Hocus Pocus (1993 film)
Hocus Pocus is a 1993 American fantasy comedy film directed by Kenny Ortega and written by Neil Cuthbert and Mick Garris. The film follows a villainous comedic trio of witches (Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy) who are inadvertently resurrected by a teenage boy (Omri Katz) in Salem, Massachusetts, on Halloween night.
|Directed by||Kenny Ortega|
|Music by||John Debney|
|Edited by||Peter E. Berger|
|Distributed by||Buena Vista Pictures|
|Box office||$44.9 million|
The film was released in the United States on July 16, 1993, by Walt Disney Pictures. The film received mixed 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 during its theatrical run. However, largely through many annual airings on Disney Channel and Freeform (formerly ABC Family) all throughout the month of October annually, Hocus Pocus has been rediscovered by audiences, resulting in a yearly spike in home video sales of the film every Halloween season. The annual celebration of Halloween has helped make the film a cult classic.
On October 31, 1693, in Salem, Massachusetts, Thackery Binx witnesses his little sister, Emily, being whisked away to the woods by the Sanderson sisters, three witches named Winifred, Sarah, and Mary. At their cottage, the witches cast a spell on Emily to absorb her youth and regain their own, killing her in the process. Thackery confronts the witches, but is transformed into a black cat cursed with immortality. Suddenly, the townsfolk, led by Thackery's friend, Elijah, and Binx's father, immediately arrest the sisters and sentence them to be hanged for the murder of Thackery and Emily. Before their execution, Winifred casts a spell that will resurrect the sisters during a full moon on All Hallows' Eve when any virgin lights the Black Flame Candle. Thackery decides to guard the cottage to ensure no one summons the witches.
Three centuries later, on October 31, 1993, Max Dennison is feeling unsettled from his family's sudden move from Los Angeles, California, to Salem. On Halloween, Max takes his younger sister Dani out trick-or-treating, where they meet Max's new crush Allison. In an effort to impress Allison, Max invites her to show him the Sanderson house to convince him the witches were real.
Inside the Sanderson cottage, now a former museum, Max lights the Black Flame Candle and inadvertently resurrects the witches due to his virginity. The witches attempt to suck the soul of Dani, but Max comes to her rescue. Escaping, Max steals Winifred's spellbook (grimoire) on advice from Thackery, who now goes by his last name of Binx. The witches pursue them to an old 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 festival of disguises. They pursue the children across town using Mary's enhanced sense of smell. Max, Dani, and Allison find their parents at the City Hall Halloween party, where Winifred enchants the partygoers to dance until they die. At Jacob Bailey High School, the children trap the witches in a kiln to burn them alive. While the children are celebrating, the witches' curse revives them again.
Not realizing the witches have survived, Max and Allison open the spellbook intending to reverse the spell on Binx. The open spellbook reveals the location of the group, and the witches track them down, kidnap Dani and Binx, and recover the spellbook. Sarah uses her siren-like song to entice Salem's children, luring them to the Sanderson cottage. Max and Allison rescue Dani and Binx by tricking the witches into believing that sunrise was an hour early. Thinking that they are done for, the witches panic and pass out, allowing Max, Dani, Allison, and Binx to escape.
Back at the cemetery, the group is ambushed by Billy who then takes Max's knife, cuts open his stitched up mouth, and insults Winifred, therefore joining Max, Allison, Dani and Binx against the witches. The witches attack, and Winifred attempts to use the last vial of potion to suck the soul from Dani. Binx leaps on Winifred and knocks the potion out of her hand. Max drinks the potion, forcing the witches to take him instead of Dani. The sun starts to rise just as Winifred is about to finish draining Max's life force; in the ensuing struggle, Allison, Dani, and Billy fend off Mary and Sarah, and Max and Winifred fall onto the hallowed ground in the cemetery, causing Winifred to turn into stone. As the sun finishes rising above the horizon, Mary and Sarah are disintegrated into dust along with Winifred's stone body.
With the witches gone, Max, Dani, and Allison say goodbye to Billy, as he returns to his grave. Binx finally dies, freeing his soul. Appearing as a spirit, Binx thanks the group for their help and bids farewell to them as he is reunited with the spirit of Emily.
The exhausted partygoers, including Max and Dani's parents, oblivious to their enchantment, are freed when the spell is broken. Meanwhile, at the Sanderson's cottage, Ice and Jay, who previously tormented Max and Dani, remain imprisoned in cages and sing "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" to pass the time. Winnie's spell book is seen opening its eye, revealing it is still alive and the witches could possibly return again.
