Dir. Kenny Ortega, 1993
In the pantheon of pop culture, there are few words as cringe-inducing to me as “Disneyfication.” Like “selling out,” it is an outdated term that needlessly vilifies success; a perpetuation of the very 20th century concept of the artist as a dangerous rebel. And for all we like to bash Disney, nobody can accuse them of making all their stories squeaky clean. Hocus Pocus is a perfect example.
Hocus Pocus starts with the story of Thackeray Binx, a teenaged boy in 17th Century Salem, MA whose sister was killed by three sister witches, played by Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy. When Binx catches them, they turn him into a (immortal) cat, and before being executed proclaim that they will return for a single night when a virgin lights the black-flamed candle in their house.
Flash-forward to 1993. 15-year-old Max is a recent arrival from California, and an instant outcast. Also, he’s a virgin, which shouldn’t be a big deal at his, but everybody gives him a hard time over it. So he lights the black-flame candle to impress a girl he likes, summoning the witches, and causing all hell to break loose.
This movie didn’t do that well initially, but it did establish certain Halloween aesthetic for kids movies in the mid-90s, and it got a lot of play on television. Needless to say, if you read my writing on a regular basis, you’ve probably already seen it. Although it already had a decent following in the gay community, it exploded in popularity on its 20th anniversary. The kids who originally watched it were now adults, and this is a movie adults can enjoy. In fact, this movie seems like it was actually made for adults. Family entertainment was much darker in the 1980s and early 1990s than today; and this movie isn’t just dark, it deals with such heavy-duty topics as tits, sexual frustration, and dead children.
Yes, Hocus Pocus is campy fun, but it isn’t lazy or condescending. That’s what we liked about it as kids, and that’s why we remember it now. A-