There are three genuinely terrifying things about ‘Hocus Pocus’:
1. Bette Midler’s hairdo.*
2. Kathy Najimy’s facial expressions.**
3. Realizing that, pre-‘Sex and the City’, Sarah Jessica Parker was actually quite fanciable.***
The story centres around three Salem witches – played by the above named ladies – who are hanged for kidnapping a child and draining her of her lifeforce in order to reverse the ageing process. As a peripheral casualty, the girl’s brother tangles with them prior to the arrival of the lynch mob and is cursed to eternal life as a black cat.
Fast forward 300 years and we’re in the early 90s (and boy does it show!) New kid in town Max (Omri Katz) bitches about giving up life in LA, tangles with two of the least threatening bullies ever brought to the screen – Jay (Tobias Jelinek) and Ernie (Larry Bagby) a white rapper wannabe who prefers to be addressed as ‘Ice’ – and is smitten by teen princess Alison (Vinessa Shaw). Meanwhile, all Max’s kid sister Dani (Thora Birch) wants to do is go trick or treating.
In an attempt to impress Alison, Max sets out to pooh-pooh the legend of the Sanderson sisters (Midler and co) but inadvertently brings them back to life. Max, Dani and Alison abscond with the sisters’ book of spells, which contains the conjuration they need to restore life fully (otherwise they’ll turn to ash come sun-up) and the three Sandersons set off in hot and decidedly supernatural pursuit.
That’s it, plotwise, apart from some business involving a zombie summoned from its grave to assist in retrieving the book and a talking cat who provides helpful exposition and – tying with the then 11-year old Thora Birch – gives the best performance.
Midler and co ham it up to the nines (although Parker generates some genuine giggles with her boy-crazy ditzy blonde turn), while brother and sister directors Garry and Penny Marshall turn in hilarious cameos as a suburban couple whose Halloween party is mistaken by the Sandersons as a Satanic ritual. This scene, playing brilliantly on the modern concept of Halloween as a subversion of everything the witchy sisters stand for, could have been the template for a much funnier and more roisterous film. However, the Disney banner and the family-friendly rating took precedence. ‘Hocus Pocus’ could have been bittersweet Halloween candy; as it is, it’s cheesier than a month-old chunk of gruyere.
*The dentistry came a very close second.
**Seriously, she does so much gurning that I spent the movie thinking ‘Kathy, quit it – if the wind changes you’ll stay that way and you aren’t going to be able to change back. You’re only playing a witch.’
***To SJP’s lawyers: I didn’t write this. Someone hacked my account and wrote this whole post without my knowledge. Really! I mean, c’mon, do you honestly think I’d review something like ‘Hocus Pocus’? It’s the blog equivalent of getting fraped.