October is upon and what better time to rewatch Hocus Pocus! Perhaps one of the best Halloween film ever made because it’s a Halloween film first and foremost. Quite a few films in my 13 Weeks of Halloween series have been horror films that use the October holiday as a backdrop or sometimes even a crutch upon which to prop up the plot. In my mind Hocus Pocus falls right in line with films like All Hallows Eve and Trick R’ Treat, it’s a film that celebrates the Halloween spirit with every minute of screen-time.
It’s one of those films that I’ve never outgrown and hell, if anything, it’s grown up with me. There are many jokes and thematic elements that go right over the heads of little ones watching, reminding me that good children’s entertainment should simply be approached as entertainment, first and foremost. It should work on different levels as to not bore parents to death with 90 minutes of fluff, also you have to remember, adults produced the film, they are bound to have some good (not-so-clean) fun in the process.
Hocus Pocus starred Bette Midler as Winifred Sanderson, leader of the infamous Sanderson Sisters, fictional witches hanged during the historical witchcraft hysteria in 1690’s Salem Massachusetts (it’s a REALLY dark opening for a ‘kids’ movie). Winifred and her sisters Mary (Kathy Najimy) and Sarah (Sarah Jessica Parker) bumble and fumble from beyond the grave to hunt down the kids that brought them back through a cursed candle. As I get older I laugh more and more at the fact that most horror films (weather intentionally or not) send the message of “sex = death” while good ol’ Disney went with “virginity = witches sucking the souls from your town’s children.”
The children attempting to avoid said soul-sucking are Max and his little sister Dani (Omri Katz and Thora Birch) along with Max’s crush Allison (Vinessa Shaw.) Max and Dani are new in town and Allison helps them to navigate Salem to warn the adults that the legend of the Sanderson Sisters is true. Both children and witches have a hell of a time, each getting the upper hand numerous times before “Good” ultimately triumphs. The film is about appreciating your family, after all.
Mick Garris wrote the screenplay for Hocus Pocus and this is worth nothing because he has an entire career of legitimate horror cred’, including the late 90’s The Shining mini-series (not so well received yet Stephen King prefers this version to the Kubrick/Nicholson film) as well as Psycho IV: The Beginning. Furthermore, horror genre legend and creature actor Doug Jones appears as the friendly zombie Billy Butcherson years before the actor would appear on Buffy and in the Hellboy films.
Hocus Pocus is full of classic Halloween imagery such as black cats, witches brewing at caldrons, ancient haunted houses and gothic graveyards and that’s not to mention all the trick-or-treating taking place throughout. The film contains just enough classic horror elements to lead children of all ages to the dark side of horror fanaticism. We all gotta start somewhere, right?
The movie is 23 now and I feel I speak for a lot of horror fanatics my age when I say, this film was instrumental in my ever-growing, lifelong love of Halloween and Horror when I was growing up. Now as an adult it has become a quirky version of a holiday special and watching Hocus Pocus puts me in the Halloween spirit every time, no matter if it’s the first of fifth time I watch it, and no I’m not exaggerating. In all likelihood, I watch Hocus Pocus 10+ times during September and October. If you haven’t watched it in a while, give it a shot and see if it doesn’t conjure up just a little bit of childlike excitement for the Halloween season.