Hocus Pocus (1993 film)
Theatrical release poster
by Drew Struzan
|Directed by||Kenny Ortega|
|Music by||John Debney|
|Edited by||Peter E. Berger|
|Distributed by||Buena Vista Pictures|
|Box office||$39.5 million|
Hocus Pocus is a 1993 American dark fantasy comedy horror film directed by Kenny Ortega and written by Neil Cuthbert and Mick Garris, and it is based on a story by Garris and David Kirschner. The film stars Bette Midler, Kathy Najimy and Sarah Jessica Parker, with Omri Katz, Thora Birch, and Vinessa Shaw in supporting roles. The film follows a villainous yet comedic trio of witches who are inadvertently resurrected by a teenage boy in Salem, Massachusetts, on Halloween night.
The film was released in the United States on July 16, 1993, by Walt Disney Pictures. The film received mixed to negative reviews from film critics at the time of its release. It was not a critical or commercial success upon its release, possibly losing Disney around $16.5 million. However, largely through annual airings on Disney Channel and Freeform (formerly ABC Family), Hocus Pocus has been rediscovered by audiences, resulting in a yearly spike in home video sales of the movie every Halloween season. Reception has since grown to be more positive toward the film. Hocus Pocus has become a highly regarded cult classic.
On October 31, 1693, near Salem, Massachusetts, Thackery Binx sees his little sister, Emily, spirited away to the cottage of three witches. There, the Sanderson sisters, Winifred, Sarah and Mary, cast a spell on Emily to absorb her youth and regain their own, killing her in the process. Thackery confronts the witches who transform him into an immortal black cat cursed to live forever with his guilt for not saving Emily. The townsfolk, led by Binx's father, capture the witches. But before being hanged, Winifred's spellbook casts a curse that will resurrect the witches during a full moon on All Hallows' Eve when any virgin lights the Black Flame Candle. Unable to convince his father of his true identity as a cat, Thackery guards the cottage to ensure no one summons the witches.
Three hundred years later, on October 31, 1993, on Halloween, Max Dennison is feeling unsettled from his family's sudden move from Los Angeles, California, to Salem, Massachusetts. Max takes his younger sister Dani trick-or-treating, where they run into Max's new crush Allison. Allison mentions that her family owns the Sanderson cottage as a museum. Max, in an effort to impress Allison, invites her to show him the Sanderson house to convince him that the witches were real.
Investigating inside the cottage, Max lights the Black Flame Candle and inadvertently resurrects the witches, who must continue to suck the souls of every child in Salem to continue living, or else they disintegrate. The witches attempt to suck the soul of Dani, but Max comes to her rescue. Escaping, Max steals Winifred's spellbook on advice from Thackery. The witches pursue them to a cemetery, where Winifred raises her unfaithful lover Billy Butcherson as a zombie to chase them on foot. The witches try to acclimate to the 20th century, but are horrified when they discover Halloween has become a holiday. They pursue the children across town using Mary's enhanced sense of smell. Max, Allison and Dani find their parents at a Halloween party at the town hall, where Winifred enchants the partygoers to dance and sing until they die. At Jacob Bailey High School, the children trap the witches in a kiln to burn them alive. While celebrating, the witches' curse revives them again. Not realizing that the witches haven't truly died, Max and Allison open the spellbook in an effort to reverse the spell on Binx. The open spellbook reveals the location of the group, and the witches track them down and kidnap Dani and Thackery, and get the book back. Sarah then uses her siren-like singing to mesmerize Salem's children, luring them to the Sandersons' cottage. Max and Allison rescue Dani and Thackery by tricking the witches into believing sunrise came an hour early.
Back at the cemetery, Max runs into Billy, who cuts open his stitched up mouth and insults Winifred, joining Max to protect Dani. The witches attack and Winifred attempts to suck out the soul from Dani with the single vial of potion she retrieved from her cauldron. Thackery leaps on Winifred and knocks the potion out of her hand into Max's, but is then thrown to the ground and injured at the spot where his sister Emily's grave is. Rather than smashing the vial, Max drinks it in order to force the witches to take him instead of Dani. The sun rises just as Winifred is about to finish draining Max's life force, and due to standing on hallowed ground in the cemetery, she turns into a stone statue, before she is disintegrated into dust along with her sisters.
