HOCUS POCUS (1993) review – Halloween Special 2018

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It’s Halloween month, y’all, and you know what that means! It’s time to catch up on our favorite horror movies and gear up for Halloween! Last year, I did a Halloween special where I reviewed some of my favorite horror, or Halloween-appropriate movies and I had so much fun doing that, I wanted to do it again. Sadly, I don’t like a lot of horror movies, so my pool of material is about as deep as a puddle in summer in California. So in order to rectify this, I’ve reached out to the deepest and darkest corners of the internet and asked for a little help. And by that, I mean I went on Facebook. So, a very special thanks to the Movie Talk community, as well as my friends and co-workers, for your horror movie suggestions. I won’t be able to get to every single recommendation, but you’ve all left me with great ideas and there’s always next year! This is my Halloween Special 2018!

Cast: Bette Midler (THE STEPFORD WIVES [2004], and the upcoming THE ADDAMS FAMILY [2019]), Sarah Jessica Parker (DID YOU HEAR ABOUT THE MORGANS? [2009], DUDLEY DO-RIGHT [1999], and the upcoming HERE AND NOW [2018]), Kathy Najimy (WALL⋅E [2008] and HOPE FLOATS [1998]), Omri Katz (stuff I’ve either never heard of or seen), and Thora Birch (AMERICAN BEAUTY [1999], ALASKA [1996], and the upcoming ABOVE SUSPICION [2018])

Director: Kenny Ortega (1 episode of CRAZY EX-GIRLFRIEND [2015 – ongoing], and the upcoming DESCENDANTS 3 [2019])
Writers: Mick Garris (stuff I’ve either never heard of or seen, and the upcoming NIGHTMARE CINEMA [2019]) and Neil Cuthbert (THE ADVENTURES OF PLUTO NASH [2002] and MYSTERY MEN [1999])
Composer: John Debney (BEIRUT [2018], THE GREATEST SHOWMAN [2017], YOUNG MESSIAH [2016], THE SPONGEBOB MOVIE: SPONGE OUT OF WATER [2015], STONEHEARST ASYLUM [2014], PREDATORS [2010], THE PRINCESS DIARIES 2: ROYAL ENGAGEMENT [2004], and upcoming films THE BEACH BUM [2019] and ISN’T IT ROMANTIC [2019])
Cinematographer: Hiro Narita (THE ROCKETEER [1991] and HONEY, I SHRUNK THE KIDS [1989])
Editor: Peter E. Berger (COACH CARTER [2005] and HOMEWARD BOUND II: LOST IN SAN FRANCISCO [1996])

This is my honest opinion of: HOCUS POCUS

 

(SUMMARY)

Set in Salem, Massachusetts. 300 years ago, the witch Sanderson sisters, Winifred (Bette Midler), Mary (Kathy Najimy), and Sarah (Sarah Jessica Parker) kidnapped and stole the life-force from a young girl to make themselves younger. They even turned the girl’s older, protective brother Thackery (Sean Murray) into a cat. For their crimes, they were hanged, but vowed to return when a virgin lights the Black Flame Candle.

In 1993, teenager Max (Omri Katz) is the new kid in town and is having a hard time adjusting to his new life. On Halloween, he reluctantly must take his little sister Dani (Thora Birch) trick-or-treating and ends up at his crushes house, the wealthy Allison (Vinessa Shaw), who takes them to the old Sanderson house for spook stories. However, Max lights the Black Flame Candle and brings back the Sanderson sisters back. Despite their efforts to use Dani’s life-force to keep them young, Max saves her and steals the witches’ valued spellbook and begin to hunt them down in this new world.

(REVIEW)

Before anyone asks, no, before this day, I’ve never seen this movie. Or at least, not all of it in one sitting. Or… certainly not in recent memory. As far as I, or anyone else, is concerned, that means I’ve never seen it. Now that I have… yeah, okay, I get it. I understand why this became such a cult classic for so many. I don’t know if it’s necessarily going to be my go to Halloween movie, but I certainly enjoyed it.

Let’s start with the negatives.

This movie is about as clichéd as it gets. The new kid at school who hates that he moved and has bullies at school… yeah, I got some serious KARATE KID flashbacks here. And if I were to take a guess, even that movie wasn’t the first to use it. Oh, and there’s the whole “spellbook bound in human skin” thing. Hmm. Very EVIL DEAD of this movie. As you can see, this movie is a little derivative. Even high schoolers picking on little kids and stealing their candy? Dude, I went to Calabasas High School. Teenagers are brutal jerks, but they’re brutal jerks to each other. I can’t name the jerk teenagers that preyed on kids on Halloween. Pretty sure they were too busy going to parties and losing their virginities. Also, the bullies are really annoying in this movie. While I shouldn’t be too surprised to see goofy and over-the-top acting from kids in a goofy live-action Disney movie, it still doesn’t get easier to watch.

