October is Halloween movie month! Having been completely deprived of any kind of Halloween experience growing up, I now spend 31 days celebrating with film and TV. I like to shoot for a mix of old and new, horror and comedy, from the slightly spooky to the totally terrifying to the just plain weird. Each day of October I’ll reviewing one of these ventures in the realm of the creepy and supernatural. Some will be high quality cinema and some will require large amounts of alcohol to survive. Stock up on seasonal beer and Fireball-apple jello shots and join me! A warning, though – unless the review is of a very recent release, HERE BE SPOILERS.
Hocus Pocus (1993)
Starring: Bette Midler, Kathy Najimy, Sarah Jessica Parker and some kids.
Synopsis: In 1693 a coven of ugly, evil witch sisters (Winifred, Sarah, and Mary) in Salem, MA capture a young girl and use their magic to kill her and restore their own youth and beauty. The girl’s brother, Thackery Binx, tries to stop them but they turn him into a cat and doom him to immortality in that form before they are captured by the villagers and hanged. But they promise to return. Binx stands guard over their cottage for 300 years to prevent this, but on Halloween night 1993, a boy named Max, his sister, and their friend Allison break into the house to explore. Max unwittingly brings about the return of the witches, who chase the kids and sic a zombie on them. The kids escape with Binx, who explains the situation, and run to find their parents to tell them the witches have returned. The witches have until dawn to suck some juicy life forces out of as many children as possible and restore themselves completely, or they will be turned to dust and vanish forever. They venture out, confused by the modern era and the number of people in costumes but aided by the fact that everyone they meet just thinks they have really excellent Sanderson Sisters costumes. The kids find their parents at a party at town hall, but no one believes them, especially when the witches come out and do a musical number, charming the town. The kids take matters into their own hands and lure the witches into the kiln at the school, burning them alive. Unfortunately, the spell is still active and the witches return, luring all the children of the town to their cottage before the kids and Binx, with the help of Billy the now-friendly zombie, defeat them and the dawn turns them to dust. Binx is killed, but his spirit is reunited with his sister and Billy returns to his grave.
This was another kids movie of my era that I didn’t see until I was older. In the past twenty years it’s reached cult status, for pretty much one reason: the witches. Hocus Pocus isn’t a good movie. Nor is it terrible enough to reach the bad-movie heights of Plan 9 from Outer Space or The Evil Dead. It would just be another bland Disney live action money-grab if it weren’t for Bette Midler, Kathy Najimy, and Sarah Jessica Parker. The plot is trite and predictable, despite some cute touches like everyone thinking the witches are in costume, and the kids are not good actors. Thora Birch is better than the others and very cute, but hasn’t yet come into her talent. The dialogue is awkward and exposition heavy and the interactions between Max and Allison, his crush, are pretty cringeworthy.
But the witches, they make it all worth it. They lean into their villainous dialogue with campy, Three Stooges-inspired performances. They are ridiculous and over the top and chew so much scenery it’s a wonder there’s any of historic Salem left standing. Kathy Najimy’s Mary is a slightly feral matronly figure with a nose – and hunger – for children. Sarah is delightfully dumb, slutty, and sadistic. But Bette Mildler’s Winifred, the brains of the operation, pulls it all together. She is operatic in her evilness. She manages profound and expansive line deliveries from behind what is perhaps the most awkward tooth prosthesis in history. And her performance of “I Put a Spell On You” at the Halloween party, backed up by the other witches and a skeletal band, is what makes the movie.
I won’t say I was rooting for the witches, but watching as an adult, I really didn’t care about the kids. It’s Disney, so presumably they come out okay. But I hung on every moment the Sanderson sisters were on screen. From the over-dramatic monologing to the slapstick humor, Hocus Pocus is worth it just for them. If you loved it as a kid, you may be more attached to the children-in-danger aspect of it, but coming to it now it’s all about the villains. Disney’s always had better villains than heroes, and this movie is no exception.
Quality: 4 Binxes out of 10 because witches. And the plot isn’t completely nonsensical.
Enjoyability: 7 slutty Sarahs out of 10 – more if you’re drunk.