Okay, let me explain.
When I sat down to compile a list of my favorite horror movies, I wanted each week or so to have a theme. Some of the themes came pretty easily: zombies, supernatural horror, etc. These films were the hard-hitting major leaguers, the ones that most people recognize as horror. But I also wanted to pay my respects to the movies that lead me up to where I am now, in my pursuit of all things spooky.
So the first couple movies on my list aren’t necessary what I would consider “great” horror movies, and some aren’t even really horror movies at all. But they gave me a taste for the weird and for the macabre, so I figure I should give them some love.
On the first day of Halloween, Bette Midler gave to me: Hocus Pocus (Kenny Ortega, 1993)
Would this even be a Halloween list without this movie? I mean, when it comes to shared experiences among people my age who celebrate Halloween, this movie is always #1. Hocus Pocus is a goddamn Halloween classic and gets you feelin’ spooky quicker than it takes to light a candle. It’s goofy as all hell, but has a fantastic production value and a crew of brilliant actors.
NO, THIS MOVIE ISN’T SCARY
…or is it? When I was a little kid, there was one part of Hocus Pocus that scared the shit out of me. Was it the reanimated corpse? Nah. The sisters sucking the lives out of children? Nope. The book made of fucking skin with one animate eyeball? Eh.
It was when Max lights the candle and the Sanderson cottage starts to shake, specifically when a ghoulishly green light starts to shine through the rumbling floorboards. For some reason that tiny detail set tiny me off: I suddenly became terrified that every floor was going to do that. While that’s absurd, the desire to not walk on or be around floors is decidedly…impractical.
Anyway. No, this movie isn’t scary, but it is ~sp00ky~ and gets me feeling all Halloween-like, so fuck it, it’s on the list.
…But it is scarily fantastic.
Okay, you can slap me for that one.
A brief plot, for those who haven’t seen it or need refreshing:
In the storied town of Salem, Massachusetts,the skeptical California-born Max (Omri Katz) accidentally releases the legendary Sanderson Sisters (Bette Midler, Kathy Najimy, Sarah Jessica Parker0, a trio of witches who were hung for attempting to suck the souls out of children in an attempt at immortality. The sisters set out to reclaim their chance at immortality, but only have one night -Halloween- to do so. It is up to Max, his little sister Dani (Thora Birch), and his lady love Allison (Vinessa Shaw) to save the children of Salem from the grasp of the nefarious sisters, before it is too late.
This movie is a family movie through and through, what with all the budding romance and silly hi-jinks. But Hocus Pocus has aged so well, and remains a seasonal staple for Halloween lovers of all ages. This movie is like a children’s storybook come to life, and uses the beautiful New England landscape to evoke a distinctly autumnal feeling, one that can only come from cobbled roads and abundant foliage.
The Sanderson Sisters are similarly the quintessential witches: they’re odd looking, wearing out-of-place garments and striped stockings. Their cottage is straight out of a little kid’s head:all gnarled wood and cobwebs, with a massive cauldron and people-sized cages.
There’s even a black cat, albeit one that talks gets you invested in his back story, and makes you cry at the end because he’s dead, dammit, but he finally gets to be with his sister and you’re so conflicted.
Hocus Pocus plays directly into every stereotype about fall and Halloween and witches, but does so with gusto and talent. Like I said, the production value on Hocus Pocus is great. But sets and costumes aside, the onscreen talent is brilliant.
The Sanderson Sisters are a delightfully dysfunctional bunch. From the way they walk as a trio (A-MUCK-A-MUCK-A-MUCK) to their chemistry as sisters, all three actresses pull their weight in various ways. Kathy Najimy’s physical comedy as Mary is subtle but hilarious, and Sarah Jessicac Parker’s ditzy, boy-crazy Sarah has some of the best one-liners in the film. Of course, Bette Midler steals the show as Winnie, the leader of three witches. Her characterization of the oldest Sanderson sister is iconic, and has stood the test of time.
And it would obviously be a shame to cast Bette Midler and not have her sing, and Ortega incorporates Midler’s real-life talent as a plot device. Indeed, Midler’s vocals are what one might call magical-nay, spellbinding.
But while I Put A Spell on You is upbeat and catchy, Come Little Children is lyrical and legitimately haunting. Here’s a version that I found a few years ago that perfectly captures its eeriness:
I think Ortega uses music in Hocus POcus to great effect, and all without making it feel like a kid’s musical. But to be sure, most of Hocus Pocus is comedic. And while a lot of it is physical comedy or comedy meant for younger ears, there are several moments that weren’t funny until I got older: constantly ribbing Max for being “the virgin” to light the candle, Sarah’s whole scene with the bus driver, etc. It’s not crude or outrageous, but clever enough to slip under the radar of most wee ones.
Hocus Pocus is one of the few family-oriented Halloween movies, but it’s holding down the fort in style. For those who have seen it: it’s always worth a re-watch. Hocus Pocus is a good time, even without the nostalgia. To those who have never seen it, I would seriously recommend finding a copy. It’s a fun way to get into the spirit of things, particularly if you’re not into the scarier fare that gets touted around this time of year.
…Unless you’re scared of floors.
…in which case I’d strongly advise against watching Hocus Pocus. Or like, at least not the first 20 minutes or so.
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