31 Horror Films (2014) #17 Hocus Pocus 1993 Dir. Kenny Ortega

Hocus Pocus 1993 Dir. Kenny Ortega

Not many people seem to know this, but Disney isn’t quite the squeaky clean “House of Mouse” that you think it is. From the beginning of the company’s inception they have had their hands elbow deep in horror. As a matter of fact, the story goes that when “Unca Walt” first screened Snow White and the Seven Dwarves for an audience of families, one of his underlings ran to him in a panic saying “The children are all crying!” to which Mr. Disney reportedly replied “Good! Don’t change a frame.” “The Night on Bald Mountain” section of Fantasia features a shadowy demon casting a pall over a village, calling forth ghosts and goblins to dance in twilight and fire in one of the most gorgeous and foreboding sequences ever animated. In the 1970s, when the company was on the rocks and they were grasping at straws for projects, they managed to create two underrated films in the genre, which do not often get attributed to the company, Watcher in the Woods and Something Wicked This Way Comes. But perhaps the company’s best loved and most well known foray into the dark and macabre is their 1993 comedy Hocus Pocus.

Hocus Pocus begins with the execution of three witches in Salem during the 1600s, after they’ve managed to drink the souls of several children, and turn one of them into an immortal cat. Afterward we flash forward to the present day (1993) to follow teenager Max Dennison and his kid sister Dani as they both struggle with moving to Salem from Los Angeles. After taking his sister trick or treating and while trying to impress a local girl, Max unwittingly unleashes the witches from oblivion by lighting a cursed candle. The three witches begin to wreak havoc on the community of Salem while luring children to their home for more soul drinking.

While it’s true that Hocus Pocus is more kid-friendly comedy than out and out horror, this may have been the film that introduced a generation to the genre. I know that this movie was on constant rotation in my house growing up, falling somewhere in between Beetlejuice and The MonsterSquad. But while the film doesn’t stray far away from safety, Hocus Pocus is a film of contrasts. As goofy as they are, the Sanderson sisters are Satan worshippers who drink the souls of children. It is also a film where Bette Midler uses a musical number to hex a Halloween party. The sisters also call forth a zombie (which for many of us was also our introduction to beloved creature performer Doug Jones). The plot also focuses on an immortal feline who prays for the sweet release of death. Heady stuff cut by comical over exaggeration.

Hocus Pocus isn’t scary, but presents a spooky tale of love, loss and adventure all during Halloween night. Like the Haunted Mansion, Hocus Pocus offers a thrilling departure, but always a safe return.