hocus pocus | kenny ortega | mick garris | neil cuthbert | bette midler | sarah jessica parker | kathy najimy | witch | witches | witchcraft | zombie | comedy | family | fantasy | doug jones | omri katz | thora birch | vinessa shaw | amanda shepherd | larry bagby
Film: Hocus Pocus
Director: Kenny Ortega
Writer: Mick Garris and Neil Cuthbert
Starring: Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker and Kahty Najimy
This is actually an odd movie that I never saw growing up. If you follow my reviews, you know that I missed some key childhood films due to watching more adult movies that I didn’t fully understand. I did watch this one as Jaime and her friend where they both love it. They felt I needed to finally tick this off the list. The synopsis here is a curious youngster moves to Salem, where he struggles to fit in before awakening a trio of diabolical witches that were executed in the 17th century.
We start this movie in the 1600s as the synopsis states. There is a trio of witches where Winifred (Bette Midler) is in charge. There is the heavier, more comedic Mary (Kathy Najimy) and the boy crazy one of Sarah (Sarah Jessica Parker). They entice an Emily (Amanda Shepherd) into their house. It should be pointed here, they all look old currently. They do a spell to steal her essence to become young again. Thackery (Sean Murray), her older brother, tries to stop this ritual and gets turned into a cat in the process. The townspeople learned of what happened and executed them, just not before they perform a curse.
This all becomes local legend in the area. Everyone seems to lean into it so when our new kid of Max (Omri Katz) mocks it and Halloween, he is ridiculed. He shoots his shot though with one of the young women that mocks him, Allison (Vinessa Shaw), by trying to give her his number. She turns it down though as she has a boyfriend. On his way home, he encounters Ernie, who now wants to go by Ice (Larry Bagby), and his friend Jay (Tobias Jelinek). They steal his shoes in during this encounter.
Max is upset and just wants to sleep, but he’s told by his parents, Jenny (Stephanie Faracy) and Dave (Charles Rocket), that he has to take his younger sister trick or treating. His sister is Dani (Thora Birch). She has a big mouth, but she means well and loves her brother. She does get him bullied a bit more by Ice and Jay, as well as making things awkward when they end up at Allison’s house. Max does see a chance to spend time with her when Dani brings up the Sanderson sisters. They convince Allison to take them to their house, which is now a museum and share more information.
The house is a bit more rundown than it probably should be, since it was a working museum until recently. Max doesn’t believe any of these things and he lights a candle that burns with a black flame. The legend goes if a virgin does this, which he is, then it will bring back the Sanderson sisters, which it does. Winifred, Sarah and Mary have until sunrise to perform the same ritual they did the night they died or they will die forever. Being Halloween, there are a bunch of children, ripe for the picking. The problem though is Max, Dani and Allison take their spell book and they can’t remember the ritual. They also get help from the cat version of Thackery (voiced by Jason Marsden). They will have to contend with magic and a zombie named Billy Butcherson (Doug Jones) to make it to morning.
Now that’s where I’m leaving my recap and I should probably state here, I’ve been getting grief for not having seen this movie for at least 5 years. As a horror fan, people are shocked that I hadn’t seen it. I really do have to fill in the back-story that I laid out in my opening paragraph here. Some people get it and some people don’t.
One thing I will say though, this is back when Disney could still make horrorish movies with a bit of questionable subject matter. I’ve also recently seen The Goonies and it feels like another one that if I would have saw as a child, I would enjoy it more with the help of nostalgia as well. Dropping terms like ‘virgin’ or what the witches are looking to do is something that I’m not sure would necessarily fly today. I could be wrong, but just the way that we’re going, I don’t know.
The concept of this movie is good. I do believe that these witches would need to do the things that they are. It feels like it is borrowing a bit from The Evil Dead in that their spell-book is bound in human flesh. There is probably a bit of plot convenience that they need the book to do the spell since they can’t remember. I would have just been fine that the book is powerful that you just need it to do the spell.
We do get a bit of a cautionary tale as well with Max being a non-believer. He mocks Halloween and doesn’t fully buy into what they’re spinning with the Sanderson sisters. It is fitting that he would be the reason that they come back, so he has to be the one to stop him. The love that develops between him and Allison feels a bit Disney where she seems interested immediately. I can buy that going through this night with him she would develop feelings, but what about her ‘boyfriend’?
I realized while writing this review, horror does not appear on the Internet Movie Database for this movie. I’m not surprised as this is a family movie with comedy so the horror elements appear, but they aren’t necessarily scary. This is a horror movie in my eyes though, much like The Addams Family. I mean you have witches who are eating the essence of children to become young, which isn’t too dissimilar to what Elizabeth Bathory was supposedly doing. It isn’t as horrifying here. We also have a zombie and a spell that will kill all of these parents at a party.
Shifting over to the acting, I think no one really stands out, but it is fun. Midler has some good comedy and really comes off as the bitchy leader well. Parker is looking probably the best I’ve ever seen her and I love how dumb her character is. She plays it so well. Najimy as the bigger one also brings her own style of comedy that I liked from Sister Act 1 and 2. Katz is fine as the skeptical hero who gets bullied. By the end, he’s strong. Birch is funny and Shaw is solid. The rest of the cast rounded this out for what was needed with cameos by the great Doug Jones and uncredited ones by Garry and Penny Marshall.
The last thing to really go over would be the effects. They aren’t great, but I’ll be honest, some are on par with things that I’ve seen in the 2000s lately. It is 1993, so the talking cat doesn’t look good. I can be a bit forgiving there though. Most everything else that is done was fine with me. This includes the look of the past, the look of the witches and the practical make-up for Jones. The cinematography is also fine and I had no issues there. I don’t have a lot to say about the music, but we did get a fun musical number from Midler that made me chuckle.
Now with that said, I’m glad that I finally ticked this movie off my list. It is one that I’m not sure when I finally would have gotten around to. It has an interesting concept and with how the story plays out, it is much closer to peak Disney for me. I think that the acting is good across the board. No major issue with the effects, cinematography and the soundtrack works. This is definitely one that if you’re looking to get children into the genre to show them and it really seems to be a favorite for many from their childhood. I would rate this as good film though as I really don’t have that nostalgia bump for it.
My Rating: 8 out of 10