Horror-Wood Blog-a-Thon: Hocus Pocus
With Halloween upon us (or was by the time I wrote this), I pondered just what was it that made Hocus Pocus so popular these days. It was a movie Disney made in 1993, released in the summer (weird choice) and while it did ok at the box office, the film never made a huge splash like in the $100 millions. But now in days, this movie is like a virus on the Halloween season. Hear me out, people at my retail job talk about the film and how it airs to the equivalency of popular water bubble conversations. It gets a huge respect and love at Witch’s Woods, my other Halloween job, with even getting played at one of the haunts. And when I went to look for a copy at my local video store, there was only one Blu-Ray of it left on the shelf. That’s how huge the respect this movie gets around this time of year. So rather than review it, just what about Hocus Pocus does everyone go rapid and joyful for?
Is it the story? Well, not really but granted it does have an interesting concept. A group of witches called the Sanderson Sisters (get it? Sounds like Anderson Sisters?) are put on trail for their crimes in old Salem. They plan to say young and youthful but sucking out the souls of little children to ensure they will live forever. After their hanging, 300 years later, a kid named Max blindly lights a magic candle in their abandoned home causing them to come back and bring chaos. A typical good vs. evil story mixed with some fish out of water elements.
As the witches try to make sense of the new world, being 1993 in the movie’s case, they find Halloween is nothing but a holiday now with trick-or-treaters and technology has been updated. Does this get used to the advantage of the movie? Not fully. There are a couple of fun scenes where they interact with televisions, try to mingle at a Halloween party complete with a song and ride around on mops and vacuum cleaners. But that’s sort of about it. In a sense, I can see this working. The idea of witches resurrected and trying to fit in with modern times but it feels underplayed most of the time.
The more important thing is how Max takes their magic spell book (which by Disney’s standards is nicely designed and very Evil Dead-lite) which has a certain recipe for their soul sucking potion. While the three bewitching sisters try to hunt them down, Max has to relay on his typical sister, a would be girlfriend and a talking cat who is really a teenager cursed to help stop them. So yeah, for a 90 minute movie there is a lot going on here. In fact, there is so much plot going on that one wonders how things don’t get too complex. I can’t say its too hard to follow seeing the fish out of water elements feel like a break from the story but again, its a basic good vs. evil ploy that has been used since Disney’s time.
If that’s the case, do the characters make the movie so well-known? Again, not exactly. The main characters are sort of your run of the mill tropes and cliches. You have the awkward teen that gets bullied, the girl that will become the love interest, the sibling that is between annoying yet has a good heart, the goofy parents, the townsfolk that are deaf to their warnings and the bullies that act like they are hip and cool when they are not. Its very much a big bag of cliches that we have seen before and are written like beings we would see on a TV movie. Which is ironic seeing this movie was originally going to be a Disney Channel Original until executives thought other-wise.
There’s also that talking cat named Binx who has an interesting back-story (voiced by James Marsden, human body performed by Sean Murray) and knows much of the Sandersons. But that’s sort of about it. There is also the question of times when he can talk and times he can’t. If Binx can speak English so well, what is he doing roaming about the old witch house? And if these kids are in trouble, wouldn’t it be more interesting to help convince others of what’s going on? If there was a deleted scene that explained that plot hole, I would be fine but there isn’t. He could have been a more helpful ally but just only resorts his duties to the main characters. We also get a zombie that tries to be the lackey of the Sandersons and has this funny running gag of loosing his head. But again, there’s not much to his character outside of comic relief. And that sort of sums up a good bulk of the main things. There’s not really that big or unique to them. While not bad concepts or ideas for that matter, they don’t feel fully developed.
Another thing I will address before I move on is that some people feel bugged by the whole “virgin” element. If you don’t know, the plot of the curse involves a virgin to set off these chain of events to happen. And Max just so happens to be that said “virgin” who is picked on and doesn’t fit in with the New England town. To be honest, I really wasn’t bugged this. If they flat-out bullied him because he didn’t have sex, then there would be some problems. But for the first half, most of that bullying is just toward him not fitting in and stuff like that. I can barley think of a scene where his character is made fun of just for his virginity aside from maybe one scene and the closing line. But its very underplayed.
So if this movie isn’t really that big of masterpiece then why does it keep drawing new viewers? One answer: The Sanderson Sisters. These are probably one of Disney’s best villains to date. They have have the most fun and the actress portraying them have a lot of scene-stealing moments that really add on. True they are masked by basic quirks like Bette Midler being the annoyed leader Winnie, Kathy Najimy as the child-hungry but very bumbling Mary and Sarah Jessica Parker as the sultry and boy-crazy Sarah. Every moment they are in the movie, you can tell these three are having the time of their life. I love the way their get their eyes widen and just how expressive they can be. Even when they are given little to work with or play off of, they really try.
In fact, I wonder what it would be like if Hocus Pocus was just about them? In a time when self-centered villain movies are being the talk of the town, I would actually like to see maybe a sequel or even a reboot that just focuses on them only. It would be kind of fun to see a bunch of Shakespearean characters try to live in modern times. Heck, there’s even a stage show about them that recently opened up at the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida. Obviously, they are the strongest element in the movie and if you took that out, Hocus Pocus would have been this basic and simple film.
So with that, your probably wondering how I feel about Hocus Pocus overall and where do I stand with it. For starters, I did grow up watching this movie as a kid and enjoying it. But not for the plot or the characters, just for the witches themselves. I can’t really say if that is a good thing or a bad thing but a part of me does feel this movie holds up in some way. Granted, its not a perfect movie by any means or really a masterpiece like say the Wizard of Oz but there is sort of a way I can describe why it got so popular over the years. Because its the one movie that dips itself into holiday tradition more than any other Halloween movie. Of course, movies today like Trick R Treat are starting to catch on (which arguably is a better movie) but there is one big reason why THIS movie is getting more attention to what its doing.
A good example of this kind of movie is A Christmas Story. For those who don’t know, the movie was released and didn’t make a big impact. But over the years, everyone keeps talking about it and watching it like its some kind of Christmas classic. It honors the Christmas traditions we went through as a kid and exploits them in some form of an adult twist. While Hocus Pocus doesn’t do that entirely, it does honor some Halloween traditions like trick-or-treating, urban legends, witchcraft and even discusses darker elements of the holiday that few Halloween family films would even tackle.
So for what it is, I do enjoy Hocus Pocus. Not for the story and not for the characters but what for it does to the holiday. Granted, it could have been a stronger movie if it was placed in different hands but I can’t think of anything too bad or ethically unclean. I know this movie already has a strong fan base and still growing one. But I do warn for newcomers to watch with low expectations. I know there are a good handful of people that don’t find much joy for the story, characters and few things here and there which is understandable. As for me, I don’t mind defending this one even if it is flawed. The witches are fun, the special effects surprisingly still look amazing and its one bewitching flick I always look forward to around this time of year.
We are not done yet! All week long, we are catching up on more horror goodness for that bag of leftover candy you got. Stay tuned creeps!
Posted on November 1, 2015, in Horror-Wood 2015 and tagged 1993, Bette Middler, Cult Classic, Disney, family friendly, Halloween, Hocus Pocus, Horror, Horror-Wood, Horror-Wood Blog-a-Thon, Kathy Najimy, Salem, Sarah Jessica Parker, witchcraft, Witches. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.