Alright, beasties. It’s that spooky time of year again. For this edition of Spooktober, I’m going to do a post a day but, like a great haul after trick or treating, I’m hoping to mix it up and deliver some surprises. There’ll be reviews, new or old, seen/unseen, TV or film. Depending on my wicked mood, there may also be lists, audio, or video. I hope you’ll enjoy it and remember: stay spooky.
Yesterday we received a sequel to Hocus Pocus, the family-friendly Halloween classic. This was a film that I saw young, of course, and while there’s really nothing scary about this movie (except for maybe getting your brand new kicks stolen by bullies) I figured I’d start with a movie that is often a staple for any fall viewings. Also, I’m hoping we can get creepier as the month goes on and we grow closer to All Hallow’s Eve. I saw the original when I was six, and now we are finally getting a sequel. How will it land? Let’s see…
Hocus Pocus (Kenny Ortega)
Let’s be honest here. Hocus Pocus is no sweet treat to cinema. It’s silly, it’s childish, but, it’s also one of those films that seems to have grown in fandom since its release, and has become more beloved with each new Halloween season. Personally, I wanted to just hang out with a talking cat (yes, I also loved Sabrina as a child) but I also felt charmed by the humor that didn’t take itself too seriously. Also, the first is, well, so 90s.
A couple of years ago I also visited Salem and saw some of the filming locations, which is a thing I love to do anywhere I travel, and it reminded me of the ambiance of the area and the season, and Hocus Pocus is most definitely an atmosphere. Fall has arrived!
For those who haven’t seen here’s the lowdown:
It’s Halloween, 1693. Three sisters known as the Sanderson Sisters, evil witches who yearn to trick and consume the energy of children, are witnessed taking the sister of one Thackery Binx. Winifred (Bette Midler), Sarah (Sarah Jessica Parker), and Mary (Kathy Najimy) in turn change Thackery into an immortal cat and are then hanged. Before they perish they make a curse that if a virgin lights the black flame during a full moon on Hallow’s Eve, they will be brought back.
Enter the virgin. Max Dennison (Omri Katz) has just moved to town and is forced to take his sister Dani (Thora Birch) out trick or treating. Along with his new crush Allison (Vinessa Shaw) the three visit the old Sanderson house, now a museum, and because nothing “bad” ever happens from lighting a candle, Max, a nonbeliever, brings forth the witches. From there it’s up to them to stop the evil they’ve unleashed before the children of Salem fall victim to it.
Hocus Pocus has a lot of scenes and jokes that fall a little flat, feel a little outdated, or are just truly appreciated by the young at heart. Luckily, the delightful innocence and sense of fun that the cast has, and the inevitable well-intentioned Halloween excitement comes through. Some children may be scared by elements, (such as sucking the life out of kids) so that’s not to be disregarded. However, for me, I found The Witches to be the superior, and scarier, of the time period.
As with any movie that you saw when you were young and then see later with your thinking, analytical hat on, it can sometimes be askew. I have no preconceived ideas that Hocus Pocus is high quality and doesn’t have some moments that haven’t aged well, but as a freeze frame of early 90s seasonal viewing, there’s the kid inside that is reminded of the joy of Halloween, and of spooky legends. And that kid, mixed with the adult one that is still very much a lover of the oddities of life and film, holds a fondness for its kooky, campy vibe.
Hocus Pocus 2 (Anne Fletcher)
As with any sequel that has a cult following Hocus Pocus 2 leans heavily into the nostalgia and aims to work its magic mostly on what’s already been previously cast.
After a quick intro to the sister’s childhood, including a run-in with Hannah Waddingham (seriously underused here), we fast forward. It’s modern Hallow’s eve, and Salem is -of course- in full spirit, including a lesson on the Sanderson sisters by store owner Gilbert (Sam Richardson) where their magic spell book is locked up.
On her 16th birthday, Becca (Whitney Peak) and her friend Izzy (Belissa Escobedo) light a candle, bringing forth, once again, the sisters.
It’s always funny when someone out of time steps into our world and is immersed in things that, without prior knowledge, seem quite strange. An early gag has the sisters consuming face creams thinking they are potions of children’s souls. This and many other jokes garner a “heh.” There are a lot of similarities to the first including musical numbers, teens trying to save the town, and even Billy Butcherson (Doug Jones). Can we stop for a second and praise Doug Jones? Yes, he rocks.
Anyway, after they get the book back the sisters force Gilbert to help him and curse him. From there he works with Billy to gather the materials they need for their spell.
There are a lot of easter eggs sure to make fans smile, and there are plenty of comical commonalities like the vacuum cleaner in replace of a broom for Mary, except now it’s Roombas. One of the main differences in this sequel is that one of the teenage girls is herself a witch, which adds an interesting dynamic. I wish they leaned into that story a bit more instead of focusing on repeating history.
The self-aware humor is more evident here, and the stakes, somehow, feel less than in the original (which already felt slim). There are some fun easter eggs, and I love seeing that it was shot in Salem again. Also, do these women ever age? However, I was a little let down by the impact of the sequel in comparison to the first. Obviously the first of a film series is always going to have the discovery factor, but this is one of those times where that really made a difference. Also, one spoiler I will say to my chagrin, no talking cat. 😦
I know that there are many huge fans out there that were calling for a remake. I understand a lot of people will love this and think it is a great follow-up. For me, it’s one of those moments where I wonder if we needed it, but also, how much can we really expect? It wasn’t a bore, and there are things I liked, but mostly I didn’t feel a tingly witchy moment. Yes, it gave me a nostalgic wave, but it didn’t suffice that itch as much as I would have hoped.
Will this film have the love the first does in nearly 30 years? Maybe not, but only time will tell. Either way, I’d recommend it to any fan of Hocus Pocus, just don’t expect too much magic.
Both films are available for streaming on Disney+