Friday, October 14, 2011

I like Hocus Pocus

Disney's 1993 classic Hocus Pocus is a personal favorite of mine and is always a welcome viewing event for the Halloween season.  A few days ago Frau Punkinstein and I watched it for this year's festivities and it was still great.

A little history: I first saw this film in 1997.  I was in the US Navy, stationed in Winter Harbor, Maine, and had only been in the state for about a month.  It was Halloween and a few of us had gathered at a co-worker's place to watch horror movies and hang out.  I grabbed one of the last remaining pumpkins from a local grocer and carved it at the party and later took it back to my barracks room where I placed it in the freezer and there it stayed, freezing solid, until the next Halloween.  I recall getting back to my room after work and seeing my inspection chit saying I had passed, but with a personal note from my Lieutenant saying, "Is the pumpkin in the freezer absolutely necessary".  The next morning I assured him that it was.

So it was Halloween, about midnight, maybe later, and I was depressed, alone, didn't want to sleep (sundown to sundown is the rule) and my roommate was asleep in our room, so I went to the lounge to look for a horror movie on the lounge TV.  Instead I found Hocus Pocus on the Disney channel.  I'd never seen it and I had the suspicion that it was a kid and/or chick flick, but I started to watch it anyway.
I'm glad I did.
It is an absolute joy to see Bette Midler, Kathy Najimy and Sarah Jessica Parker as delightfully wicked, but not stereotypical witches, romping through 20th century Salem in quest for a magical book.  The special effects are good both for the time and for now, especially in our current state of CGI abused, with people simply dazed by the schlockiest of computer effects.  The makeup (Doug Jones in zombie outfit, lanky and drawn, playing Billy Butcherson), the colors and the simple but effective storyline combine to make this a wonderful family film, not a kid's film.
It went on my Halloween Traditions list that night and stays there still.
I could do a huge review, but I won't.  I want to hit a few personal high points.
1. The musical number.  I am straight, but that does not mean I don't appreciate the pipes of Miss Bette Midler.  The Sanderson sisters' rendition of Screamin' Jay Hawkins's "I Put A Spell On You" is a great middle bit/musical number.
2. The humor.  Like any good family film there are jokes for the kids and jokes for the adults and I like them both.  Simple physical humor or complex word gags, I like them both and this film has them.
3. The color code.  Each Sanderson Sister is associated with a particular color (Green for Winifred, Red for Sarah {the Scarlet Woman of the trio} and Purple for Mary) that extends all the way to their death scenes, where they turn into smoke of that color.  It is a subtle but keen visual cue.
4. The magic.  Okay, this is a personal nitpick of mine.  Fantasy stories, games, films, what have ye, have to follow their own internal rules.  Harry Potter has rules of magic, so does Tolkein.  We don't question the rules until they are violated by their own story.  I like the Sanderson Rules, as I call them.  Each sister has a special power (Winnie can shoot electricity, Mary has a super sense of smell, and Sarah can enchant children with song) and they can all fly, but for the most part they must brew potions or cast spells from their magic book.  I like that.  It says, "Hey, I'm magical but I can't remember every single little thing.  Can you?"  It made them menacing but "real" if you get my drift.
5. It's kinda dark.  For a Disney film there is much that is dark about it, but it is funny by turns and only syrupy maybe twice, so that's nice.
6. It was aged well.  Never discount that, it is very important to a film.
7. It is set on Halloween, and that's good enough for me.

 Hocus Pocus starring Bette Midler, Kathy Najimy, Sarah Jessica Parker and a zombified Doug Jones
5 Phantom Jack O Lanterns out of 5

Check it out this season and if you can get a black flame candle or not, keep your pumpkins lit.


  1. Hocus Pocus is shown in our house every Halloween, we love it too.

  2. Oh, you've picked a favorite of mine too. What's so bad is....I only JUST saw this movie for the first time LAST year! My kids had watched it, but it was usually in the car and I never saw it for myself. I heard the song and would sing it aloud, but had not viewed the movie. So my son and I sat down to watch it and I totally loved it. Especially due to the fact that it is set in Salem and I LOVE Salem. And I love the feel of Fall and the excitement of Halloween night! Definitely one that I will continue to watch year after year as well!

  3. I've never been to Salem. Again I find it awfully ironic that it is so Halloween friendly today given its past.
    Nice, but ironic.