Sarah Jessica Parker, Bette Milder, & Kathy Najimy as the Sanderson sisters

It’s just a bunch of Hocus Pocus or has it been for the last 25 years?

Three sisters from the 17th century had a simple goal of being young forever by using witchcraft to siphon the life of a village child using a spell called “Life Potion”. A fresh dead man’s toe makes for a better spell by the wiser and easy to anger sister, Winifred Sanderson (incredibly campy Bette Milder). The flirtatious and airhead Sarah (Sarah Jessica Parker) recites dead man’s toe with joy behind her eager to please middle sister, Mary (Kathy Najimy). Together, they are nearly unstoppable. It is here the film leads off proving itself in the comedy of the film and chemistry of the actors.

The comedy of it all is perfectly transitioned 300 hundred years into the future for the story to continue on a full moon Halloween. The full moon on Halloween happened in 1974 and would not happen again until after the film in 2001 and again in 2020. Let’s set the lunar science aside for a brief moment and talk about Thackery Binx who is now a cat. Binx has become one of the most recognizable Halloween black cats. Jason Marsden has voiced hundreds of characters from various shows. You’ve likely heard him in Haku from Spirited Away or Max from A Goofy Movie. Binx is played by 9 different cats who each had their own skills whether it was sitting or swatting. An animatronic cat was used specific key points in the film. The graphics company responsible for the GC had a more frightening plan for Binx and they scaled him back to a bit friendlier.

Max (Omri Katz) and Dani (Thora Birch) are unsettled new in town. Max reluctantly agrees to take his annoying little sister trick-or-treating out of love for her. They end up at Allison’s (Vanessa Shaw) home which propels the story forward. With all the characters established it’s easy to see siblings and the relational dynamics as the underlying thread with all three families.

My first favorite scene is at the Sanderson Museum when Max uses the first of the taglines, “Oh come on, it’s just a bunch of hocus pocus,” as he lights the black flame. The house comes alive before viewers hear or see the Sanderson sisters and then the door opens. The framing is great with door center beautifully backlit silhouetting the sisters as Allison and Dani hide just out of side frame. Oh, the mayhem flies amok, amok, amok, amok.

One of the most favorited and memorable scenes is in the ballroom. Max is trying to out the Sanderson sisters by drawing attention to them and Winifred occupies the adult audience. She turns it around into a captivating rendition of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins “I Put a Spell on You.” The sisters are in full force. Winifred casts a spell on the adults to have them dance, dance until they die. It is one of the finest performances of that song.

I found an older interview with E! News about the 20th anniversary of Hocus Pocus. Bette Midler talked about why she considers this film of the favorites. “We laughed the whole time, and we flew! We flew! And we got to wear like crazy noses and fake teeth and all those sorts of things.” She continued, “I love it. We made it before the tidal wave of Halloween happened. Now it’s like huge. It’s huge—kids, grown-ups, everyone takes part in it. This movie was kind of like the beginning of the wave.”

Lasting Impact

What began as a bedtime story by producer & co-writer, David Kirschner, for his daughter evolved into a bigger story. The screenwriters had drafts making it scarier for a 16-year-old yet they developed it into a horror comedy instead. The film was initially intended for Disney Channel original movie if it had not impressed the executives. Personally, I am thankful they found the balance and it did not suffer the fate of some long forgotten original movies.

In 1993, Hocus Pocus was not released in October as the average viewer would assume. Disney did not want to compete with The Nightmare Before Christmas and Addams Family Values. So instead Walt Disney Studios waited until July to release the film but they did not expect to contend against Jurassic Park & Free Willy. The film was a disappointment debuting at fourth and soon dropping to tenth. More notably, Siskel and Ebert’s review was quoted saying, “Watching the movie is like attending a party you weren’t invited to, and where you don’t know anybody, and they’re all in on a joke but won’t explain it to you.”

Disney saw the longevity this film had to gain in the appropriate season. They made the wise decision to air Hocus Pocus on cable with Disney Chanel in October during the mid and nineties. I had never viewed the film in the theaters. Most of my memories are from watching with my family on television until I purchased on DVD/Blu-Ray in the last few years. ABC Family Family began airing Hocus Pocus as part of 30 Nights of Halloween with other great Halloween favorites like It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown back in the early 2000s. This year it airs on ABC Family/Freeform 18 times plus the full-day Hocus Pocus marathon on Halloween. With the 25th Anniversary Freeform has added a Hocus Pocus 25th Anniversary Bash with the principal cast and musical guests. An entire schedule for these times can be found on their website. Another opportunity to view Hocus Pocus is with AMC Theaters. The showtimes begin Friday, October 26th in select theaters around the country. A link above has been provided here.

According to movie data site the Numbers, between October 2008 and Oct. 31, 2017, the film generated more than $30 million in DVD and Blu-ray revenues. Fans of the film own wall art, T-shirt, mugs, costumes just like the three little trick-or-treaters in the film, and people visit the filming locations. The fandom has grown encompassing passionate people similar to that of other geek films.

Nostalgia reminds some viewers of days of trick-or-treating or the possibility of a small town enchantment. The female power of the Sanderson Sisters, Allison, and Dani is strong and in focus. How it Hocus Pocus has lasted 25 years and will for many more to come? Who knows but it definitely puts a spell on those who love it.

Vanessa Shaw, Thora Birch, & Omri Katz in a cemetery scene
Renee Spencer
renee.walstad@gmail.com

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