Hocus Pocus is a comedy filled family horror film from the Disney Enterprise. The movie ties in all the best elements of Halloween: witches, trick-or-treaters, zombies, and combines them with an hilarious slapstick chase around town that will have your sides splitting. Add an all star cast and, bam, you have the best Halloween movie that is funny all year long. No wonder I wouldn’t go to bed without first watching Hocus Pocus for six straight months when I was eight years old. Talk about obsession, but hey, it’s a great movie.
Released in theaters in 1993, the Touchstone Pictures comedy passed by unnoticed, but has since become a staple Halloween movie aired on television every October. Bette Midler’s performance is terrific here, portraying the perfect mix of terrifying witch and bossy older sister as Winifred Sanderson, a role which nicely sets up a comic fight between siblings Sarah Sanderson (Sarah Jessica Parker), a boy crazy seductress, and Mary Sanderson (Kathy Najimy). Director Kenny Ortega and screenwriters Mick Garris and Neil Cuthburt give the villains a playful and endearing love/hate sibling dynamic with a Three Stooges style that cannot be beat.
The movie begins with the eerie tale of the three Sanderson sisters’ hanging in 1693 for the murder of Emily Binx. Before the hanging, the witches vow to return to Salem when a virgin lights the black flame candle. Jump forward 300 years and we are back in Salem, Massachusetts where the new kid, Max (Omri Katz), is still brooding over his family’s recent move from Los Angeles to New England and is not pleased with the town’s affinity for All Hallows Eve.
While taking his eight-year-old sister Dani (Thora Birch) trick-or-treating, Max runs into his crush, Allison (Vinessa Shaw) and the three set out to the old Sanderson sisters house to make a believer out of Max. Allison tells Dani and Max the legend of the black flame candle and this is where the adventure really starts.
After Max lights the candle to the dismay of the two girls, loud cackling screeches through the air and the witches Winifred, Sarah, and Mary are back. Next, they are grabbing the witches spell book and going on the run with their newfound friend, a talking cat named Binx (Sean Murray) from the witches, who are determined to claim the lives of the children of Salem before Dawn in order to live forever.
The Sanderson sisters’ quest to suck out the lives of all the children in Salem takes them through one amusing situation after the next in due to their naiveté of the modern world. The sisters mistake a paved road for a black river and are bewildered by all the monsters running around the town, which they come to find out are actually children in costumes. Najimy, the wet blanket of the Sanderson, family has no lack of goofy moments and comical one-liners. (“Mmmm, shish-ke-baby,” Najimy remarks after seeing a potential new victim),
And it wouldn’t be a Disney movie without a sing-a-long or two. The legendary Midler gives a delightful performance singing “I Put a Spell on You.”
Through the fear and adventure, a nice bond grows between Max and little sister, Dani, with him realizing how much she means to him. The innocent romance between Allison and Max is sweet and inoffensive.
The movie is great for introducing young tweens to the horror genre. Rated PG by the MPAA for the some scary sequences and language, the movie today would probably be more in the PG-13 range. Even though the movie involves zombies and witches literally sucking the life out of children, it falls safely in the realm of a family-geared horror film.
Billy Butcherson (Doug Jones), a zombie raised from the dead to do Midler’s bidding, brings the movie some of its more horrifying scenes with his head often being knocked from his body. Humor sweeps quickly in to reset the atmosphere to a lighter mood after each horror scene though.
Full of one-liners, laughs, suspense, amusing situations, and cackling laughter, Hocus Pocus is a perfect mix of sinister spirit and delightful goofiness. The comical aspects of the movie are what really sell me on this film. The scene where Mary has to ride a vacuum because her broom is stolen is one of the many memorable laughs. Hocus Pocus is a timeless tale and is perfect for the Halloween holiday.