Are You With Us?: Hocus Pocus
By Ryan Mazie
July 16, 2012
Let’s be honest. No film can ever be compared to the (almost probable) epicness of The Dark Knight Rises. So for this week’s column, I am going to compare a personal film favorite of mine released this same weekend in 1993 that is the least Dark Knight Rises-y as possible … but still just as epic – Hocus Pocus.
Now you might be thinking, “Hocus Pocus was released in July?!” Yep, it was. It is one of those films that flopped theatrically yet is on TV so pervasively that almost everyone has seen it (and hopefully enjoyed it), Hocus is one of my biggest (non)guilty pleasures from my childhood that I can’t help but watch every October on ABC.
Much like its title implies, Hocus Pocus is a goofy, Halloween-set comedy produced by Disney, yet is strongly influenced by more adult themes, which helps make it appealing to all age brackets (wacky witches for the little kids, virgin candles for the teens, Madonna-references for the adults, and a Garry and Penny Marshall cameo for the seniors).
Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy star as the Sanderson sisters, hung in Salem during the 1693 witch hunt for sucking the souls out of children. Cut to 300 years later when three kids (Omri Katz, Thora Birch, and Vinessa Shaw) light a candle and say a spell, unknowingly bringing the sisters back to life on Halloween night. Having only until sunrise to suck all of the souls of the children in Salem to live eternally, the teen trio must delay their own plans in order to vanquish the sisters one last time.
Back in the ‘80s, Disney released some shockingly dark movies. Something This Way Comes, Return to Oz, and The Black Cauldron, among others, somehow managed to score a PG rating while creating some mental childhood scars. A family approach to horror, Hocus Pocus definitely has more of a modern-day Disney feel, with nothing ever being too terrifying and most of the dark material played strictly for laughs. The balanced, twisted humor is not surprising given the co-credited scriptwriters’ backgrounds in children and horror films. Those writers are Mick Garris (a horror veteran with the anthology series Fear Itself and Masters of Horror under his belt) and Neil Cuthbert (Mystery Men, The Adventures of Pluto Nash), with a story credit given to David Kirschner (Child’s Play & An American Tail – quite the difference of genres).
Midler, the biggest star in the cast when the film was released, chews up the scenery, spits it back out, and then eats it again in a delightfully campy role. As the smart sister to Parker’s dopey, boy-crazed sexpot and Najimy’s affable dunderhead, Midler steals every scene she graces.
Midler also handles the darker dialogue with ease, delivering it perfectly so that she can be menacing while still fitting in with the family tone. I still can’t help but laugh out loud when after being told to “go to hell,” she responds without a beat, “Oh! I’ve been there, thank you. I found it quite lovely.”