I have a confession to make. Last week, I promised I’d review one of the scariest movies ever created, a movie banned worldwide and loathed even by the most hardcore of horror fans.
I totally lied though. It’s Hocus Pocus. No, not some obscure Italian horror movie about grinding black cats into hamburger meat or anything like that. You know, the Disney film. The one with the witches and stuff.
Before you hang me from the rafters in rage however, let me explain. Yes, the movie may not be scary, but there’s plenty here for horror fans to love in this cult classic. It may not be immediately obvious to the average viewer, but for true fans of the monstrous and macabre, there are plenty of references and nods to truly ghastly content here, all masked by a cheery and playful demeanor. So let’s dig into this not-so-scary cinematic classic, shall we?
Hocus Pocus (1993)
Okay, so Hocus Pocus isn’t a scary movie by any means, but the mythology it invokes is still spooky enough to mention in this series. Though it’s produced by the Mouse House, there’s plenty of overt references to Satan, sexuality, and dismemberment abound, and while it’s not quite PG-13 material, they’re not exactly covering it up either. Honestly, I’m kind of shocked that Disney of all companies okayed this, but honestly, the world’s a better place for it.
The story centers around Max, a teenager who thinks he’s totally hip and edgy, wearing 90’s tie dye and trying his hardest to score some chicks in his new neighborhood. This is the kind of kid who probably has an elaborate shrine to Marty McFly somewhere in his closet, and luckily for us, the movie pretty much makes him a butt monkey for a majority of the film rather than pretending he’s cooler than ice. Sure, he’s still the protagonist, and the movie treats him as such, but it’s still awesome to see his little sister Dani ripping into him for being a virgin and trying way too hard to act cool. Also, Dani deserves as special mention here, because she’s probably the most epic younger sibling to ever grace family cinema. Every comment she makes is hilarious, and it’s a damn shame she wasn’t in more films after this one.
Of course, this being a witch movie, the magical Sanderson Sisters steal the show here, with Winnie, Mary and Susan appearing first in the movie’s intro and proceeding to ham up the entire film after Max unwittingly raises them from the dead with an enchanted candle. For the duration of Halloween, the Sandersons roam the Earth in gloriously over-the-top fashion, grinning like weasels and chewing the scenery in scenes that are almost Nic Cage-tier in their awkward hamminess. My favorite part has to be where the Sandersons mistake an old man in a costume for Satan, and promptly proceed to worship the ground he walks on, much to the annoyance of his bitter and angry wife. It’s incredibly goofy, and one of many examples where the Sandersons had me in stitches with their deliciously evil and blissfully unaware performance.
It’s that element, combined with the numerous references to racy or occult content, that really made the movie for me. It’s the kind of stuff Disney wouldn’t be caught dead producing these days; it’s a damn shame they don’t. One of the best examples of this is an utterly glorious callback to Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ “I Put a Spell on You,” a song that terrified parents in the ’50s and inspired later shock-rock acts like Alice Cooper, as well as the aforementioned nods to Satanism and gore. It’s almost as if Disney was practically daring the likes of Jack Chick and Tipper Gore to come knocking at their door with pitchforks and torches, temporarily casting aside their charming and squeaky-clean image for a tiny pinch of 90’s edginess to season up the cuteness. Had it not been for stuff like Marilyn Manson and Spawn being the edgy norm back in the early 90’s, they might have actually succeeded in pissing some parents off with this stuff. I guarantee that if this film been released today by the Disney Corporation as a children’s film, all manner of moral guardians would be frothing at the mouth and posting angry Facebook comments about this movie. But it’s precisely this wonderful disregard for aggressive moralism that makes this movie shine.
Although it may not seem like it at first glance, Creepshow and Hocus Pocus share a sort of cinematic DNA, with both movies basing content on themes of taboo and the subversiveness of Halloween’s more screwed-up elements. And thus, while it lacked the “horror” of the Showcase’s other movies, it more than makes up for it in the “Halloween” department. The whole film is dripping with the spirit of the holiday, from the folklore and pageantry to the witchcraft and talking cats. It’s a great deal of fun, and highly recommended to any fan of the holiday.
So in conclusion, while it’s not a horror movie by even the wimpiest definition, Hocus Pocus actually has a lot of really neat content for fans of horror, including depictions of witchcraft pulled straight from Malleus Maleficarum, albeit played for laughs instead of scares. It’s an incredibly unique movie and certainly one of Disney’s oddest creations, but that’s precisely why many love the film so much after all these years. It’s a rollicking good bit of witchy fun — a worthy addition to the showcase in my book, even if it isn’t the least bit scary.