Sick humor abounds in “Dr. Giggles,” a wildly uneven horror film that’s gory enough to give Universal the desired two weeks of Halloween business.
Boasting a strong central performance in the title role by Larry Drake (who was a convincing villain in Sam Raimi’s “Darkman”), picture is aimed at the low end of the shock audience. More care in scripting and fewer cheap yocks could have resulted in a viable new paranoid horror myth well-timed to America’s ongoing crisis in health care.
Premise has Drake escaping from a mental institution in a busy opening scene that dovetails neatly with a clever inside-the-bloodstream credits sequence. He heads to his hometown seeking revenge, since a lynch mob in 1957 killed his doctor father.
Daddy’s crime was killing seven people and cutting their hearts out in order to attempt the world’s first heart transplant on his wife, who had a bum ticker.
His son, who idolized him, emerges from stir at age 42 in the guise of a doctor with killing on his mind. First half of the film degenerates into corny teen-slasher fare, with Drake quickly running up an huge body count.
At the halfway point he discovers potential victim Holly MarieCombs has a bad heart valve and he becomes obsessed with carrying on Dad’s pioneering work, using her as the guinea pig.
With Drake spitting out a nonstop barrage of unfunny medical one-liners, “Dr. Giggles” operates mainly on the level of killing people grotesquely with medical instruments. Director Manny Coto comes up with some impressive set-piecesalong the way, notably one of several homages to Orson Welles in a corridor of mirrors that’s well-suited to film’s wide-screen format.
Unfortunately, these set-pieces, including a weird flashback of the full-grown boy cutting his way out of his dead mother’s abdomen where he’s been hiding, throw off the film’s pacing and create a lengthy anticlimax out of the final reels. For every clever scene there’s a groaner, particularly the staging of a Combs nightmare starring Drake that takes place before she’s ever seen him.
Combs makes for a resourceful and vulnerable heroine, though how she indulges in so much strenuous action after her doctor warns her about her bad valve is curious. Supporting cast is wasted, notably Michelle Johnson as the girlfriend of Combs’ dad.
Makeup effects by the KNB EFX Group are highly professional.