Brutally Honest Movie Review: ‘Hocus Pocus’ Isn’t Nearly What It Used to Be
There are some films that stand the test of time; movies that are laced with lasting appeal for children and adults alike. Hocus Pocus may be a cult classic but it doesn’t fall into the timeless category. The Disney channel-centric shitshow is equatable to running out of toilet paper or the punchline you forgot. If this sounds harsh, it’s only because nostalgia has led us astray, and we’re upset. There are those who embraced the annual ritual of popping in that VHS or turning on ABC Family, never allowing their affinity for Hocus Pocus to dwindle, but not us. For the last couple of decades, we’ve cherished the long-lost Halloweens we spent watching Hocus Pocus unaware of our brewing cynicism. 1993 was a different time; through our mature 2019 lens, let’s do an honest review of Hocus Pocus.
Cover Photo: Walt Disney Studios
The plot burns virgins at the stake and doesn't make any sense.
We first meet the Sanderson sisters (Winifred, Sarah, and Mary) in Salem, Massachusetts, on Oct. 31, 1693. The witches kidnap a little girl, Emily, and suck away her youth in order to make themselves young. Emily’s older brother, Thackery, tries to stop this from happening but is instead turned into an immortal black cat. Thackery’s father and his drinking buddies then hang the witches, but not before Winifred casts a spell that will ensure their resurrection on Allhallows Eve (via a virgin and a candle).
We assume this is all supposed to happen during the Salem witch trials; however, those hearings were over by May of 1693. This small inaccuracy serves as the foundation for all the nonsensical things that follow.
It's an absolute cheese-fest.
How do these witches who were confused by asphalt roads know what a driver's permit is? If you eat enough cheese, you’re going to get constipated. Cringe-worthy doesn’t do it justice.
Some moments are still pretty funny though.
It teaches us some things.
All the wrong things, that is. At the end of the film, its hero, Max, saves everyone…except for the bullies. If we’ve learned anything from Stranger Things’ Billy Hargrove, it’s that the misunderstood duo, Jay and Ernie (aka Ice), probably just have unresolved daddy issues. Max does not care. He leaves his classmates in the Sanderson sisters’ cages, presumably, to die. We get that they made fun of Max's tie-dye T-shirt, West Coast hippie persona, and stole his shoes (which he did get back, so props to him), but really? How about showing a character who takes the moral high ground, Disney? All that virgin talk must have really gotten under his skin.
Early on in the movie, Max’s class listen as their teacher explains the legend of the Sanderson sisters. Max writes All Hallows' Eve off as hogwash but his classmate Allison reasserts, “It’s the one night of the year when the spirits of the dead can return to the Earth.” Max responds by walking over to her desk and saying, “Well in case Jimi Hendrix shows up tonight, here’s my number.” Cue soundbite where everyone goes, "Oh!” Max’s other classmates literally react this way. You have to admit, that’s a pretty boss move on behalf of Max Dennison—surely he’s not a virgin (or at least he won't be next All Hallows' Eve).
It's kind of inappropriate.
Hocus Pocus’ outdated take on sexuality is no secret (and we’re going to keep pointing it out here). The film basically suggests that Max isn’t a real man until he gets laid. He fields digs from everyone, including his 8-year-old sister. However, the narrative’s obsession with sexuality doesn’t stop there; it loves boobs, and Sarah Jessica Parker’s character is clearly a pedophile.
Case in point.
The performances are OK.
The term “overacting” comes to mind when watching Hocus Pocus. This is a blessing and a curse; although the movie is meant to be comedic, it is oftentimes funny when it’s not supposed to be. Think an unaware Sharknado. The most emphatic performance in the whole ordeal comes from Thora Birch as Dani who’s totally the wisest character.
Pretty accurate depiction of Halloween.
When Max is tasked with taking his little sister, Dani, trick-or-treating, one thing becomes very apparent: there are a lot of unsupervised children running around in Salem, Massachusetts. However, the relationship between brother and sister is actually pretty relatable; at one point Dani even tells her older brother, “Could you just forget about being a cool teenager for one night?”
We loved dressing up for Halloween as kids, hated it as teenagers, and relish in it as adults (but that probably has more to do with the alcohol). Before Dani and Max hit the streets, there’s also a ridiculous (and perhaps politically incorrect) moment when Max’s dad tells him to turn his hat sideways if he wants to be a rapper.
Bette Midler steals the show.
The moment that sticks out in everyone’s mind when they think of Hocus Pocus is when Winifred Sanderson sings “I Put a Spell on You.” Apparently, 300 years of being dead didn’t affect Winifred, Sarah, and Mary's understanding of popular culture, dance choreography, microphones, or spooky lighting. Regardless, Bette Midler steals the show in a song and dance number that displays the actress and singer in her element.
Thackery Binx is annoying.
Raise your hand if you thought that the cat’s name was Zachary for the longest time. Why does Thackery sound like Jason from Boy Meets World? Also, Thackery can talk as a cat; however, he never seems to speak when he should be speaking. For example, at the Sanderson sisters’ hanging, Thackery could easily have said something to his father. His poor parents went their entire lives without ever knowing about his double life as a feline.
It did set some trends.
Like talking cats and zombies that haven’t decomposed.
The heartfelt stuff is contrived.
One minute characters are running around chaotically and the next they’re having a heart-to-heart. Hocus Pocus’ nonsensical plot and confusing narrative beats make way for obvious (and forced) character development. Also, let’s make fun of the virgin again.
The special effects aren't inspired.
Again, Hocus Pocus came out in 1993. Jurassic Park was in theaters the month before (Hocus Pocus was released in July for some reason), a film whose visuals still hold up. Hocus Pocus brought its own belief-suspending visuals into the mix as well, with witches flying on brooms and Bette Midler using force lightning.
Why does Allison use the salt so late in the game?
She uses it at the end of the film to protect Dani from the witches, but why didn’t she use it earlier to ride out the night? Over halfway through the movie, Allison explains how salt wards off witches and other evil entities. So why couldn’t they have just doubled down on that useful piece of information right away?
Hocus Pocus is not a film concerned with logic. Also, did anyone else notice how when Max and Dani go to Allison’s house, her entire family is dressed in 17th-century attire? Weird Halloween party.
Equipped with nostalgia, Hocus Pocus is a good time. Without that added layer of sentiment, Hocus Pocus is near unwatchable…but that’s what makes it great. When Hocus Pocus came out in 1993, no one went to see it. It wasn’t until the film made its way to cable, and with the benefit of the spooky season, that it found itself being watched religiously by millions of candy-corn-eating couch potatoes. Holiday films capture a certain vibe; let’s be honest, without horror, Halloween is ridiculous.
Hocus Pocus is that night you drank too much wop at your work’s Halloween party, puked on your boss, and still had a great time. As a film, it’s deplorable—trite, cliché, stupid, and offensive. Out of 10, a hard-nosed critic would probably give it a 5.5. As a guilty pleasure, Hocus Pocus earns a tired and true 10. It’s not perfect, but neither are we. After taking a deep breath and allowing our cynicism to subside, we still love it.