WELL, THAT HAPPENED: Spooky Rituals

By on October 20, 2015

Halloween is a time for candy and ‘Hocus Pocus.’

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The scary sweetness of the ‘Hocus Pocus’ potion makers is worth revisiting every Halloween. (Photo:walt Disney Pictures)

Jackson, WY – I come from an old-fashioned family of Austrian immigrants who had no concept of Halloween before moving to the states. Our major holiday traditions emerged from our Catholic roots, so days like Palm Sunday and Christmas Eve have fairly specific menus and customs that have been handed down through the Munz/Tesar families for generations. But the one holiday that was always mine and mine alone was a wholesome, sugar-filled American Halloween.

Nothing in this world has given me anywhere near the same amount of insane pleasure as Halloween, with its black and orange motif, caramel coating and witchiness. I haven’t let a single year go by where I haven’t a.) carved a pumpkin, b.) worn a costume, and most importantly, c.) watched the 1993 film “Hocus Pocus.” I can’t say what provoked this passionate obsession for something as stupid as a seasonal Disney movie, but for the past 20 years (that’s two decades, folks), I have not managed to get through the Halloween season without it.

If you think the film sucks, you’re wrong. Simple as that. I say that because, as someone who overanalyzes movies to the point of repugnance, “Hocus Pocus,” even with its faults, manages to be a bizarrely good movie. It’s hokey, it’s childish, it shouldn’t work, but it does! Still unconvinced? Let me clarify.

The plot revolves around Max Dennison (Omri Katz), a teenage L.A. transplant to Salem, Mass., a town that practically injects pure, concentrated, black tar Halloween spirit into its veins. While Max is apathetic to Halloween — a holiday he says was invented by the candy companies — his little sister Dani (Thora Birch) remains in her costume every moment she’s on screen. Forced to take Dani trick-or-treating, the two meet up with Max’s crush, Allison, (Vinessa Shaw), who informs them of the Old Sanderson House, a cottage in the woods where the fabled Sanderson sisters murdered children 300 years ago. Max, ready to impress the hot girl (“Make a believer out of me”), convinces the trio to go check out the place, but then inadvertently brings the Sanderson sisters back to life. For the rest of the film, Max, Dani, Allison and a talking cat named Binx work hard to put the witches back in their graves before they kill all the children in Salem.

It’s a story that could easily be told through pure horror, complete with blood, gore and jump-scares, but “Hocus Pocus” ends up being one of the funniest films of the 1990s thanks in part to its stellar cast. Winifred (Bette Midler), Mary (Kathy Najimy) and Sarah (Sarah Jessica Parker), with their commitment to their wacky roles, solidify themselves as the most amusing, bumbling villainesses in the Disney universe. As the witches navigate the 20th century trying to track down and kill our heroes, the three actresses devour every moment they’re on screen thanks in part to a great script that offers infinite quotable lines. “Twist the bones and bend the back. Itch-it-a-cop-it-a-mel-a-ka-mys-ti-ca. Trim him of his baby fat. Itch-it-a-cop-it-a-mel-a-ka-mys-ti-ca. Give him fur black as black, just … like … thisssss.”

While it’s slightly embarrassing that I know “Hocus Pocus” like some people know “Caddyshack,” I’m certainly not the only superfan out there. The film has solidified itself as a cult classic for the Halloween crowd, as beloved as “The Nightmare Before Christmas” or “Scream.” Having seen the film so many times, I have a hard time even seeing the people on screen as actors, because the reality of the characters has become as natural to me as watching Luke Skywalker gazing at the setting suns of Tattooine. I never see Bette Midler in costume. I see Winifred Sanderson.

“Hocus Pocus” harkens back to the pre-information-age beauty of a 1990s Halloween, the Halloween I fell in love with growing up. The film remains timeless and despite some 1993 fashion choices (Tie-dye, Max? Really?), it feels unattached to any particular decade. Complete with “Martha Stewart Living” set pieces, over-the-top costumes and Sarah Jessica Parker’s flabbergastingly perfect breasts, “Hocus Pocus” will remain a part of my Halloween tradition and no doubt will entertain for generations.

It’s no coincidence that Winifred Sanderson sings, “I put a spell on you. And now, you’re mine.” Watch. Watch. Watch until we die. PJH


About Andrew Munz

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