Sometimes during my month of horror, I have to take a break and just watch something that makes me happy on a child like level. Of course, it still has to be Halloween themed. Every year, I find myself reaching for this movie, usually more than once, because it takes me back to that perfect place of my Samhain childhood. I’m convinced that Hocus Pocus is in fact the perfect Halloween film, for the following ten reasons:
1. The opening credits
Seeing that leathery tome open, and then watching the shadow of the witch fly over the water and the city over John Debney’s orchestral score: that’s perfection right there. The tone is perfectly ominous, despite the fact that we know this is a family film made by Disney.
I love just about everything Doug Jones does. If anyone needed to play the uncoordinated, some what headless , reanimated Billy Butcherson, it’s this gangly king of make up.
3. CG Binks the cat
I am pretty hard on computer generated effects. I think, especially when you consider that this movie came out in 1993, that the animation done on Binx the cat is probably still some of the most convincing I’ve seen. In general, having animal’s mouths actually move is a bad choice, but Binx’s speech is pretty seamless and believable. Of course, it helps that his mouth is black, obscuring a lot of the mistakes that might have otherwise been seen. Also, shots of a real cat were cleverly used for the majority of Binx’s scenes, relying on CG only for the moments whenever he had to be seen speaking. An animatronic cat doll was also used for the scene when he is run over, and re-inflates.
4. The spell book
Winnifred’s spell book looks perfectly evil, with its human flesh binding and rolling eyeball. It truly smacks of The Evil Dead’s Necronomicon. I love that Winnie needs her book, and her book seems to need her as well, floating away at her beck and call.
5. The bullies
Dumb bullies are the best bullies, and let’s face it, Max really needs someone to keep his Hollywood ego in check. Ice and Jay are the perfect idiots, with just the right hint of 90’s style. Even though their styles do not compliment each other, Ernie gets “Ice” shaved into his head in order to lay claim to his new nickname, which he has clearly given himself, so I’m willing to forgive how the clash of grunge and hip-hop looks between them. (seriously though, these two are like an after school special).
6. The story was written by Mick Garris
Mick Garris is a name known well in horror, but it’s a name that comes with goofy comedy attached. He’s simultaneously responsible for really ridiculous movies like Critters, and serious horror like The Stand and Masters of Horror television series, and Sleepwalkers. He’s a name that basically pops up in unexpected places, and lots of times is an indication of good things.
7. Sarah’s song spell
I can totally believe small children would be enchanted by this song. I’m not sure why the Sanderson sisters didn’t reap its benefits earlier in the film. Also, even though I’m not a Sarah Jessica Parker fan, she does look fantastically magical as she flies on her broomstick with her cloak billowing in the breeze.
Every little girl needs a role model like Allison. She’s smart, and knows all about Halloween. She’s clever, and burns Max by giving his own phone number back to him. She’s pretty, but not overdone (I want every single one of her sweaters). She’s nice to kids, and even goes to her parent’s “boring” Halloween party because it’s the polite thing to do. When things start to get real, she tricks the Sanderson sisters on more than one occasion, and even knows to use a ring of salt to protect herself. To top it all off, even though she likes Max, we never see her kiss him. Home girl knows what’s up.
9. The musical number
I generally don’t like musical numbers, but Bette Midler’s “I Put a Spell on You” might be the best version of the song ever recorded. I know, I know, Screamin Jay Hawkins is amazing…but have you ever seen him sing the song in front of a skeleton band? Ok…maybe it’s not the best version of the song ever recorded, but it’s worth noting that I usually want to remove most of the musical numbers in Disney movies in general. I’m good with this song, and I think it’s an integral part of the movie.
10. The story feels like real mythology
I could go to a small town in New England, hear the story of the Sanderson Sisters, and believe it as a real piece of the town’s verbal history. From the manner in which the witches were hung and swore their return, to the fact that a virgin must light the black flame candle, and in the tiny detail that the witches have to work their child murder magic before the sun comes up; it all feels like a real piece of American folk story telling. In this lies the major success of Hocus Pocus. Garris and Kirschner didn’t reinvent the wheel with their story, but they did give it a modern spin, and used that element to their comedic advantage. Perfection.