It’s weird to think about it now that Hocus Pocus is a cult classic but when it was first released in the 90s the film bombed at the box office. The critics hated it and people just didn’t go an see it in the cinema. However, as we’ve seen with a shitload of supposedly terrible films, over the years it has become a fan favourite and a cult Halloween classic. It’s pretty much the only film I’d say is a must-have viewing over the fright season. Who needs scary movies and gore when you have Bette Midler and that nun from Sister Act dressed as witches and luring children to their home? Nobody that’s who. I realise I’m someone who dislikes the horror genre but that doesn’t make my point any less valid… does it? Well, I don’t give a shit. I’ve loved Hocus Pocus since I was a kid and I’m pretty sure I watch it every year around this time. It’s the only time I’ve enjoyed something starring Sarah Jessica Parker.
I understand why people might hate this film. I mean it’s kind of cheesy and it’s kind of over-complicated. On paper it’s nothing special but, thanks to a great cast and a fake talking cat, Hocus Pocus is actually incredible. One Halloween in Salem a teenage boy, desperate to impress a girl, lights a candle that brings three witchy sisters back to life. They have one night to magically steal the youth of a child or they’ll turn to dust. First they have to track down their spellbook from the trio who inadvertently set the menace on the world. There’s also some dancing, a couple of bullies and the aforementioned talking cat. I think it’s easy to see why this is my favourite Halloween based film.
The film follows awkward teenager Max Dennison (Omri Katz) who has been forced to move to Salem but can’t fit in with his fellow students. Despite being incredibly cynical about all things to do with the holiday, Max is charged with taking his younger sister Dani (Thora Birch) trick or treating he comes face-to-face with new crush Allison (Vinessa Shaw). Allison loves Halloween and, with some encouragement from Max, takes the pair to the house that once belonged to the three Sanderson sisters (Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy). The sisters were witches who hundreds of years earlier were killed after they kidnapped and killed a young girl, Emily. Max lights a candle and Winifred, Sarah and Mary return to life and immediately begin trying to find eternal youth. With some help from Emily’s brother, Thackery Binx, who was unfortunately turned into a cat, the trio must keep the sisters away from their spellbook and stop them brewing the all important potion.
A lot of what makes this film so great is what also makes it so bad. It’s utterly camp and over-the-top but it’s also endearingly fun. All the cast are clearly having a whale of a time and totally embrace the ridiculousness on screen. It means that despite whatever crazy shit is happening it still feels like everyone’s in control. And, yes, it is camp but it’s about Halloween for fuck’s sake. It’s a holiday about dressing in colourful costumes, demanding sweets and using cheap tricks to scare people. It’s hardly the classiest time of year. Anything that is based around plastic spiders and face-paint isn’t going to be ruined because Bette Midler and her skin-bound spellbook.
This film is silly and weird and absolutely amazing. It’s full of dark and adult humour despite being a kid’s film. It’s funny but it’s also kind of scary for children. I mean the sisters spend the entire film looking for children to kill, they nearly force the entire town to dance themselves to death, and there’s a hanging in the first 30 minutes. It would do the job as a children’s Halloween film but it’s so much more than that. It’s insane and unnecessarily complicated. The sister get locked in a furnace but somehow survive to drag the plot on further. There are plenty of sub-plots that aren’t needed and loads of things included just or jokes. It kind of feels like an hour long story dragged out by another 30 minutes. However, I honestly don’t know what I would remove if I had the chance. It’s all so fucking vital to the overall experience. The moments where the sister’s come to terms with modern life are fantastic. Any time when the three witches are together and just being fucking weird is fantastic.
I don’t care what you might say but Halloween isn’t a time to be scared. Especially when you’re my age. It’s about dressing up and being outrageous. This film, in it’s own way, is outrageous. It won’t get the appreciation it deserves from critics and the like but fans love it for a reason. You don’t need to sit around at home watching people run away from chainsaw wielding freaks in masks. No, you need the Sanderson sisters and Thackery fucking Binx.