Dr. Giggles (1992)
Yes, it's another slasher film, it has a teen cast, there's an emphasis on campy humor, and it's not an unprecedented plot. But who cares? Dr. Giggles is the perfect example why a good film isn't dependent on novel elements. A quality script, executed by a quality cast and crew does the trick. I loved this film while watching it and had absolutely no complaints. I can't say it's a must see for someone who only a few films a month -- it's excellent, but not more important to see than, say, The Evil Dead.
It's not that Dr. Giggles, a story about a psychotic small-town physician and his offspring, isn't completely unoriginal, but it has obvious influences, such as the Nightmare on Elm Street films. But as a nod to its quality, Dr. Giggles has created its own wake, strongly influencing films like The Surgeon and The Dentist (which are also excellent films for being birthed in derivativeness).
Unlike many slashers, Dr. Giggles is a strong, well-written character. He's not just a faceless menace, blindly killing teens. In attitude, he most closely resembles Freddy Krueger in a wisecracking mood, only Dr. Giggles is more twisted in his way, since he seems to actually think he's helping "patients." Larry (Darkman) Drake is perfectly cast as the doctor. He brings depth to the role and his impeccable, creepy, nervous laughter (the source of his nickname).
Director and co-writer Manny Coto (also responsible for another movie that I love and many hate, Playroom) manages to take a lot of elements that seem gratuitous in other films and gives them a reason to exist here. The teen cast, the sex, the stalking, the deaths . . . all of it makes sense within the context of the script, even aspects that might have easily been absurd such as Dr. Giggles' means of "escape" as a child.
This is a very well written film that needs no excuses for any plot developments or character actions -- Dr. Giggles could easily take place in the actual world. Not that I think films require that (A Nightmare on Elm Street, Hellraiser, etc. are among my favorites), but believability is a common criticism that others make against too many horror films, and any such criticism is unjustified here.
From the clever credits that lead exquisitely to a brilliant opening scene, to the ending, which, as much as I would have liked a sequel, doesn't contain a miraculous pop-up villain, Coto consistently keeps things tight, logical, intriguing, twisting, and incredibly suspenseful. At least twice during the film's climax, both my wife and I realized that we were holding our breath until a scene finished playing out--that's not something we do that often while watching slasher films, as much as we otherwise enjoy them.
I suppose that some folks might criticize the presence of sarcastic humor in Dr. Giggles, as there's frequently a feeling that 80's and 90's horror films overdo that aspect. But most of the humor in Dr. Giggles doesn't give you the impression of a villain trying to deliver one-liners with a hope that their next gig might be at Dangerfield's. Like everything else, Coto works the humor into the logic of the script--Dr. Giggles is serious when he's saying something funny and giggling; it's just that he's insane. That's what makes it funny. There are also a number of more subtle digs at physicians, such as one scene where the doctor goes to the instruments he's second best at--golf clubs.
Besides Drake, the rest of the cast is excellent as well, especially Holly Marie Combs (best known from the television show "Charmed") as the main teenager and Keith Diamond and Richard Bradford as police officers who end up investigating the doctor against their better judgment, perhaps. There's also an enjoyable appearance by genre trooper Cliff De Young as Holly's father.
All the technical elements of Dr. Giggles are superb (although my one complaint, which isn't the film's fault, is that DVD isn't widescreen) and the production design, especially the Rendell home, stands out in particular. Although Dr. Giggles isn't as gory as some fans might like, the context of the violence makes it more brutal than many films, and Dr. Giggles still has its share of blood and graphic make-up effects.
I can't imagine why horror fans wouldn't love this film, but it's not the first time that I've been amazed at how underrated a film that I love is with the general public . . . or how overrated something like The Exorcist is, for that matter. For my money, Dr. Giggles is a must see.