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Hocus Pocus: A Hoax

Hocus Pocus

Author | email | October 28, 2016


Hocus Pocus premieres on July 16, 1993

Hocus Pocus is an unduly popular film full of bad acting, inappropriate sexual references, and a plot that would cause R.L Stine to roll over in his (hypothetical) grave. There: I said it. Sue me.The film tells the story of the Sanderson Sisters: a trio of witches that were hung in Salem, Massachusetts for stealing children and absorbing their souls in order to stay alive. In 1993, 300 years after their deaths, an angst filled teen named Max (Omri Katz) and his family move to Salem from L.A. Because of his skepticism towards the legend of the Sisters, his crush Allison (Vinessa Shaw) brings Max and his little sister Dani (Thora Birch) to the Sister’s old house where if a virgin lights the black flame candle on Halloween night the Sisters will come back to life. Still not believing in the story, Max lights the flame and brings Winifred (Bette Midler), Sarah (Sarah Jessica Parker), and Mary (Kathy Najimy) back from the grave. From there, the rest of the movie consists of Max, Allison, and Dani running away from the witches to stop them from taking the lives of children and becoming immortal.

The entire movie gives off the impression of being “The Bette Midler Show”. Bette Midler obtained critical acclaim as an actress in the Janis Joplin-based The Rose (1979). She spends all her time in Hocus Pocus acting like a drag queen and seems to have no idea what her character is supposed to be. Is she evil? Is she meant to be a seductress? Is the fact that she awakens three centuries after being burned at the stake and wants to live in this new world the entire point of the film? I honestly couldn’t tell you. Her character is meant to be the main villain but her want and motivations are never clearly stated. These are all things she should have considered when being paid to be a witch. Even in her buck-toothed Queen Anne fashion, Midler still completely out-shines Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy, who act as mindlessly as possible in order to bring out a few laughs from the audience. The best acting in the movie (and that is not much of a compliment when taking into account what it is being compared to) comes the less gaudy characters – from Omri Katz who makes a convincing teen and Thora Birch who plays off him with seemingly authentic emotion as his younger sister.

I found this movie to be pretty creepy sexually. Max is a typical teenager whose main goal is to impress his crush, Allison. Many movies start off this way, My Girl being the first that pops into my mind, but I have never seen one include a cringe-worthy scene where the protagonist pretends a pillow is a girl and spoons it while whispering, "Oh, Allison, you're so soft."Hocus Pocus is a Disney movie, whose audience is made up in part by children, and Max is dry-humping his bedding. That is inherently wrong. Hocus Pocus is obsessed with his virginity. It would have been fine to mention it at the beginning of the movie, because according to legend, only a virgin can light the candle that brings the witches back and that is a major plot point. However, the movie repeatedly reminds us of his virgin status, and shows him acting in irrational and dumb ways because he seems so desperate to lose it. Not only that, but the movie allows also Sarah Jessica Parker to act in a somewhat pedophilic way. Whenever she sees someone of the male species she makes some sort of remark asking Winifred to let her “play with him” and even goes so far as to sit on a bus driver’s lap and flirt in an adult sounding way. Doesn’t seem very fitting for a PG movie to me…

Being only the second film directed by former dance choreographer Kenny Ortega, it is understandable that he would have wanted to go all out, so to speak, with the special effects in this movie in order to give it a “wow” factor. For all of the flashiness of witches flying on broomsticks, a CGI talking cat, a book with a living eye, and the process of turning into a stone gargoyle and exploding into a million pieces it feels like there is no substance to the effects; they never brought me into the film, and it seems they were generated solely for the sake of existing. In addition to this, there is little in the way of a coherent story – it consists mostly of people running around connected only by a series of thin plot devices. The movie changes tone as casually as the actors wear their costumes, and doesn’t hesitate when breaking its own mood altogether (as when the three witches suddenly perform "I Put a Spell on You" directly after a somewhat intense chase scene).

The film also bends itself in irritatingly chronologically incorrect ways for the purpose of laughs – so that Bette Midler might get a chance to sing, the film conveniently provides her with a stage and microphone and allows the other two sisters to become a backing chorus; they instantly knew how to use 20th Century technology and were fully up to date with modern musical styles despite having been revived out of the 17th Century for less than a day. Later on as Omri Katz flees Bette Midler in a car while she pursues on a broomstick, she makes jarringly anachronistic references to his lack of driver’s license (“Let me see a driver’s permit”) and to arresting him for speeding (“Resisting arrest?”). I understand that most people would not have noticed these mistakes, but they just make the film seem sloppier in my eyes.

The Disney name on the movie adds a restrictive layer of “niceness” over everything so that it never gets too scary for children: the witches are played so moronically there is no chance they can actually cause a scare, the zombie turns out to be a good guy, and everything is wrapped up happily at the ending. Though this is the general “Disney formula”, it is not what I would expect out of a live action film targeted not only to children but also to teens and adults. I get that there is a certain balance to maintain when producing a movie for such a wide audience, but if they were able to make incessant references to a teenager’s virginity then they could easily have made the villains in the story somewhat scary. After hearing for years from people around my age about how Hocus Pocus was so great and that I was missing out by not watching it, I expected the Halloween movie to end all Halloween Movies full of moments that would make me have to pause the film in order to catch my breath. Instead, what I saw was a well contained trainwreck that was really just a waste of an hour and a half of my time.It seems as though Kenny Ortega did not enjoy directing a “scary” Disney film, because since then he has stuck to directing wholesome shows such as the High School Musical franchise.

When Hocus Pocus debuted over 20 years ago, in June of 1993, it made $39 million — a dissapointing number compared with the $28 million Disney spent towards its production. The movie was a financial disappointment, opening at fourth place behind peers like Jurassic Park and Free Willy. It was also an overall disappointment to me, I had much higher expectations about it because of my friends and through general word of mouth. I am also not a seven-year-old so that also contributes to my glaringly obvious dislike of this movie. In general, I would never watch this movie again, but that doesn’t mean others shouldn’t. If you’re a parent looking for a not- so- scary if mildly inappropriate Halloween movie to watch with your kids (ideally ages 4-8) I would recommend Hocus Pocus but I warn you to be prepared for some ridiculous things. I give this movie a solid 4/10 overall rating.

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