Of all the holidays celebrated worldwide, no single day is loved by the Substream staff more than Halloween. With October’s arrival, the time has finally come to begin rolling out a slew of special features we have prepared in celebration of our favorite day.
31 Days Of Halloween is a recurring column that will run throughout the month of October. The goal of this series is to supply every Substream reader with a daily horror (or Halloween-themed) movie recommendation that is guaranteed to amplify your All Hallows’ Eve festivities. We’ll be watching every film the day it’s featured, and we hope you will follow along at home. Reader, beware, you’re in for a… spooky good time!
Day 24: Hocus Pocus (1993)
When it comes to Halloween movies, Hocus Pocus is a staple. A ’90s film through and through, the now cult classic was not perceived so well by critics upon release. In fact, it only received a 30 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes. (WHAT?!) Such a thing seems almost preposterous to those who now hold the film near and dear to their heart.
For those of you who may not be familiar with the plot, we’ll bring you up to speed.
Set in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1693 and 1993, Hocus Pocus, directed by Kenny Ortega, centers around the witchy Sanderson Sisters: Winifred (Bette Midler), Mary (Kathy Najimy) and Sarah (Sarah Jessica Parker). After successfully luring young Emily to their cottage in the woods, the sisters drain the life out of her in order to restore themselves to their youth. In the process, Emily’s brother, Thackery Binx (Sean Murray), tries to interfere with the process and save his sister, but is ultimately unsuccessful. As punishment, the Sanderson sisters curse Binx to live eternally as a black cat. Soon after the witches drain the life out of Emily, the Salem townspeople arrive to hang the sisters, but before the nooses are pulled, one last spell is cast: if a virgin lights the black flame candle on All Hallows Eve, the Sanderson Sisters will be summoned from the dead and live again!
Fast forward to Halloween night 300 years later. Max (Omri Katz), the new kid in town by way of California, is having a hard time fitting in and finding the legend of the Sanderson Sisters to be a stretch of the imagination and Salem folklore. On this Halloween, Max wants nothing more than to sit at home and drown his young teenage angst, but instead is tasked with taking his younger sister Dani (Thora Birch) trick-or-treating while their parents attend a costume party. As Max and Dani roam around their new town, they stumble upon a large house where one of Max’s classmates, Allison (Vinessa Shaw), lives. Allison tells Max and Dani about the Sanderson sisters’ museum, which her mom used to run. In the spirit of Halloween, Max, Dani and Allison sneak out to the museum, where they find many dust-laden relics and the black flame candle. In an attempt to impress Allison, Max lights the candle right as Binx the cat, who has been hanging around the cottage for years, tries to stop him. As one could expect, chaos ensues from there and the Sanderson sisters do, in fact, come back to life.
In order to continue living, the sisters must find one child to suck the soul from or else they’ll turn to dust by sunrise. What follows is a fantastical night filled with mishaps. From a graveyard chase resulting in the resurrection of Winifred’s ex-lover Billy (Doug Jones) to the Sanderson sisters reuniting with their master, the devil himself, viewers are taken on an adventure much more exciting than a typical night of trick-or-treating.
While Max, Allison and Dani are being chased by ancient witches, their parents are enjoying the party of a lifetime. Even when the Sanderson sisters crash the party for an unforgettable rendition of “I Put A Spell On You,” the fun doesn’t stop. Instead, the sisters cast an actual spell on the party that forces them dance the night away. And, honestly, it’s the best part of the move. If you’ve never been exposed to the delightful scene, check it out below.
The night continues as Max and crew try to outrun and outsmart the Sanderson sisters, who are not only trying to accomplish their mission to stay alive but are also adjusting to life in the 21st century, which brings about many comedic moments. We won’t give away the ending for those who haven’t seen the movie or wish to refresh their memory, but with it being a Disney film, we’re sure you can guess how it all wraps up.
While Hocus Pocus isn’t the most cinematically thrilling or artistic film to watch, it’s fun and serves its purpose well. There doesn’t seem to be a dull moment in the movie, giving way to a pacing that places the film right at a 95-minute runtime, and that is mostly due to the comedic element the Sanderson sisters bring as they try to navigate 1993 Salem. The scenes are still conjuring laughs, even 24 years later when technology has developed further.
The most curious thing about the movie, however, is not the gravity-defying height of Winifred’s hair or even the lack of parental supervision in Salem, but rather its original release date: July 16. That’s right, Hocus Pocus didn’t even get a Halloween release, rather being sent out to the public in the middle of summer. Could that have had something to do with the film’s lack of success early on? Possibly, but many tend to credit the film’s cult status to its airing on Disney Channel and other family-based television stations later on. Looking back on the beloved film now, it’s hard to imagine a time when it wasn’t adored. Thankfully, the box office flop didn’t cause this Disney classic to slip away into oblivion. Here’s to hoping this cult classic will remain a Halloween staple for 300 years to come. (And with talk of a sequel, we might be on to something.)