Hocus Pocus (1993)
Director: Kenny Ortega
Screenwriter: Neil Cuthbert
Starring: Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, Kathy Najimy, Omri Katz, Thora Birch, Vinessa Shaw
Hocus Pocus is an Autumn day incarnate. Set in Salem (the holy land of Halloween), the film is a cozy jaunt through costume parties and brightly lit cemeteries. This spooky classic is a high-camp masterpiece complete with candy, a talking cat, and many a virginity joke. Pioneered by the wickedly funny Sanderson Sisters (Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy), we are plunged into a saccharine sweet delight that is sure to put anyone in the pumpkin carving mood.
Told over the course of one hectic Halloween night, our Californian protagonist Max finds himself an outcast in his new hometown of Salem. Max is a skeptic. He questions the legend of the Sanderson Sisters – three witches who were executed in the 17th century for the supposed murder of a child. Max is proven wrong when he unleashes the unspeakable evil upon his hometown. With the help of his sister Dani (Thora Birch) and crush Allison (Vinessa Shaw), Max must defeat the devilish trio and save the children of Salem.
The Sanderson Sisters are the heart, soul, and guts of this story. Winifred (portrayed by Bette Midler) helms the group. On the hunt for youth (via killing children, of course), and screaming orders in an off-kilter soprano, Winifred is a total treat to watch. Even her signature buck-teeth and sky-high Queen of Hearts hairdo only add to her villainous charm. Younger sister Sarah (Sarah Jessica Parker) is a bona fide scene-stealer as well. From the gothic harlot chic of her dress to telling a bus driver “thou wouldst hate me in the morning”, Parker flexes her comedic abilities and, in many ways, sets the stage for her iconic character Carrie Bradshaw from ‘Sex and the City’.
Unfortunately, the third sister Mary (Kathy Nijimy) is criminally underutilized. Despite Najimy’s clear talents, Mary possesses neither the campy child-hating badness nor the breezy humor of her sisters. She does have a few standout moments however, most notably when she rides off on a vacuum cleaner instead of a broom.
Aside from Mary, one of the more distracting elements of the film is an animatronic cat named Thackery Binx that helps the kids defeat the evil sisters. With glowing eyes and jerky movements, the cat (actually a boy turned cat by the Sandersons) is one of the more sinister elements of the film. By the end, the uncanny feline transforms into an equally disturbing hologram that feels slightly out of place.
Despite some missteps, Hocus Pocus’s joyful self-indulgence and love of good, simple, Halloween fun make up for any shortcoming.
One of the more revelatory scenes unfolds at a town hall Halloween party that Max’s parents attend. The celebration is a glorious mess of intricate costumes and dead bodies lumbering between partygoers. The film showcases its ability to dabble in campy dialogue and entertaining set pieces. At one point, the Sanderson Sisters burst into a (literally) spellbinding cover of “I’ll Put a Spell On You” that curses guests to “dance until they die”. The hard-partying parents are hilariously unexpected, Max’s mother even flaunts a skimpy costume that she struggles to explain to her young daughter.
The beautiful nature of Hocus Pocus is its proclivity to let loose and throw a party within its 96-minute runtime. Though critics at the time worried that the plot was filled with holes, it is fast, fun, and easy enough to sweep anyone away on an unbelievable journey. The film serves all the witchiness anyone could desire without the labor of a jump scare or a gory murder. Thanks to the wonderful cast (specifically the Sanderson Sisters themselves), Hocus Pocus will long go down in history as a cult classic for Halloween enthusiasts.
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Written by Emi Grant
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