Countdown to Halloween Review #5: Hocus Pocus (1993)

One from the re watch pile…
Hocus Pocus (1993)

Film: As much as us horror fans keep Halloween as ‘our’ holiday, we do have another group that we have to share it with… kids!!

My daughter, now an adult, was brought up on horror films. Now I don’t mean I started her on Last House on the Left: no, we started with things like Casper, Addams Family, The Witches, various Scooby Doo movies, and this film, Hocus Pocus, before moving into not-quite age appropriate things like Dawn of the Dead at age ten.

Hocus Pocus tells the tale of three witches from Salem, the Sanderson Sisters: Winifred (Bette Midler), Mary (Kathy Najimy) and Sarah (Sarah Jessica Parker) who way back when used to draw the life-force out of kids to restore their youth. Of course they are caught and executed, but not before casting a spell…

Hocus Pocus: the Sanderson Sisters, Kathy Najimy, Bette Midler and Sarah Jessica Parker

Several centuries later, Max (Omri Katz), his little sister, Dani (Thora Birch) and their parents move to Salem from California to find the town, at Halloween, have reduced the story of the Sanderson Sisters to little more than a myth. On Halloween night, Max manages to convince local hottie Alison (Vinessa Shaw) to take him and his sister up to the abandoned Sanderson museum, but he accidentally brings the sisters back to life by casting their long dormant spell.

As one would expect from a Disney film, the rest is spent in an attempt to defeat the witches, and many shenanigans take place, and maybe a song as well…

… and that song is to be expected. This film is directed by Kenny Ortega, who is probably best known for the Grease remake series of High School Musical films, and it’s a beautiful and fun set of visuals with some great performances, especially from Midler, Najimy and Parker (as a side note, Parker never looked better than in this film!)

Hocus Pocus: Omri Katz and Thora Birch

The screenplay is also brilliant. Written by long-time Stephen King collaborator Mick Garris and Neil Cuthbert, who wrote Return of the Swamp Thing, from a story by Garris and David Kirschner, who created the American Tale series of animated films. Like any good PG film, it has heaps of funny stuff for the kids, but there is a lot of sly innuendos aimed directly in the laps of the adults as well.

If I have to fault this film at all, it is in the casting of the school bullies, Ice (Larry Bagby) and Jay (Tobias Jelinek). Yes, I appreciate that this is a Disney film, but these two overact to the point of distraction. They are more cartoon characters than anything else, and their performances stand out as a low point of the film.

Hocus Pocus: Vinessa Shaw as Allison

Is it possible I have affection for this film from the aforementioned daddy/ daughter days? Possibly, but the film is still fun and funny and a better example of Disney’s live-action stuff. It also has a great deal of fun with horror tropes like zombies and witches without actually poking fun AT them. Of course it does end up getting a little schmaltzy at the end, but that’s what The House of the Mouse wants, isn’t it?

Score: ****

Hocus Pocus DVD Menu Screen

Format: The reviewed copy of this film was the Disney DVD release from several years ago. The feature runs for approximately 92 minutes and is presented in a slightly grainy and artefact-y 16:9 video with a 2.0 audio.

Score: ***

Extras: Nothing.

Score: 0

WISIA: It’s a fun and easy to watch family film that my adult daughter and I STILL like to watch together, even though we both possibly should have grown out of it.

Hocus Pocus: Doug Jones as Billy

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