One of the narrative issues I have is, why specifically is the spell that brings them back to life all dependent on a virgin lighting the candle? It’s no wonder they ended up waiting 300 years. Hell, it’s only by pure, blind, stupid luck that they returned at all. That candle could have melted in heat, or simply been destroyed by some destructive punk kids over the course of time. It’s even a surprise that no one decided to burn the place down. There’s just something that seems particularly dumb about this spell and its rules. Speaking of which, if Binx could talk, why didn’t he talk to anyone in the past 300 years? There didn’t seem to be any rules regarding who could hear him. And it’s not like he couldn’t leave the house either, so why are only Max, Dani, and Allison able to do anything after all this time? It’s pretty dumb.

But before anyone calls me a hater, it’s time to start singing the praises.

I’m actually going to start with letting my man-brain take over and say that Sarah Jessica Parker was a knock-out in this movie. Not that she’s not attractive even today, but there is a clear distinction between the current regal and sophisticated SJP and the twenty-eight year old, platinum blonde, highly flirtatious, cleavage baring SJP of back then. I’m telling you now, if I had seen this movie as a kid, SJP would have been a serious long-time crush for me.

Okay, slapping myself back into some common decency. I know everyone loves to praise Midler on her performance, and don’t get me wrong, all of the witches are a lot of fun to watch, but Sarah stood out the most for me. No, not just because of her… appeal, but because she’s just got such a big personality compared to the other two. While all of the witches are morons, Sarah is clearly the most dim-witted of them to the point where I think she only understands about twenty-percent of what’s going on. Winifred will say a word and Sarah will start hopping in a dance. Winifred will face her sisters and start giving a speech, Sarah will nonchalantly eat a spider, and then that speech is over, Mary will say she followed Winifred up to a point, but Sarah will be completely lost, even though she was making eye contact. Somehow, the most moronic of the morons always tickle me the most. And did anyone else happen to catch that she’s kind of a horny pedo? Even before she was hanged in 1693, I think there’s an implication that the witches have been stealing the life-force of children for awhile. Even if that wasn’t the case, exactly how old was Sarah? Clearly the youngest of the witches, but likely not under the age of eighteen. Attractive as she was back then, she didn’t look “teenager”. So when she’s looking at teenage boys and going, “Can I play with them?” or “I can be your friend,” all I could do is say, ewwy. What makes it worse is when she says that same thing to the eight-and-a-half year old Dani. Seriously… mega-ewwy. Switch the genders and this movie would be a hard-R. There’s even a scene where she’s sitting on the lap of a bus driver and honking the horn! You know in an R-rated movie that this would have been a metaphor for something that no kid should be exposed to too young. Finally, there’s a scene where she’s singing a song to hypnotize all of the children to follow her and her sisters to their home, and it’s a pretty seductive song. Are you kidding me?! Is no one else seeing this for what it is?!?! Still, as sick as that stuff was, it’s this lack of caring from the fans, and likely the lack of awareness from the writers, actors, and director that makes it all the more hilarious to me.

In fact, the dynamic between the witches is pretty endearing as it does really remind me of the Three Stooges. They’re all idiots, but you have one that deems themselves the smartest and the leader of the group, the undisputed dumbest, and… well, the third one that no one really remembers that well. They don’t always get along and the leader is usually the one that smacks the others a lot. It’s done fairly well and I’d be lying if I didn’t appreciate it.

But now it’s time to talk about my absolute favorite character in this movie, and that honor goes to Dani. Dude, this kid was killing me and getting the most laughs out of me, outside of SJP. Upon her introduction, she already had me with a cute laugh. But then Max is all like, “Nah, I ain’t trick-or-treating with you.” But then she decides to play up the loving sister card, wraps her arms around his neck and talking about the good ole days, resulting in another rejection. Then, in about the most ear-bleeding way possible, screams for their mom and gets her way. It’s fantastic. I even love some of her lines. Like when Max is down for going to the Sanderson house with Allison, and Dani is scared, Max comments that she’s the girl of his dreams, to which Dani says, “So? Take her to the movies like a normal person.”  And like any great kid character, she’s part of the action. She’s a wise-cracker and not afraid of adults. She back-talks the witches and even gets a nice whack in Sarah’s stomach with her bag of candy. What I really enjoyed is that there is a legit connection between her and Max. They don’t always get along, but he’s still protective of her, and she of him. I found their relationship to be quite cute.

Overall, yeah I think the movie is pretty dumb. It takes elements from other movies and has some very questionable story elements that clearly made this movie aimed at younger kids. With that said, it’s still got more than its fair share of fun for repeat watching. The actors are pretty fun, especially Birch and Parker, and it’ll certainly get anyone in the mood for Halloween. Like I said, I’m not sure if this will make it as one of my classic Halloween viewings, but I can see why if it’s one of yours. As a recommendation, yeah, I recommend this for any and everyone.

My honest rating for HOCUS POCUS: 4/5

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