Friday, May 03, 2013

Molly Shannon’s Surprisingly Dark Past

I missed last week’s episode of Hannibal, by which I mean I missed two week’s worth of episodes, seeing as how Bryan Fuller asked to pull the fourth episode, “Ceuf,” out of sensitivity toward the “recent events” that may include Sandy Hook shootings and the Boston bombings. The episode features Molly Shannon as a woman who brainwashes children into murdering their families. And while that may be surprising to people who only know her from her work on Saturday Night Live, she has actually had a string of darker roles in the past. To me, this makes her more interesting.

Molly Shannon Hannibal Oeuf Ceuf

Most notably, considering Hannibal, she appeared on Fuller’s previous series, Pushing Daisies, as a thoroughly unpleasant character: Dilly Balsam, a murderous candy store proprietress. (My working theory is that Hannibal is the dark twin of Pushing Daisies: Both are equally focused on death and food, but while Daisies plays out as a color-saturated fantasy with a lead character who brings corpses back to life and bakes pies. Hannibal is obviously about the opposite of that.) Anyway, Pushing Daisies had Mike White playing Dilly’s doomed brother, Billy. That’s also significant, because White directed Shannon in Year of the Dog, an indie film whose superficial quirk belied a rather brutal study of one woman’s inability to relate to other humans.

Thus, Shannon’s career so far hasn’t been all punchlines and pratfalls and Mary Katherine Gallagher monologues. For example, anyone who’s made their way through Twin Peaks knows that one of the stranger surprises of the last half of the series is Molly Shannon appearing several years before she was on anyone’s radar, much less in a notably unfunny role. Sure, she’s dressed like a lesbian comedian, but she’s actually just an adoption agency rep who figures minorly into Lucy’s storyline, and as Stale Popcorn points out, even then Shannon gets upstaged by the fact that this very episode also features the return of David Duchovny as a cross-dressing FBI agent. Nonetheless, she’s there, and Twin Peaks makes for a strange lead-in to her Saturday Night Live career, which began just a few years later.

Molly Shannon Twin Peaks

Her first credited role is even stranger, however; two years previous, Shannon appeared in a 1989 slasher adaptation of Phantom of the Opera, starring Robert Englund as the title character and Jill Schoelen as Christine. The film jumps between modern-day New York — well, 1989 New York — and Victorian London, but Christine’s buddy Meg Giry exists in both timelines, and Shannon plays the 1989 version.

And oh yeah, they make her character dress like garbage so there’s no mistaking that Schoelen is the pretty one; you can tell right away that this is not the final girl. This isn’t even a girl who gets invited to the chase scenes. She’s the one who’s babysitting dying the finale and who hears about it all afterward in the papers. In fact, she kind of looks like the mousy Maddy Ferguson from Twin Peaks.

Yep, pretty weird, Molly. Not pre-weight loss Richard Simmons appearing in the Fellini Satyricon-level weird, but odd nonetheless.

Check out Dumpy Meg’s scene:

The slasher Phantom of the Opera isn’t a good film, but it’s not even bad enough to be the kind of movie that Mary Katherine Gallagher would have liked. I only watched it because it once aired on this weird station that basically only played bad movies and Mama’s Family but which came in a lot clearer on the monochrome, rabbit-eared TV set I had in my bedroom in high school. If I remember correctly, the guy who introduced movies inferred that this was not the version of Phantom he’d been led to believe the station would be airing. This version does have a lot more spurting blood, but perhaps it’s a better film that way?


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