How far would you go to impress your crush? Get a fresh haircut? Learn to bake meringues? How about accidentally raise three evil witches from the dead? We wouldn’t recommend that one.
Unfortunately for the town of Salem, that’s exactly what Max Dennison does. Hocus Pocus was released in 1993 by Walt Disney Pictures and didn’t gain popularity until years later when its characteristically 90s aesthetic turned it into a Halloween cult classic. The film stars Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy as the witches. Let’s find out if they managed to enchant our writers or if their charm has lost its magic.
Hocus Pocus (1993) scores a juicy 36% on rotten tomatoes and I love a shit film. (Trigger Warning: Americans). We meet Max, Angry Teenager™, new resident of Salem, who doesn’t believe in Halloween and complains it’s a “conspiracy” (flat earther vibes). With Pretty Girl™ and Younger Sister™ in tow, they venture to the abandoned Sanderson witches home which still has a full lighting system so, presumably, Netflix and a soup maker too? At this point I’m expecting Kevin McCloud to wander in and start grilling them on budgets. The big question is: who is paying the council tax on this sweet, cottagecore witch pad?
Angry Teenager™ accidentally brings dead witches back to life by… being a virgin? And lighting a candle? I’m not taking questions at this time. He is protected by (I’m literally not making this up) a talking cat that is actually the spirit of a local boy from the 16th century. The cgi cat/ 300 year old boy gets hit by a bus, which is honestly fucking hilarious, and on a whole other separate occasion, he is thrown from height into a rock with all the limp movement of an old sock. Fantastic watching. Who needs a plot, anyway?
When the witches brooms are stolen, they fly into the night on a mop and a hoover (fuck the patriarchy, am I right ladies) and having not been killed by an involuntary stint in a kiln, the feminist icons recover their spell book and steal a child to secure themselves immortality. Girl boss alert?
I know I’m supposed to root for our teenage lovebirds, but the 3 witches have me totally hooked. They have more personality than all the other characters combined. Rocking a smokey eye, black dress and leather boots, I’m sorry but they’re literally so sexy. Steal those kids, ladies! I feel like Sarah Jessica Parker would have bullied me in high school, which only adds to the scare factor. When the good guys finally win (crowd boos), our girl bosses burst into dust and die. Que frolicking through a field, and in the most unrealistic turn of the whole movie, the siblings display genuine affection for each other.
I would particularly like to thank the screenwriters for insults such as “maggot museum”, “air-head virgin” and “oinker”. Shakespeare walked so shit 90s movies could run. I would also like to thank the costume dept for the ripe 90’s fashion and the Nike product placement. Fine! I’ll buy another pair of mom jeans. Christmas movies just don’t do what Halloween movies do. Give me pumpkins and a zombie with a villain to hero character arc over The Snowman any day. This film is warm, criminally predictable and literally dumb. In the best way. Enjoy.
Hocus Pocus is a tradition in my household. It’s non-negotiable. In my household we respect the spooky season and all of its bells and whistles, and since I was a child, I have watched Hocus Pocus on Halloween night because it is the, in my opinion, pinnacle romp for a good Halloween movie night.
This film ages incredibly. I would actually go as far as saying that as I have aged, this film has somehow grown with me, and part of that is the appeal it has to all kinds of ages. When I was eight or nine years old I would spend the whole film trying to be brave in the face of three witches trying to kidnap children, while rooting for Binx to get the happy ending he deserved (and let’s be honest, if you say you didn’t have a childhood crush on Binx as a human, you’re a liar). As an adult, three comical witches and their flying vacuums only inspire mild fear, but I still root for Binx (and I still harbour that crush too). But with age I have found new characters to grimace about and new subplots to root for.
Billy Butcherson is perhaps the most obvious tale of age equating to appreciation, being that as a young child I found the mediocre make-upped zombie with a sewn up mouth to be the height of horror imagery. I now adore the character wholeheartedly. To me, Billy is a perfect example of a Heel-Face Turn in film. For most of the plot you believe him to be an evil-doer, he is risen from the dead with the purpose of chasing down our heroes, and that’s precisely what he does. Or so we think. It’s eventually revealed of course that he was never trying to chase the children at all, but was trying to catch up so he could remove the stitching on his mouth and declare his dislike for the sisters. He was on the kids’ side the whole time!
