often, the Doctor simply appears without much rhyme or reason, does his stuff and then pisses off without offering so much as a single shiver. Four years later, Wes Craven’s Scream demonstrated that it’s possible to comment on a genre while still producing the goods in terms of what audiences want from it. Manny Coto isn’t in the Craven class and Dr. Giggles is rarely more than stupid.
Still, stupid doesn’t necessarily mean unwatchable and there are moments when Dr. Giggles is genuinely enjoyable – mostly when Larry Drake is on screen as the eponymous (anti) hero. He’s so much more amusing than the other characters that one is genuinely disappointed to see him receive his come-uppance. He uses his massive physical presence to memorable effect, often promising frissons that are wasted by the lack of talent on the part of the director, and his delivery of idiotic one-liners makes the most of whatever comic potential lies in dialogue such as “If you think that’s bad, wait until you get my bill” or, my favourite (and totally meaningless out of context), “It’s time to do what doctors do best!” Drake even manages to bring a certain gravity to Rendell’s situation; his damaged childhood serving as a training ground for his current activities. He’s certainly more than a match for the likes of Holly Marie Combs as a young heart patient and Cliff De Young as her randy old goat of a father. The victims are a mix and match selection of youngsters, all of whom richly deserve what they get.
Manny Coto clearly knows his popular horror movies. One can see references here and there to A Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween, Friday the 13th and even less familiar movies such as Black Christmas and The Toolbox Murders. He also honours many familiar elements of the slasher movie – the final girl, the seemingly indestructible villain, the inventive murders, the teenagers gathering in the old dark house. But he doesn’t seem to understand the principles of building suspense and that’s why the film doesn’t work except on the lowest level of obvious laughs. One should, however, be generous for a moment and find a kind word for Robert Draper’s moody cinematography and an atmospheric music score from Brian May.
Dr. Giggles was originally released on DVD by Goodtimes back in 1998. You may remember Goodtimes and their appalling fullscreen or non-anamorphic transfers of a range of interesting movies. Many of their releases have since been superceded and this is the latest, although the ending is not so happy as might have been anticipated.
The film, originally screened in 2.35:1, has received an anamorphic 1.85:1 transfer on this DVD, although the back of the packaging states otherwise. Given that the movie was made in Super 35, this is hardly a complete disaster - we're not missing out on any picture - but it would still have been far preferable to see it in the correct OAR. Given this, it's actually a rather nice transfer taken from a good print. There's no evident damage and the level of grain is pleasing. No artifacting problems of note and very natural colour. If you feel particularly strongly about the ratio issue then feel free to sign this petition which some dedicated soul has devised. One admires such passion but I suspect that Warners are not shaking in their corporate boots at a cri-de-coeur with two signatures attached.
Thankfully, the Dolby Surround track is everything it should be. The dialogue is crisp and clear and the music track has the requisite atmosphere.
There are no extras. Indeed, so poverty-stricken are Warner Brothers these days that they can't even stretch to a scene-selection menu.