‘Tis 1693, and the Sanderson sisters have been casting spells throughout Salem. Desperate for eternal youth and beauty, they lure a girl into their cottage in the hopes of using her soul to complete their potion. But after much double toiling and troubling, and even fires burning and cauldrons bubbling, the sisters are instead hanged. It takes more than a little bit of rope to kill a witch though, and the Sandersons bide their time in a semi-state of undead, waiting for someone, a virgin specifically, to light the magic candle on Halloween night.
Flash forward to 1993, and teenager Max (Omri Katz) is adjusting to his new life in Salem, having moved from L.A. He gets off on the wrong foot with everyone, including class beauty, Allison (Vinessa Shaw), and his bad day is made worse when his precocious little sister, Dani (Thora Birch), manipulates him into going trick-or-treating with her. When the three of them wind up at the Sandersons’ old cottage, they meet a talking cat (Sean Murray/James Marsden) and unwittingly release the sisters, who have one night to complete their spell lest they disappear forever.
It takes a good half hour before the witches reappear, and that’s when the movie really picks up. Otherwise, the set-up looks dated and forced, especially the pair of bullies who, though not to make light of the issue, aren’t all that threatening. Birch is a delightful little monster in the best way possible, however, and she perks up the nighttime scenes by running around, needling her older brother, and screaming her head off whenever necessary.
The best way to enjoy this hokey cult classic is to, like Birch, embrace it for what it is. I don’t have the same affection for it as some in my generation, but I can appreciate the fun/horror house nature of it. Never one for scary movies, I’m not sure how kids usually got, or get, their cinematic thrills, but I could easily roll with fluorescent green lights glowing from split floorboards and smoke clouds billowing from giant, plastic cauldrons. And it’s amusing, almost endearing, to see such inoffensive looking zombies in this Walking Dead age.
What gives Hocus Pocus most of its magic though are the Sanderson sisters and the actresses who play them. Bette Midler is Winnie, the leader of the pack who, now that I think about her protruding teeth and blooming hair, probably scared me off this movie as a child. Less frightening are the dimwitted sisters, Mary and Sarah, played by Kathy Najimy and pre-Carrie Bradshaw Sarah Jessica Parker. They mostly look like themselves but act like simpletons. And even if the comedy is dumbed down for a family audience, I still caught myself giggling as the sisters adjusted to modern life and our Halloween celebrations, which, let’s face it, are a pretty curious.
Prod: David Kirschner, Steven Haft
Dir: Kenny Ortega
Writer: Mick Garris, Neil Cuthbert
Cast: Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, Kathy Najimy, Omri Katz, Thora Birch, Vinessa Shaw, Sean Murray, James Marsden, Penny Marshall, Garry Marshall
Time: 96 min
Country: United States