A curious youngster moves to Salem, where he struggles to fit in before awakening a trio of diabolical witches that were executed in the 17th century.A curious youngster moves to Salem, where he struggles to fit in before awakening a trio of diabolical witches that were executed in the 17th century.A curious youngster moves to Salem, where he struggles to fit in before awakening a trio of diabolical witches that were executed in the 17th century.
Of course, even goofy kid's flicks like this have new information to reveal. I had no idea that Mick Garris, veteran horror screenwriter, co-wrote this one. Nor did I know that Doug Jones, probably the most famous creature actor today, played the zombie in this. Was there any other new information waiting me? The movie actually holds up alright. The decent premise is classic horror stuff. Set in Salem, of course, the child-stealing Sarandon sisters were executed but not before doing a few things: Turning a local teen into an immortal black cat, draining his little sister's life force, and, more pressingly, placing a curse on the town. Should a virgin ever light the black candle, they will return. Of course, this happens. Recently relocated teen Max, dragging his little sister and high school crush with him, lights that candle, revives the witch sisters, and leads to a bunch of wacky antics.
The cast and characters make the film far more likable then it would have been otherwise. Bette Midler goes far over the top as lead witch Winnifred. Her make-up is cartoonish, including frizzy red hair, perpetually pursed lips, and comically exaggerated buckteeth. Midler's acting is on the same level. She hoots, hollers, squeals, and delivers every line with comic-stripe panache. Even her facial expressions and body language are calculated for goofiness. She plays off the other two sisters nicely. Sarah Jackson Parker, before everyone started calling her a horse, brings a manic energy to the part. She jumps around, repeats dialogue, and actually conveys a wacky sexiness. Kathy Najimi is similarly silly, acting like an overgrown dofus.
Much of the humor comes from typical "fish out of water" shenanigans. The witches are baffled and occasionally delighted by asphalt, a bus, TV, remotes, and the concept of Halloween. Some of this is more entertaining then others. The interaction with a horny bus driver or Garry Marshall dressed as the Devil get genuine laughs. The trio constantly being fooled by fire sprinklers or headlights proves less so. Some of the overly goofy gags prove better then others. The witches having their brooms snatched by young look-a-likes is amusing. Them jumping on mops and vacuums are the sorts of goofy, kid's movie jokes you'd hope the movie would avoid. Midler and crew deliver their frequently corny dialogue like pros, never loosing that ridiculous cartoon tone.
It's not uncommon for the kids in the kids' movies to be punch-worthy. "Hocus Pocus" mostly avoids that too. The movie's theme boils down to one of sibling love. Surprisingly, this is incorporated organically into the story. Binx, the talking cat, lost his sister and is driven by the hope of being reunited with her. Max comes to appreciate and love his sister over the course of the story. It fits in and isn't overdone. The improbably named Ormi Katz finds a decent balance between grouchy, angsty teenager and proactive protagonist. A tiny Thora Birch also comes close to annoying. Her emotional interactions with the brother and the talking cat make the character relatively real. Vanessa Shaw is lovely and shows some genuinely comedic skills as Max's love interest. Only the ridiculous bully characters overdo it.
The movie couldn't cast Bette Midler in the lead without getting her to sing. The whole movie's tone of improbable goofiness is best summed up when a three-hundred year-old witch walks on-stage and sings a choreographed song-and-dance number. Yet that's probably the most memorable moment in the film. The zombie antics, with his head and fingers getting knocked off, are nicely gruesome for a kid's flick. "Hocus Pocus" even has a moment of eerie beauty, when Parker lures the children of the town away with a siren song. The music is ethereal and the image of hundreds of kids, some still in their Halloween costumes, walking the streets at night sticks with you. The special effects don't hold up and the whole movie is a goofy trifle. As far as nineties nostalgia go? "Hocus Pocus" is one of the better examples from my childhood.
- Nov 3, 2013