HOCUS POCUS - Golden Oldies On the Big Screen
For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Oct. 16, 2020
EDITOR’S NOTE: Director Kenny Ortega went on from this film to helm the ‘High School Musical’ trilogy, among many other projects, but despite the renewed popularity of ‘Hocus Pocus,’ thanks to home video and the Disney Channel, it was a deserved theatrical flop in the early 1990s. Yet, here it is as a ‘Comeback Classic’ in local theaters, so let’s take a look back at my Deseret News review, published on July 16, 1993. You can still catch it a various Cinemark and Megaplex theaters around town.
Bette Midler, Kathy Najimy and Sarah Jessica Parker make like Moe, Larry and Curly in "Hocus Pocus," a horror-comedy that spoofs witches, zombies and teen angst — all equally horrifying prospects.
Unfortunately, all their hammy mugging makes the Three Stooges seem downright subtle. A little goes a long way — and there's way too much here.
There are also some "scary" moments that may upset small children, so despite the PG rating and the Walt Disney Pictures logo, parents should know that a zombie has his head lopped off (twice), as well as the fingers of one hand.
Kathy Najimy, left, Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, 'Hocus Pocus' (1993)
"Hocus Pocus" begins in 17th-century Salem, Mass., with the Sanderson sisters, Winnie, Mary and Sarah (Midler, Najimy and Parker, respectively) practicing their witchcraft ways, attempting to drain the life out of a young girl (shown less graphically than last year's "Sleepwalkers," which had a similar premise).
The girl's older brother attempts to rescue her, only to be turned into a black cat that is cursed to live forever. But he has also brought the townfolk with him, and they break down the door and lynch the sisters — but not before Winnie curses the town, promising to return one Halloween night when a virgin lights the black-flame candle in their shack.
Cut to modern-day Salem — 300 years later on Halloween — as Max, the new kid in town (Omri Katz), learns the legend of the Sanderson sisters for the first time. And later that night, as he's taking his younger sister Dani (Thora Birch) on her trick-or-treat rounds, they link up with Allison (Vinessa Shaw) and visit the old rundown Sanderson home, which has been preserved as a museum.
There, Max takes up the challenge and lights the black-flame candle. And sure enough, the Sanderson hags return. Much of the rest of the film is taken up with predictable fish-out-of-water gags as the trio tries to cope with modern inventions and conventions (though this element is decidedly inconsistent).
Some amusing ideas have been conjured up by the three screenwriters (led by Mick Garris, director of "Sleepwalkers"), such as the three witches' individual eccentricities, a subplot about a zombie who rises from the dead to do their bidding (but who walks more like the scarecrow in "The Wizard of Oz") and the eternal black cat — a talking cat, no less.
The elaborate sets, costumes and special effects are notable. But director Kenny Ortega ("Newsies"), who was previously a choreographer ("Dirty Dancing"), has everything racing chaotically at such a fever pitch that it becomes annoying after a while. (Even the musical punctuations in John Debney's score are ridiculously over the top.)
Similarly, the goofy tics each of the lead actresses display — buck teeth and affected speech for Midler, a twisted mouth and Boris Karloff lisp for Najimy and Parker's airhead-style prancing around — grow quickly tiresome.
All in all, "Hocus Pocus" simply tries too hard and wears out its welcome in the process.
The film is rated PG for a couple of mild profanities, some vulgar jokes (primarily about women's breasts) and a fair amount of violence (most of it comic in nature).