A good performance isn’t enough to carry a movie all on its own … unless that movie is Dr. Giggles, the 1992 slasher movie directed by Manny Coto.
Larry Drake stars as Evan Rendell, Jr., a.k.a. Dr. Giggles; the rest of the movie is sort of there. There’s a morose Final Girl with a heart condition, an unreliable boyfriend, and a much-disliked stepmother. There’s a killer’s abandoned childhood home, which has become a neighborhood haunted house and the site of numerous dares. There’s a big high school party. It’s (almost) all fairly paint-by-numbers.
But the movie shakes off its lassitude when it comes to its titular character. Larry Drake’s performance as the adult Dr. Giggles is the icing on the cake, but the writing is also better–or at least wilder and more committed–when it comes to his character’s backstory. Let me just employ a compelling spoiler here and tell you that when Evan’s obsessively devoted father–a serial killer in his own right, stockpiling a vat of hearts to try to save his dying wife, as one does–needs to get his son out of a surrounded house, he sews the boy into his mother’s dead body. Don’t worry, he leave little Evan a scalpel so he can cut his way out again. Does this make sense? Absolutely not. Wouldn’t you see a child-sized, child-shaped bulge in this woman’s corpse? Indeed you would. Do I care? No, I do not. This is the kind of gleeful, demented excess this movie needs.
Evan grows up into a slightly pudgy middle-aged slasher villain with a great voice, a lengthy checklist of doctor jokes, and–crucially–a manic, involuntary giggle. Larry Drake’s performance makes him an irresistibly fun combination of mild-mannered family doctor, unnerving eccentric, and diabolically creative killer (see: the stomach pump kill). But the giggle is his masterpiece, because even though Drake has to spend almost the entire movie in a titter, he always sells it as an involuntary ripple of nerves and excitement and baffling enjoyment. It’s bad enough to have someone kill you, but it’s even worse if they’re helplessly amused by it–and it’s even more disconcerting when they’re also helplessly amused by their own pain. That’s about the only line you can draw between this and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, but it’s a good one.
Anyway, this is actually worth seeing if you want some light, schlocky Halloween fare. Just know that every time Dr. Giggles–as a child or an adult–isn’t on screen, I’m asking, “Where’s Dr. Giggles?”
Dr. Giggles is streaming on Tubi and Amazon.