If the film Hocus Pocus is to be summed up, just remember three names: Sarah, Mary and Winifred Sanderson. Diabolically captivating with their strong character, the three witches are the true protagonists of this story.
Hocus Pocus is a truly special film produced by Disney, which therefore deserves very special attention.
And we pay this attention today, July 16, the date of its release in theaters in 1993. A film about Halloween, however released in July. But we have said that it is a particular film, now we will explain why.
A short summary of Hocus Pocus
Salem, October 31, 1993. We are in the middle of Halloween, with all its children in disguise running around the houses saying “trick or treat”, trying to earn some candy.
But is everyone really around? No ! One skeptic, Max Dennison, considers this party uninteresting. However, he will find himself accompanying his sister Dani on her candy round, until he meets a high school friend, Allison, whom Max secretly loves.
Determined to please her, Max invites Dani and Allison to visit a dark mansion that holds legends in its old wood and abandoned cobwebs. And to show off in front of his belle, Max stops at nothing to show his recklessness. Until he lights an old black flame candle that awakens three witch sisters who have been missing for 300 years: Sarah, Mary, and Winifred Sanderson.
You can imagine that anything will happen, with an open ending that, if you don’t already know, will soon be reprized in the film Hocus Pocus 2, due for release in the fall of this year. The trailer came out a few weeks ago…take a look!
Origins of the work
First of all, let’s put the events in their context.
Historically, Halloween means “All Saints”, and is primarily a pagan festival of Irish origin that heralded the Celtic New Year. Night that celebrated the god of death Samain in Ireland, Halloween was a period a bit out of time, in which the barriers that separated the real from the unreal were lowered, to allow men to communicate with the other world.
Ghosts and nocturnal creatures come to take advantage of this unique moment to enter the mortal world and haunt the living. But what’s the best way to avoid these creatures’ evil tricks? Quite simply look like them thanks to a scary costume! Like Michael Jackson’s in Thriller!
Subsequently, this holiday quickly spread to the United States via the Irish colonies that settled there. Halloween then continued to be celebrated every year with its repeated rituals and its atmosphere as mystical as it was frightening. And in this autumnal universe it becomes very easy to imagine so many dark stories to scare the most sensitive hearts, like that of Hocus Pocus!
Hocus Pocus: meaning
But what does Hocus Pocus mean? Here is the definition from Wikipedia:
Hocus pocus is a nonsense phrase used as a “magic spell” to “make something happen”. In the past it was a common term adopted by magicians, jugglers or other similar entertainers … who knows if Aleister Crowley would have used it too?
The origins of the term, however, remain obscure. Some believe it comes from a parody of the Roman Catholic liturgy of the Eucharist, which contains the phrase “Hoc est enim corpus meum”.
Originally, Hocus Pocus was supposed to be a simple TV movie. But the script, written by David Kirschner, prompted Walt Disney Studios to sign up to produce the film for the big screen. Steven Spielberg was also the first to be contacted to produce the film, but he refused. Not for personal reasons but for the good and simple reason that Disney was its main competitor at the time!
The film was produced in the Burbank studios, where the sets are made by William Sandell. The sets are original, well done, with a special mention for the costumes of the Sanderson sisters that make them completely atypical, as well as the make-up of the zombie Billy that highlights his bizarre role.
And even though the feature film was shot in 1993, Hocus Pocus does not feel like an aging film: the special effects are very simple but well edited, fast, and give a great rhythm to the actions of the characters. The sisters’ house is as mystical as it is rustic, which fits in quite well with our idea of them.
Soundtrack: Hocus Pocus song
As for the soundtrack, it was directed by John Debney. James Horner was originally supposed to write the soundtrack for the film, but at the last minute he was no longer available, so Debney wrote the music for the entire film in two weeks. Horner ultimately only wrote the song “Garden of Magic” which Mary Anderson sings to bewitch the children of Salem.
Instead the main song “I Put A Spell on You” was composed by Jay Hawkins in 1956 and was covered by the main actress of the film Bette Midler aka Winifred Sanderson!
Macabre and punctuating both the action and the emotions of the Anderson sisters, the soundtrack of Hocus Pocus is a timeless work that has as much the roundness of comic music as the light blast of soft, enchanting music. Simple in their repetitions yet very effective, the songs are easy to listen to and manage to scare even without an accompanying scene!
The development of the scenes in the film
At first it sounds like a children’s fairy tale: three witches try to take the youth of Salem’s children to eternally remain young and beautiful. However, nothing goes as planned and a little boy steps in to reduce their monstrous plans to nothing. Exasperated, the three witches transform him into an immortal black cat before being arrested by the villagers. On the verge of being hanged, the Anderson sisters then predict their return thanks to … a pure and virgin soul who will light their candle with a black flame.
And there, we enter an unusual humor, understandable for both adults and children. Everything is an excuse for a well-made clip that allows the viewer to watch with a smile on their lips. We laugh when we see witches screaming in fear in front of a car that didn’t exist yet in their day; we sing when the Anderson sisters cast a spell in the middle of a gala on an entire assembly in turmoil; and… we cry with Dani at the end of the film.
However, the pace is sometimes a bit slow. We see it clearly at the beginning of the film, which awkwardly sets the scene and conditions in which Max lives. And we also see it between the end of the heroes’ first confrontation with the witches and their “unexpected” return for revenge; this passage, in particular, shows a carefree attitude that is a little too exaggerated, but which has the merit of letting a little romance and rhythm slip into this film where everything changes constantly.
Aside from an erroneously calculated release date, as we told you at the beginning, reviews were largely mixed when Hocus Pocus was released.
We actually think that Hocus Pocus is a concentrate of nostalgia and this is its strong point! We deeply breathe the innocence of the 90s and the boldness of Walt Disney Studios’ past works that were able to insert many allusions that are understandable only by adults. This is also why this film is timeless.
For this reason, the objective of Hocus Pocus is clear and appreciable: to share a simple and fun tailor-made moment, without worrying about morals or sub-morals.
A bit like what had been done a few years earlier by Tim Burton in Beetlejuice. And like what Disney did recently with a novel by Roald Dahl (the same author of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory) readjusting it for the big screen: Witches (in italiano Le Streghe).
Hocus Pocus is a great Halloween fairy tale to share with friends or family, waiting for someone to knock on the door… and tell you to go see Hocus Pocus 2!