Hocus Pocus (1993)
Hocus Pocus (1993)

Genre: Comedy and Fantasy Running Time: 1 hr. 36 min.

Release Date: July 16th, 1993 MPAA Rating: PG

Director: Kenny Ortega Actors: Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, Kathy Najimy, Omri Katz, Thora Birch, Vinessa Shaw, Doug Jones

 


 

W

hen Emily Binx wanders off into the woods, lured by a trio of conjuring sorceresses, a foggy, candlelit ritual is about to take place. An accursed spell, crafted with a demonic tome over a bubbling cauldron, requiring plenty of concentration – as well as a dead man’s toe, a newt’s saliva, and other unsettling ingredients – is designed to take over the life of the little captive, granting youth to the three evil entities. “Let’s brew another batch,” craves leader Winifred Sanderson (Bette Midler), who commands her stooge-like sisters Sarah (Sarah Jessica Parker) and Mary (Kathy Najimy).

Though Emily’s brother Thackery attempts to save her, it’s of no use; he’s subdued and transformed into an immortal black cat so that he can forever grieve over his failed efforts. But as it’s the end of the 17th century in Salem, the villagers soon corner the three witches and hang them for their paranormal transgressions. 300 years later, their exploits are discussed in class at the Jacob Bailey High School, where new student Max Dennison (Omri Katz), recently having moved to Massachusetts from Los Angeles, scorns the Halloween rumors about the Sandersons’ potential resurrection, battling the narrative of cute classmate Allison (Vinessa Shaw), whom he immediately takes a liking to. Conversing with her doesn’t save him from rejection, however, nor does it help him to avoid two local bullies (Larry Bagby and Tobias Jelinek) hanging around the nearby cemetery on his way home from school. And his day is only going to get worse when he’s forced to take his younger sister Dani (Thora Birch) through the neighborhood to trick-or-treat, where he fortunately runs into Allison, but unfortunately coaxes her to accompany them to the old haunted Sanderson house for an easy thrill and an accidental occult summoning.

Clearly designed for a younger crowd (Disney isn’t afraid to put their company name all over it), but with the edge of an early ’90s production that can get away with a few darker details, the villainous enchantresses are notably neutered in their spellcasting. Many of their routines are purely comical, yet not outrageous enough for belly laughs; numerous jokes either go on for too long, concluding in a whimper, or end abruptly. There’s an undeniable, pervasive playfulness to the proceedings, allowing for a night of unhurried, repetitious pursuits and simplistic escapes that are lightly adventurous but mostly whimsical and insincere, which could have been more engaging had a couple of moments leaned toward scary rather than silly. “It’s just a bunch of hocus-pocus.”

Effective music by John Debney (doing his best to channel Danny Elfman or Jerry Goldsmith) increases the excitement, but the screenplay (in part by Mick Garris, the writer of “Critters 2: The Main Course,” “The Fly II,” and “Quicksilver Highway”) is a touch too limited in its scope. The locations and concepts are equally stunted, as if the filmmakers ran out of ideas very early; there’s isn’t enough for either the children (struggling against disbelieving adults, like in most Spielberg endeavors) or the witches to do. Nevertheless, it’s marginally amusing when Midler gets a song-and-dance number, or when the witches fly on brooms, or when they blow up Max’s upstairs bedroom. But the majority of events are either overly tame or exceptionally uninspired, struggling to be harrowing or consequential or innovative. The main premise opens the door to all manner of dark magic and supernatural shenanigans, yet few of them leave any impression at all. “Something’s not right.”

– Mike Massie

  • 3/10