Written by: Mick Garris & Neil Cuthbert
Starring: Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, Kathy Najimy, Omri Katz, Thora Birch, Vinessa Shaw
Generally, you would think people would learn their lessons about not messing with ancient items that promise to bring back some ancient evil. Under no circumstance should it be acceptable and it rears its ugly head out again in the surprisingly ghoulish and equally hilarious Hocus Pocus. A genuine surprise in how dark it got considering its studio and a devilishly good time with some committed actors.
In the 1600s, three sister witches, Winnie (Bette Midler), Sarah (Sarah Jessica Parker), and Mary (Kathy Najimy) were hung for killing children in hopes of immortality. 300 years later to the date they get brought back because of a local teenager, Max (Omri Katz) unknowingly summoning them and now they wish to finish what they started.
When walking into a Disney child-friendly feature about witches, some level of goofiness should be expected, which this film does deliver, but what makes it even more fun comes from how dark it gets with the witchcraft. It truly took me aback to see the three sister witches are willing to bring together all of the children of Salem together in order to suck out their life force and give them immortality. This creates quite the dark layer over a film that overall provides plenty of laughs and really nails its tone.
With the triad of witch sisters waiting for a virgin to light the candle to bring them back, we see what Salem has become since their absence through Max and how his California cool vibe does not mesh well with the traditions of Salem. In one scene in school, he essentially mocks the story presented by the teacher of the three sister witches, as if it’s some sort of joke, but the reaction from the rest of the class takes a different turn. 300 years later and, of course, he’s the one to light the candle. This leads to an endless brigade of virgin jokes at his expense that surprisingly never get old. The scenes focused on these young teens definitely represent the roughest part of the film because of their lackluster acting and straight-up line delivery, but when the witches come back, this film well and truly grabs a broom and takes off.
There’s no way this film would succeed to the level it does without the hilariously committed performances by the three witches: Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy. They were given room to eat up their roles and they most certainly did to such a hilarious degree. The jokes they lay out at the expense of themselves, their looks, their intentions, and then their outlook on the new world around them work so well. From the very first instance where they believe pavement streets are a river of black sludge to believing someone dressed in a devil costume is actually the Satan they worship. Fish out of water comedy at its finest because you can buy their genuine amazement of the time period they have entered. With all three of these women dazzling in this role, Bette Midler stands out amongst the rest.
Definitely the leading sister of the three, she takes on this buck-tooth character hoping to recapture her beauty of being younger through the souls of children and she goes completely off the rails in the best of ways. Tag along a musical sequence that comes out of nowhere, which Midler nails on top of it being narratively important and you have the makings of an iconic performance. Nearly every line she delivers left my belly aching because she owned every aspect of what this character needed to do in order to thrill and entertain.
As the film progressed, it continually impressed in the way it could handle the cheesy, creepy, and comedic aspects of its narrative all the way through. Sure, it probably does not fall under the horror category for adults but this feature could definitely do some damage to its target audience because of the dark and evil actions undertaken by the witches. The cheesiness arrives with everything happening with Max, his love interest, and his sister, which does give you a reminder of which studio created this film. Its messaging centers around the relationship between an older brother and younger sister, which certainly also adds some sweetness as it relates to the talking cat they interact with. A strong balancing act.
Still a Halloween classic to this day, Hocus Pocus continues to surprise me in the way it delivers its comedy amidst a weirdly dark story of what these witches wish to do. It still manages to tell a wholesome tale willing to warm the heart amidst the silliness and darkness in the performances of the three lead women helming the witch roles. Spooky and funny in all of the best ways, certainly not a film to overlook as part of your yearly October season rewatch.