With the witches gone, a satisfied Billy returns to his grave and Thackery finally dies, freeing his soul. Appearing as a spectral, Thackery thanks Max, Dani and Allison for their help, and bids farewell to them before he reunites with Emily's spirit and walk into the afterlife. As the end credits begin, the exhausted partygoers, including Max and Dani's parents, are freed from the spell and return home, oblivious to their enchantment. Meanwhile, at the Sandersons' cottage, Jay and Ernie, two male bullies who earlier tormented Max and Dani and were captured by the witches after inadvertently insulting them, remain imprisoned in their cages and sing "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" to pass the time. The film ends with Winnie's spellbook opening its eye, revealing it is still alive and the witches could possibly return again.
- Bette Midler as Winifred "Winnie" Sanderson
- Kathy Najimy as Mary Sanderson
- Sarah Jessica Parker as Sarah Sanderson
- Omri Katz as Max Dennison
- Thora Birch as Dani Dennison
- Vinessa Shaw as Allison Watts
- Sean Murray as Thackery Binx
- Doug Jones as Billy Butcherson
- Charles Rocket as Dave Dennison
- Stephanie Faracy as Jenny Dennison
- Amanda Shepherd as Emily Binx
- Larry Bagby as Ernie "Ice"
- Tobias Jelinek as Jay
- Steve Voboril as Elijah Morris
- Norbert Weisser as Mr. Binx
- Kathleen Freeman as Miss Olin
- Garry Marshall (unbilled) - The Master
- Penny Marshall (unbilled) - The Master's Wife
In the 1994 TV documentary Hocus Pocus: Begin the Magic, and on the film's Blu-ray release, producer David Kirschner said he came up with the idea for the film one night. He and his young daughter were sitting outside and his neighbor's black cat strayed by. Kirschner invented a tale of how the cat was once a boy who was changed into a feline three hundred years ago by three witches.
Hocus Pocus started life as a script by Mick Garris, that was bought by Walt Disney Pictures in 1984. The film's working title was Disney's Halloween House, it was much darker and scarier, and its protagonists were all 12-year-olds. Garris and Kirschner pitched it to Steven Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment; Spielberg saw Disney as a competitor to Amblin in the family film market at the time and refused to co-produce a film with his "rival."
Various rewrites were made to the script to make the film more comedic and made two of its young protagonists into teenagers; however, production was stalled several times until 1992, when Bette Midler expressed interest in the script and the project immediately went forward. Midler, who plays the central antagonist of the film (originally written for Cloris Leachman), is quoted as saying that Hocus Pocus "was the most fun I'd had in my career up to that point".
Principal photography began on October 12, 1992. The film is set in Salem, Massachusetts, but most of it was shot on sound stages in Burbank, California. However, its daytime scenes were filmed in Salem and Marblehead, Massachusetts during two weeks of filming with principal cast. Production was completed on February 10, 1993.
Pioneer Village, a recreation of early-colonial Salem, was used for the opening scenes set in 1693. Other locations included Old Burial Hill in Marblehead, where Max is accosted by Ice and Jay, the Old Town Hall in Salem, where the town Halloween party takes place, and Phipps Elementary School, where the witches are trapped in a kiln. The exterior for Max and Dani's house is a private residence on Ocean Avenue in Salem.
The film was released to VHS in North America on January 5, 1994 and later to DVD on June 4, 2002. Following the film's release on the latter format, it has continued to show strong annual sales, raking in more than $1 million in DVD sales each October. In the mid-to-late 1990s, the film was rebroadcast annually on ABC and Disney Channel before switching over to ABC Family's 13 Nights of Halloween lineup in the early 2000s. The film has continuously brought record viewing numbers to the lineup, including a 2009 broadcast watched by 2.5 million viewers. In 2011, an October 29 airing became the lineup's most watched program, with 2.8 million viewers. On September 4, 2012, the film was released on Blu-ray. Disney re-released the film on Blu-ray and Digital HD on September 2, 2018, as part of the film's 25th anniversary. The new release contains special features, including deleted scenes and a behind-the-scenes retrospective.
