Hocus Pocus (1993) is the best Halloween movie ever made. You may ask, what about Halloweentown? Or the spooky classic Twitches? Or even the controversial The Nightmare Before Christmas? But, these movies do not even register on the same plane as Hocus Pocus, the single greatest spooky story of all time. “A biased view!” the critics cry, “her childhood nostalgia is obscuring her better judgement.” And yet, I watched this movie for the first time just a week ago, over 20 years after its original release.
Hocus Pocus simply covers all the bases you could want in a Halloween flick, from childhood wonder to sinister villains to subtly explicit jokes for adults. The kids, Max (Omri Katz), Dani (Thora Birch), and Allison (Vinessa Shaw), bring both courage and entertainment to the table as they confront the fear of having revived the historic Salem witches. And with the unfolding love story between Max and Allison and the undercurrent of Max’s brotherly protectiveness over his little sister Dani, it is clear this is movie has emotional complexities beyond just lighthearted fun. The audience has fun hearing Dani’s heartwarming lines and is afraid of her being kidnapped and killed at the hands of the witches, who flawlessly execute their roles as villains.
Director Kenny Ortega seamlessly meshes the spooky fun of childhood Halloween with the scary witches, who themselves expertly find the middle ground of spookiness without being overly terrifying or infantile. The witches, Winifred (Bette Midler), Sarah (Sarah Jessica Parker in her best role), and Mary Sanderson (Kathy Najimy), are truly outstanding. They amuse you, scare you, and even seduce you (thanks SJP), all while dressed in crazy costumes and untenable hairstyles. The Sanderson sisters are a kind of modern (yet not so modern?) version of the Three Stooges—the Three Witches, so to speak. From their absurd body language to their slapstick interactions, the Sanderson sisters are outright hilarious throughout the entire movie. The film’s true feat of magic is that the Sanderson sisters repeatedly show gross incompetence—such as mistaking an older man in costume for the real life Satan and worshipping him—while still maintaining an identifiable level of fear, probably because they murder and eat children.
Bette Midler’s performance is one of the most endearing aspects of this movie. She is deliciously evil and yet completely over the top, making me want to enter rooms with my fingers spread wide and my wrists curled evilly, just like she did. I want to do my lipstick just like hers and sway with her despicable confidence, but she is undeniably scary. I cannot imagine this movie without her performance; she makes the movie.
And finally, I would be remiss if I did not mention the adult comedy, an aspect I didn’t expect but absolutely loved. A reminder: Hocus Pocus was produced by Walt Disney Pictures, and yet every scene had at least one joke that winked at the parents watching—that’s the 90s for you. Continuing references to Max’s virginity, SJP’s overtly sexual character, and Max and Dani’s mom’s top-heavy Madonna costume are just a few examples of the adult humor that is both shocking and hilarious. There’s even a conversation about Allison not having big enough “yahoos” to fill out the bodice of a corseted Old English costume dress! And I wasn’t the only one surprised by this: my friends, who had watched Hocus Pocus every year as a kid, were utterly shocked by all the jokes that used to go straight over their naïve little heads.
Sexual references, scary witches, adventurous kids, and a youthful love story are just a few of the many things that make Hocus Pocus the best movie ever. It’s an absolute joy to watch, especially with friends over a bowl of popcorn, and I can only hope that today’s young kids don’t have to wait until they’re 19 to experience it, like I did. Hocus Pocus doesn’t just “hold up” over time like other aging movies. It matures like fine wine, which its original fans are finally old enough to drink.