“They knew Molly Dolly was supposed to sound like a young girl but dangerous, which is kind of what I’m famous for,” rep Tara Strong tells IW.
Where most shows of the pre-streaming era put time and resources into year-end episodes and Christmas specials, Sabrina the Teenage Witch transitioned it all into Halloween. As producer and star Melissa Joan Hart told IndieWire via Zoom, “From March 26 [episodes] we were going to do this year, Halloween was always the big thing. Then the budget would be free and we would spend a lot of money on it.”
The proof is in the petrified pudding, as “Sabrina” created some of the most unique, imaginative and memorable Halloween episodes of the 1990s. Whether it was the alternative rock band 10,000 Maniacs performing during Season 2’s “A River of Candy Corn Runs Through It” or Sabrina, the Frankenstein’s Monsters and the Bride of the Frankenstein Couple in Season 2’s “The Halloween Scene”. 5, these episodes featured not only a mix of spooky family fun, but also added star power and IP detection.
Take Season 3’s “Good Will Haunting”: the witch sitcom’s (arguably best) All Hallow’s Eve special of 1998, which follows Sabrina on Halloween night after inviting some friends over to her house watch movies. Suddenly, Sabrina is not only dealing with a lack of horror titles in the video store, but also with a magical doll named Molly Dolly who is threatening to “get” her and her buddies. The episode wears its inspirations on its sleeve. Writers Carrie Honigblum and Renee Phillips told IndieWire that they intentionally opened the episode with Sabrina’s cat Salem and introduced the night’s events in the style of famous sci-fi host Rod Serling because the Twilight Zone episode “Living Doll” Molly Dolly herself inspired.
In the episode, Sabrina (Hart) receives a gift from her unknown aunt Beulah. The doll, as Beulah says in her note, is meant to be a fun Halloween treat. It also forces Sabrina’s aunts Hilda (Caroline Rhea) and Zelda (Beth Broderick) to realize that they have avoided Beulah’s Halloween parties for centuries and that they should probably show up.
With Sabrina alone in the house, the typical teen debauchery of Halloween parties gone wrong is taken to the extreme. Molly Dolly not only threatens to harm Sabrina throughout the evening, she also brings all sorts of monsters and ghouls to ruin the night. Watching Molly Dolly herself, the juxtaposition of the cute and innocent doll with the evil emanating from her mouth brings the chills, and that’s courtesy of voice actress Tara Strong.
Today, Strong is the voice behind Miss Minutes from Marvel’s Loki, but her roots in the Sabrina universe run deep, beginning with her appearance in the 1998 TV movie Sabrina Goes to Rome.
“[The producers] knew about my voiceover career,” Strong told IndieWire. “They knew Molly Dolly was supposed to sound like a young girl but dangerous, which is kind of what I’m famous for.” To get into the character, Strong analyzed the character description and worked with the production to tweak things. “The voice has to be sweet, and the deviant side comes from the dialogue. What is the action? What’s going on around you?” said Stark.
Unlike most voiceover performances, which typically take place in a sound booth and are added in the post, Strong said she was present on set, crouching under tables alongside the puppeteers who brought Salem, and in this case Molly, to life hidden. Strong didn’t have much experience as a puppeteer, but was able to work with Mauri Bernstein to help Molly pull the strings. In scenes where Molly needed to be physical, like in a wrestling match with Sabrina, Strong recorded backstage with a boom mic while her lines came in.
© Viacom/courtesy Everett Collection
As Hart and the writers note, it wasn’t uncommon to have a set full of people hiding under tables or on couches. Hart said she would often talk to the puppeteers under the table or “remember if you sit on the couch, don’t smash the couch because Mauri is down there.”
The show boasted writers from all walks of comedy and television, such as Mystery Science Theater star Frank Conniff. Part of what makes “Good Will Haunting” such an amazing episode is how funny it is. Hart acknowledged that while she was the series’ producer, the writers were given free rein to do whatever they wanted with the episodes, but for as long as it made sense in Sabrina’s world. “
There was a time I could think of when we had an issue where I was like, ‘I can’t do this episode. It doesn’t make sense to me, and it wasn’t that episode,” Hart said. But with that freedom came the ability to tell stories aimed at adults, as are often those aimed at children.
Some of Good Will Haunting’s best jokes are a combination of great writing and Hart’s delivery (including gems like “We’ll never live to see ‘Enchanted April'” and “Clint Eastwood just took his shirt off” — which are in and funny out of context.)
Courtesy of Viacom/Everett Collection
Phillips points out that the reference to Eastwood’s 1995 feature film The Bridges of Madison County came from Honigblum, as both were stunned by their adoration of the deeply sentimental romance, which also starred Meryl Streep. “It kind of made me gag,” said Honigblum.
And what other show could boast a Halloween episode with a killer doll and A subplot featuring Sabrina’s aunts trapped in a mental asylum, starring the cast of the ’60s sketch comedy Laugh-In? Children won’t know how important it is to find Joanne Worley, Ruth Buzzi and Gary Owens – the inmates of a Play mental institution – seen on their screen, but for fans of “Laugh-In” nostalgia reigns supreme. The inmates of this frenetic ’60s amusement now run the asylum and imprison Hilda and Zelda inside.
“I kept saying, ‘Kids don’t just watch kids,'” said Honigblum, and while kids may not know who the various stars of the classic era are, as they get older, they will.
Hart admits she didn’t appreciate it enough when she made the series herself. I didn’t appreciate them until later in life when I learned who they really were, what all their work was,” she said.
As for the Molly Dolly prop itself? Where she ended up remains a mystery. Hart said that when the series ended, members of the production generally took what they wanted off the set.
“The last day we were all walking around the set just stealing things. It’s been there for so long that it didn’t really count as an asset anymore,” she said. But neither she nor Honigblum nor Phillips know where Molly ended up. The original Salem puppet is located at the Center for Puppetry Arts in Atlanta, Georgia, but it’s unclear if Molly is there too. (Emails sent to the Center for Puppetry Arts have gone unanswered as of press time.) But to all questions, it brings a smile to their faces that Molly may still be wreaking havoc somewhere.
Sabrina the Teenage Witch is available to stream on Paramount+.
https://www.indiewire.com/2022/10/sabrina-the-teenage-witch-halloween-molly-dolly-iconic-1234770453/ Sabrina the Teenage Witch Halloween: Molly Dolly’s iconic twist