The musical score for Hocus Pocus was composed and conducted by John Debney. James Horner was originally slated to score the film, but became unavailable at the last minute, so Debney had to score the entire film in two weeks. Even though he didn't score the film, Horner came back to write the theme for Sarah (sung by Sarah Jessica Parker, more commonly known as "Come Little Children") which is featured in Intrada's Complete Edition of the score.
Debney released a promotional score through the internet containing 19 tracks from the film. Bootlegs were subsequently released across the internet, primarily because the promotional release missed the entire opening sequence music.
- "Sarah's Theme" – music by James Horner; lyrics by Brock Walsh; performed by Sarah Jessica Parker
- "I Put a Spell on You" – written by Jay Hawkins and produced and arranged by Marc Shaiman; performed by Bette Midler
- "Witchcraft" – written by Cy Coleman, Carolyn Leigh; performed by Joe Malone
- "I Put a Spell on You" – written by Jay Hawkins; performed by Joe Malone
- "Sabre Dance" – written by George Wilson
- Chants and Incantations – conceived and written by Brock Walsh
On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 34%, based on 50 reviews, with an average rating of 4.4 stars out of 10. The website's critical consensus reads, "Harmlessly hokey yet never much more than mediocre, Hocus Pocus is a muddled family-friendly effort that fails to live up to the talents of its impressive cast".
Gene Siskel, reviewing for The Chicago Tribune, remarked that the film was a "dreadful witches' comedy with the only tolerable moment coming when Bette Midler presents a single song." Roger Ebert in The Chicago Sun-Times gave the film one star out of a possible four, writing that it was "a confusing cauldron in which there is great activity but little progress, and a lot of hysterical shrieking". The Miami Herald called it "a pretty lackluster affair", adding this comment: "Despite the triple-threat actress combo, Hocus Pocus won't be the Sister Act of 1993. There are a lot of gotta-sees this summer, and this isn't one of them."
Janet Maslin of The New York Times wrote that the film "has flashes of visual stylishness but virtually no grip on its story". Ty Burr of Entertainment Weekly gave the film a C-, calling it "acceptable scary-silly kid fodder that adults will find only mildly insulting. Unless they're Bette Midler fans. In which case it's depressing as hell"; and stating that while Najimy and Parker "have their moments of ramshackle comic inspiration, and the passable special effects should keep younger campers transfixed [...] the sight of the Divine Miss M. mugging her way through a cheesy supernatural kiddie comedy is, to say the least, dispiriting."
Hocus Pocus was released July 16, 1993 and came in fourth place on its opening weekend grossing $8.1 million. It dropped from the top ten ranking after two weeks of release. The film was released the same day as Free Willy. The unusual summer release of Hocus Pocus is said to be due to Disney not wanting it to compete against their other Halloween-themed film, The Nightmare Before Christmas, which was due for release the coming October by Touchstone Pictures.
Over the years, through various outlets such as strong DVD sales and annual record-breaking showings on Freeform's 13 Nights of Halloween, the film has achieved cult status. Various media outlets such as Celebuzz and Oh No They Didn't have reiterated such claims. In its 25th anniversary year in 2018, the first week of Hocus Pocus viewings on Freeform averaged 8.2 million viewers. A special called the "Hocus Pocus 25th Anniversary Halloween Bash" was filmed at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery and features interviews with members of the cast, including Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy, as well as a costume contest hosted by Sharon and Kelly Osbourne. It aired on Freeform October 20, 2018.
In October 2011, the Houston Symphony celebrated various horror and Halloween classics, including Hocus Pocus, with "The Hocus Pocus Pops." On October 19, 2013, D23 held a special screening of Hocus Pocus at the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, California, to honor the 20th anniversary of the film. Nine of the cast and crew gathered for the screening, and hundreds of D23 members attended. Returning members included Kathy Najimy, David Kirschner, Thora Birch, Doug Jones, Vinessa Shaw, and Omri Katz.
