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A Love Letter to Hocus Pocus: The Perfect Halloween Movie

Hocus Pocus is unironically, undeniably, and unequivocally The Perfect Halloween Movie. If you watched this film as a kid or have rewatched it in years past to get into the holiday spirit, you can see how many parts of the film are unforgettable and entertaining today. Wallt Disney Pictures released Hocus Pocus in July 1993 and, surprisingly, only brought in $39.5 million in the box office while the film had a budget of $28 million. The negative reviews and poor theatrical release would define this movie as a flop, but it has only grown more popular over time and continues to be included on streaming platforms and Halloween movie marathons every year. In case you’re unfamiliar with this movie (I firstly highly recommend you go and watch it so you get the full Halloween experience this fall), the story follows Max and his sister Dani after moving to Salem, Massachusetts, where the Sanderson Sisters were executed 300 years ago for being witches. On Halloween night, Dani, Max, and his teenage crush, Allison, accidentally raise the three witches back from the dead by lighting the bBlack fFlame cCandle. In order to stop the Sanderson Sisters from stealing the lives of children in their town, the three kids team up with a bewitched black cat and a zombie raised from the dead to work against the Sisters’ witchcraft. 

One of the reasons why this movie has lasted the test of time is because of the “household names” that were involved in the project: it stars the incredible Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, Kathy Najimy, Doug Jones, and is directed by Kenny Ortega of High School Musical fame. We grew up watching these people on our televisions, maybe not realizing how they were movie stars then, but appreciating the leading ladies’ talent even more now. It is hard to imagine anyone other than Bette, Sarah, and Kathy as this iconic witch trio, and the young actors playing Max, Dani, and Allison complete the movie and play their characters’ childlike wonder and holiday skepticism perfectly.  

Through this amazing cast and their chemistry, the film is able to deliver some of the most memorable Halloween movie lines that I want to walk around repeating whenever the leaves start to turn brown in the fall. My personal favorites include:

-Billy Butherson: “Go to hell!”

Winifred Sanderson: “Oh! I’ve been there, thank you, I found it quite lovely.”

-Winifred Sanderson: “All Hallow’s Eve has become a night of frolic, where children wear costumes and run amok!’

Sarah Sanderson: “Amok! Amok! Amok Amok Amok!”

-Allison: “I like your costume, Dani”

Dani: “Thank you! I really like yours, too. Of course, I couldn’t wear anything like that because I don’t have any – what do you call them Max, Yabbos? Max likes your yabbos. In fact, he loves them!”

And of course, I’ll always love Max saying “It’s all a bunch of hocus pocus” in reference to him raising the Sanderson Sisters back from the dead. Like most other family Halloween movies, Hocus Pocus is a comedy and uses their jokes to entertain their audience of all ages and lure them into the spooky Salem witch hunt adventure. 

There are many other Disney movies that include adult jokes that went over our innocent minds as children, but Hocus Pocus doesn’t hit you over the head with uncomfortable inappropriate jokes that make you question why this movie was made for kids. You can see that there are a few “adult jokes” and those make me enjoy and appreciate the humor as I get older , as if the movie is making sure that we find new jokes every time we watch it. Most notably, a bus driver tells the three witches that if they desire children that night, “It may take me a couple of tries, but I don’t think that’d be a problem.”. As a seven-year-old watching Hocus Pocus for the first time, I had no idea of the implications of that joke, or why a virgin having to light the black flame candle was so funny to the characters in the film. 

Another thing that makes the film so perfect is the setting, scene decor, and overall Halloween aesthetic of the movie that instantly transports the viewer to autumn and makes them feel cozy and nostalgic for the season. From the kids trick -or -treating in the streets to the parents at a crazy town costume party, every moment of the movie reminds the audience of the joy and adventure that comes along with Halloween, especially against a New England fall backdrop. And most of the outdoor scenes were shot on location in Salem, Massachusetts, which means you can even travel to the town and feel like you’re in the movie! 

And I cannot discuss the ultimate Halloween movie without mentioning Bette Midler’s amazing rendition of “I Put a Spell on yYou” as Winifred Sanderson in the middle of the film that literally captivates the townspeople. I would argue that this is the most memorable scene of the whole movie for any kid who watched it, and the visuals and sound of this will forever stick with me. And, the sudden song performance in this film doesn’t kill the momentum of the movie and become pointless: the Sisters singing at the Halloween costume party moves the plot along by hypnotizing the adults and reminding the children that they’re alone in their fight. If you’re not inspired to go rewatch Hocus Pocus now, or don’t have enough time in your schedule, I encourage you to at least go watch this scene: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DCTbr3vjb6I.

Even if they didn’t get a “successful” box office release, Hocus Pocus has become a cult classic and synonymous with Halloween spirit. People still dress up as the three Sanderson Sisters, recognize the iconic lines of the film, and continue introducing children to the movie. And for a film made in the early 90s, I want to applaud Hocus Pocus for not relying on romantic subplots, not playing down the three comedic leading women’s talents, and not making Allison or Dani into weak damsels in distress on their adventure. If anything, Max, the teenage boy, makes the least difference in the plot and is mostly led by Thackery Binx, the best black cat to grace the silver screen. 

To continue the film’s legacy, Disney+ is making a SEQUEL  starring Bette, Sarah, and Kathy! The streaming service claims that Hocus Pocus 2 will come out in Autumn 2022, so keep your eyes out for a trailer next year! I can’t wait to see the witches back in action, and I hope the sequel lives up to its expectations when the three actors are back in action. My dear Hocus Pocus, I love you, and thank you for granting me the best childhood nostalgia and getting me in the Halloween spirit whenever I grab some apple cider and settle in to watch you once again.

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Maria Sell

Conn Coll '23

Maria (she/her/hers) is a junior at Connecticut College studying American Studies and Sociology and is originally from the San Francisco Bay Area. She loves getting to play on the Women's Water Polo Team with her teammates here and enjoys reading, baking, and coaching water polo outside of school!
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