When Dr. Giggles slashed its way into theaters on October 23, 1992, everything seemed to be in place for the creation of a new horror icon. The movie is like a series of check-boxes from many of the successful slashers that came before it. However, it’s been twenty-six years and there hasn’t been any word of a sequel. So what went wrong? Was a franchise ever the intention?
The movie’s titular character is Evan Rendell, who escapes from a mental hospital and begins a gory killing spree throughout the small town of Moorehigh. Thirty-five years earlier, the town residents lynched Evan‘s father, who was a doctor. His crime? Killing patients while looking for a replacement heart for his dying wife. Now, Evan is out for revenge. During the bloody rampage, Evan meets the film’s protagonist, Jennifer, who just so happens to have a heart condition similar to that of his mother.
From the get-go, the film packs on the franchise-ready elements. A pair of catchy taglines appeared on official film posters and promo buttons announcing that “The doctor is out… of his mind” and “The doctor is in SANE!”. A two-part comic book series was even released to coincide with the October launch. The film also features a young cast of potential victims for antagonist whose backstory was constructed as a local urban legend. There’s even a spooky rhyme that kids use to taunt one another:
“This town has a doctor, and his name is Rendell. Stay away from his house cause he’s the doctor from Hell. He killed all his patients, every last one, and cut out their hearts… purely for fun. So if you’re from Moorehigh and you get sick, fall on your knees and pray you die quick.”
The first film to be released by Dark Horse Entertainment, Dr. Giggles stars Larry Drake (Dark Man, Dark Night of the Scarecrow), Holly Marie Combs (TV’s Charmed), Cliff de Young (The Craft), and Glenn Quinn (TV’s Angel). Graeme Whifler co-wrote the screenplay with Manny Coto who also served as director. Currently sitting at a low 27% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes, critics have never garnered Dr. Giggles with a bevy of great reviews. However, despite the overwhelming negativity, the movie has gained a small following of fans that seem to dig the silly combo of horror and comedy.
With the film’s backstory of an evil doctor and spooky house, the titular villain’s Freddy Krueger-like one liners and puns, a Halloween season release date, and the proven-to-be-successful slasher formula, a new horror series seemed to be just what the doctor ordered. But still, no sequel. I went looking for answers but unfortunately, you can’t find everything online…so I went straight to the Dr. Giggles source and reached out to script co-writer Graeme Whifler and comic book writer Steven Grant. The answers I got were not at all what I was expecting.
According to Whifler his original screenplay, titled Mr. Giggles, was vastly changed before going into production. Regarding the original version of the screenplay, he said, “Mr. Giggles bares only the vaguest similarity to the movie, Dr. Giggles. The character names and the notion of surgery are all that survived”. In what I found to be one of the most interesting parts of the interview, Whifler pointed out that fans can get a good idea of the original story by watching his own directorial effort, Deadly End (2008) which was based on that original Mr. Giggles screenplay.
“Never once did the thought of franchize cross my mind,” Whifler said about writing the screenplay. “The lust for franchizing ultimately neutered the project IMO. The producers were afraid to try anything new […] the wish for a franchize was so strong, the developers decided to drop all the unique stuff and just cobble something together using parts from other successful horror films”. When asked why he believed that Dr. Giggles never became a horror franchise, Whifler stated, “There is a simple reason no sequel was made, the film’s box office was anemic. The audiences weren’t that entertained”.
Comic book writer Steven Grant later echoed several of Whifler’s statements. Prior to the film’s release, Grant was asked to adapt Dr. Giggles into a two-issue comic book series that was based on the final shooting script. Keep in mind this was the reworked screenplay, not Whifler’s original. I asked about his initial impression of the story and Grant was kind enough to tell me, “I wasn’t especially impressed. It seemed a pretty by the numbers slasher movie, and Dr. Giggles as he was written seemed… strained would probably be the best way to say it. It all felt very manufactured to me”. Grant also cleared up the question about whether or not Dr. Giggles was supposed to be the start of a new franchise, stating, “I know that’s what they were thinking. The Dark Horse Productions VP told me that at a cocktail party…”
“[…] the wish for a franchize was so strong, the developers decided to drop all the unique stuff and just cobble something together using parts from other successful horror films.” -Graeme Whifler
Speculating why the series never materialized, Grant reiterated Whifler’s response, “As I recall, the film didn’t do very well at the box office. I don’t know how well it did on video. That’s usually the deciding factor on these things, as far as Hollywood goes”.
And There you have it. It seems to me that the studio’s desperate push to create a new horror franchise was what caused the film to flop. In 1992, the slasher movie craze of the 1980s had already come to an end and it was still four years until Scream (1996) would revitalize the sub-genre all over again. Quite simply, horror fans were looking for something new and different, not carbon copies of many of the popular slasher movies they had already seen.
Dr. Giggles is available on DVD and streaming services. What are your thoughts on the film? Do you wish it would have become a long-running franchise? Let us know on Twitter or in the Horror Movie Fiend Club Facebook Group.