- Bette Midler as Winifred "Winnie" Sanderson
- Sarah Jessica Parker as Sarah Sanderson
- Kathy Najimy as Mary Sanderson
- Omri Katz as Max Dennison, modern teenager from Los Angeles, California newly living in Salem, Massachusetts
- Thora Birch as Dani Dennison, Max's 8-year-old sister who loves Halloween
- Vinessa Shaw as Allison, Max's crush and classmate
- Charles Rocket as Dave Dennison, father of Max and Dani
- Stephanie Faracy as Jenny Dennison, mother of Max and Dani
- Larry Bagby as Ernie/Ice, teenage bully in 20th-century Salem
- Tobias Jelinek as Jay, teenage bully in 20th-century Salem
- Sean Murray as Thackery Binx, teenage boy from 1693 cursed to live as an immortal black cat
- Jason Marsden as Voice of Thackery Binx (cat form)
- Doug Jones as William "Billy" Butcherson, an ex-boyfriend poisoned by Winifred on May 1, 1693 resorted to being a zombie.
- Amanda Shepherd as Emily Binx, Thackery's little sister and 1693 victim of the Sanderson sisters who got her life force drained by them on October 31, 1693.
- Kathleen Freeman as Miss Olin, teacher at Jacob Bailey High School
- Steve Voboril as Elijah, friend of Thackery in 1693
- Norbert Weisser as Mr. Binx, father of Thackery and Emily in 1693
- Garry Marshall (uncredited) as Master Devil, unsuspecting homeowner in 20th-century Salem
- Penny Marshall (uncredited) as Medusa Lady, unsuspecting homeowner in 20th-century Salem
In the 1994 TV documentary Hocus Pocus: Begin the Magic, and on the film's Blu-ray release, producer David Kirschner explains how 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 Phillips 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 in the United States on July 16, 1993, by Walt Disney Pictures. The film received mixed 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 during its theatrical run. However, largely through many annual airings on Disney Channel and Freeform (formerly ABC Family) all throughout the month of October annually, Hocus Pocus has been rediscovered by audiences, resulting in a yearly spike in home video sales of the film every Halloween season. The annual celebration of Halloween has helped make this film a cult classic.
When the movie was first released on VHS in 1994, it was the first home video release ever close captioned by Captions, Inc. to have the newly evolved close captioning by Captions Inc. When it was re-released on VHS and on DVD in 2002, the new home video release kept the original close captioning by Captions, Inc. from its original home video release instead of being close captioned by the National Captioning Institute with the new Disney National Captioning Institute close captioning originated from Lady and the Tramp II: Scamp's Adventure, and that close captioning had to wait until Max Keeble's Big Move which is a first for a home video release of a Disney live-action film with the new Disney National Captioning Institute close captioning.
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 Aram Khachaturian, arranged by George Wilson
- Chants and Incantations – conceived and written by Brock Walsh
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. According to Kirschner, Disney chose to release Hocus Pocus in July to take advantage of children being off from school for the summer.
In October 2020, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Hocus Pocus was re-released in 2,570 theaters. It made $1.9 million over the weekend, finishing second behind Tenet. The following two weekends it made $1.2 million and $756,000, respectively.
On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 39%, based on 56 reviews, with an average rating of 4.9/10. 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". Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B+" on an A+ to F scale.
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 [...] [T]he sight of the Divine Miss M. mugging her way through a cheesy supernatural kiddie comedy is, to say the least, dispiriting."
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 film. 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 film'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 film'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 film'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 film'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.”
The cast reunited for In Search of the Sanderson Sisters: A Hocus Pocus Hulaween Takeover which aired on October 30, 2020. The one-hour broadcast was virtual due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the proceeds will go to the New York Restoration Project. Members of the cast who participated were Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, Kathy Najimy, Thora Birch, Omri Katz, Vinessa Shaw, and Doug Jones. Other notable participants of the benefit included Meryl Streep, Mariah Carey, Cassandra Peterson, Glenn Close, Billy Crystal, Jamie Lee Curtis, Todrick Hall, Jennifer Hudson, Anjelah Johnson-Reyes, Michael Kors, Adam Lambert, George Lopez, Alex Moffat, Martin Short, Sarah Silverman, John Stamos, Kenan Thompson, Sophie von Haselberg, and Bella Hadid.
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 film, in an attempt to prove there is 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. Shortly after the report, Midler, Parker, and Najimy all confirmed their interest in reprising their roles. In March 2020, Adam Shankman signed on to direct. In December 2020, it was officially announced that the film would be premiering on Disney+. In April 2021, Anne Fletcher replaced Shankman as the director. Production is scheduled to begin in the summer of 2021, in Salem, Massachusetts. In May 2021, Adam Shankman teased some big news about film and that he would still be involved with it despite no longer being the director. He later officially confirmed that Fletcher would serve as director and that he would remain attached to the film as an executive producer, due to his duties as director of Disenchanted. That same month, it was confirmed that Midler, Parker, and Najimy will reprise their roles as the Sanderson Sisters and the film would be released in 2022.
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- "Disney+ Sets 'Hocus Pocus' Sequel for 2022". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved May 20, 2021.
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