During her Divine Intervention Tour in 2015, Bette Midler appeared on stage dressed as Winifred Sanderson. Her Harlettes appeared with her dressed as Mary and Sarah, and the three of them performed the film's version of "I Put a Spell on You".
On September 15, 2015, the Hocus Pocus Villain Spelltacular was introduced at the Magic Kingdom as a part of Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party. The show introduces new actresses as the Sanderson Sisters, who try to make a villain party and summon or attract various Disney villains in the process. In September 2016, entertainment critic Aaron Wallace published Hocus Pocus in Focus: The Thinking Fan's Guide to Disney's Halloween Classic, the first full-length book written about the movie. The book includes a foreword by Thora Birch and afterword by Mick Garris. Billed as a "lighthearted but scholarly look at the film," the book analyzes the movie's major themes, which it identifies as festivity, nostalgia, home, horror, virginity, feminism, Broadway-style musical moments, sibling rivalry, "Spielbergian" filmmaking style, Disney villain traditions, and more. Wallace also analyzes Walt Disney World's Hocus Pocus Villain Spelltacular as part of the movie's legacy and includes "the largest collection of Hocus Pocus fun facts and trivia ever assembled," complete with extensive endnote citations.
The City of Salem has celebrated its connection to Hocus Pocus, while local filming sites have become an attraction for fans as the movie's legacy has grown over the years. In 2018, the Haunted Happenings Grand Parade, an annual Salem festival held every October, was Hocus-Pocus themed in honor of the movie's 25th anniversary. A representative for Destination Salem also reported a huge uptick in tourism for the 25th anniversary year, stating: "There’s always been a ‘Hocus Pocus’ component to the visitors to Salem, especially in October. But it's like the film's following grows every year.”
In July 2014, it was announced that Disney was developing a supernatural-themed film about witches, and that Tina Fey was on board as a producer and star. However, Deadline debunked rumors that the film was a sequel to Hocus Pocus. In November 2014, Bette Midler said in an interview that she was ready and willing to return for a sequel. She also said her co-stars Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy were interested in reprising the roles of the Sanderson sisters as well, but stressed that Disney had yet to greenlight any sequel. In November 2015, Midler stated in a Facebook Q&A that "after all these years and all the fan demand, I do believe I can stand and firmly say an unequivocal no" in response to a question about a sequel.
In June 2016, actor Doug Jones mentioned that Disney had been considering a sequel, and behind the scenes discussions were in place to possibly continue the series. In October 2016, Sarah Jessica Parker was asked by Andy Cohen about a sequel. Her response was, "I would love that. I think we've been very vocal that we're very keen." In Hocus Pocus in Focus: The Thinking Fan's Guide to Disney's Halloween Classic, author Aaron Wallace identifies several potential approaches for a sequel, but notes that the project's biggest challenge is the Walt Disney Studios' interest in tentpole projects that promise very high box office returns.
In September 2017, screenwriter Mick Garris admitted that he was working on a script for Hocus Pocus 2 and that it would potentially be developed as a television film for Disney Channel, Freeform or ABC. It was later confirmed that it will instead be a remake to air on Freeform, with The Royals writer Scarlett Lacey attached to write, and the original film producer David Kirschner executive producing. The following month, Midler said she was not fond of the idea of a remake and she would not be taking part in it.
In July 2018, a book titled Hocus Pocus and the All-New Sequel was released, containing a novelization of the film and a sequel story. The sequel focuses on Max and Allison's daughter, Poppy, who grew up hearing the family story of the first film and parents who avoid Halloween as much as possible. Poppy is skeptical of the tale and ends up in the Sanderson house on Halloween, twenty-five years to the day after the movie, in an attempt to prove there's nothing to the story.
In October 2019, a sequel was announced to be in development as a Disney+ exclusive film, with a screenplay written by Jen D'Angelo, serving as a loose adaptation of Hocus Pocus and the All-New Sequel. Shortly after the report, Midler, Parker and Najimy all confirmed their interest in reprising their roles.
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