Alas, there is one part of the whole experience that really sells it for me as a Halloween must have: the music. From Sarah Jessica Parker’s rendition of ‘Come Little Children’ (which has since been remixed to high heaven if you need a bouncier version to dance to), through to ‘I put a Spell on you’ which is a bop all on it’s own. And it’s not even that; the instrumentals throughout build a sense of cooky yet spooky atmosphere, balancing the hint of sinister with the innocence of our young heroes. I have spent many a night studying to the score of Hocus Pocus.
Does it have its downsides? Of course it does, it is a film made in the early 1990s and sometimes it shows, like the ongoing obsession with virginity and the fact our leading hero – a 16 year old boy – is one (don’t fret, he gets to snuggle his crush by the end, as you’d expect). While this went over my head as a kid, in my twenties I perhaps realise that a Disney movie making a point to repeatedly bring up a teenagers sexual status is highly bizzare at best and downright creepy at worst.
I definitely wouldn’t go to this film if you were looking for intense CGI spooks, a thoroughly thought through plot, or even something with a moral at the end. Hocus Pocus is instead the kind of film to enjoy if you kind of miss the Halloweens of the past, the childish carefree joy of putting on silly costumes and being cooky for a night. It’s about capturing pumpkin spiced nostalgia and bottling it up, ready to relive every year.
In preparation for this review, I knew I had to make sure my first viewing of Hocus Pocus was a memorable and atmospheric experience. With no less than six candles lit around the living room on a damp, cold evening, I covered myself in several blankets and grabbed my knitting (my current project is a very soft scarf made of baby wool found in the bargain bin at ALDI) and started the movie.
I quickly realised that although I’d never seen Hocus Pocus before, I had seen enough films like it to feel like I was watching an old favourite: the film’s opening upon a teenage boy in a stable in a seemingly historical-fantasy setting, the witches obsessed with eternal youth, the hanging of said witches, and the spiky-haired zombie running around felt like I was watching a bizarre Stardust meets Princess Bride meets Edward Scissorhands meets Practical Magic crossover.
Basically, it was all very 90s.
I will make no lie of the fact that I love autumn. The crispness of the air seems to rejuvenate something inside of me and fill me with a joy that no other time of year ever seems to generate. And in many ways, this film did the same.
Candles, cauldrons, a high school that provides classes on local folklore, witches’ capes, magical spellbooks, an 8-year-old in the best Hallowe’en costume ever, immortal cats, ghosts, physical effects that have aged surprisingly well – WHAT IS NOT TO LOVE ABOUT THIS FILM!? HOW COULD YOU NOT WANT TO LIVE IN THIS WORLD FOREVER!?!? There are so many satisfyingly-autumnal vibes that I even had to make a pumpkin and cinnamon smoothie half way through to help me get on the same level.
There were a couple of questions I was left pondering, mostly along the lines of: what kind of high school provides classes on local folklore? Why do they have sprinklers in an abandoned cottage? Where can I get Alison’s red hooded cardigan cape thing? As a feminist, how do I feel about Sarah Jessica Parker’s character basically being the dumb but hot bimbo witch? Why does Alison not enjoy being at the Bridgerton-esque party when she gets to wear a literal ball gown? What happened to Max to make him hate autumn so much? Why are they making so many virginity jokes in a Disney movie? When are they making a sequel? Should I adopt a black cat?
Generally though, I consider these minor gripes, knit-picking, and personal conundrums that I must overcome (but also why are there so many virginity jokes). As Max would say, it’s all just hocus pocus and I can confidently say this film will join the long list of 90s films on my annual autumnal rotation. Which reminds me of another dilemma: should I put on The Addams Family or The Nightmare Before Christmas next?