Friday, October 26, 2012

Hocus Pocus Movie Review

I’ve said before that I don’t particularly care for horror movies in general. During the Halloween Holiday it can be tricky to find some good “Halloween Movies” that aren’t simply slasher horror flicks. There are a couple of good ones out there that are both fun and family-friendly, like Hocus Pocus for example.
300 years have passes since The Sanderson Sisters were executed in Salem, Massachusetts for practicing witchcraft. Winifred (Bette Midler), Mary (Kathy Najimy), and Sarah (Sarah Jessica Parker) used a spell before being hung to ensure they would return on Halloween to exact revenge upon Salem. The Sanderson Sisters have become a legend in Salem, and their old home a tourist attraction. Newly transplanted from California, Max (Omri Katz) explores the tourist destination, daring the witches to manifest themselves. Disregarding warnings of his sister Dani (Thora Birch) and his new girlfriend Allison (Vinessa Shaw), Max actually causes The Sanderson Sisters to appear to wreak havoc on the town. The kids take off with the witches’ spell book. The witches, who will die by daybreak if they can’t cast the proper spell for immortality, have to get the book back by whatever means they can.
Hocus Pocus is a great family-friendly Halloween film. Witches, magic, black cats, trick-or-treating, and even a zombie all run amuck in this film. And yet, they aren’t depicted in such a way that would induce trauma in the kid viewers. There are a few scenes when the witches are attempting to drain the life force out of small children that might spook some younger viewers. But since the target audience is in fact children, I’d say the movie is probably best for kids age 8 or 10 and up.
The movie has a lot of energy, but has a weak plot and two-dimensional characters. Max is the usual teenage new kid trying to fit in, Dani is the token obnoxious younger sibling, and Allison does very little other than be a girlfriend. I did appreciate the fact that Max and Dani are depicted as being at odds with one another, but still very clearly love each other. I don’t see siblings in movies that openly love and care for each other very often; they usually just fight and argue.
With three big-name actresses playing The Sanderson Sisters, I’d expect a bit more from the dialogue. I’d assume Bette Midler would know good lines when she sees them, but she (and Najimy and Parker) goes into hyper mode and uses loud, boisterous delivery to help hide the fact that the dialogue is silly and simplistic. Nevertheless, The Sanderson Sisters are an amusing set of comical villains. They take on some Three Stooges style physical humor, they speak in Old English, and scenes when they encounter modern technology are usually pretty funny. Winifred, as the main antagonist, is particularly nasty, but the characters aren’t developed enough to really inspire the audience to hate these villains.
Part of what makes Hocus Pocus so appealing to me is having old, magical mythological beings in a modern setting. They are comically out of sorts with the rest of the world. When the Sanderson Sisters misplace their brooms, they need to improvise by raiding a broom closet. They then fly off on a dollar store broom, a mop, and a vacuum cleaner. Max tricks the witches a few times into thinking he has magic powers by using modern technology like overhead fire extinguishers. The magic-meets-modern setting makes for some amusing contrasts and ironic scenes that are just fun. Unrealistic, yes, but fun. It makes me want to see more modern day monster-hunting type of films.
The special effects are actually pretty good for 1993. One of my favorite scenes was when Max and the girls are driving away in an SUV and the witches start flying alongside the car, trying to get the kids inside. We see exterior shots of the witches swooping down upon the vehicle, and interior shots where we see the witches closing in outside the window.
Was Hocus Pocus good? From a film critic’s standpoint, no not really. Was it fun? Absolutely! I like this film a lot. Bette Midler is even quoted saying that "Hocus Pocus was the most fun I'd had in my career up to that point."  It’s a great family Halloween movie. It will appeal more to kid audiences, but it’s also got a nostalgic appeal to adults who enjoyed it as kids back in 1993. Hocus Pocus had a much greater success in sales as a home video, and has gained a cult classic status. I recommend seeing Hocus Pocus. It recently became available on Blu-Ray for the first time on Septermber 4, 2012; and I want a copy. It’s one of the best Halloween movies out there in my opinion.

What is your favorite Halloween movie? Let’s assume you’re probably going to say Hocus Pocus. Apart from Hocus Pocus, what is your favorite Halloween movie? Comment below and tell me what it is!


  1. Hocus Pocus is a childhood favorite and every year when it airs on ABC Family or the Disney Channel I watch it. This year my kinds are old enough to watch it so I made sure that I set my Hopper timer to record the show while we were out. There’s just something about the silly, goofy antics of the Sanderson sisters that make this movie so loveable. My DISH co-worker says that her and her sisters used to dress up as the witches when they watched the movie. I think that’s pretty awesome and I just might start doing that with my girls.

    1. Yeah, it's a childhood favorite of mine, too. I admit I don't see it every year, but it's fun to watch around Halloween time. You should dress up as The Sanderson Sisters with your girls! That would be awesome!
      Thanks for your comments!