It’s been far too long since the last Disney Pre-9/11 Video Vault–last November, actually! Not to pat myself on the back too much, but I think I picked the perfect film to cover this time around. Disney has recently announced its plan to remake a favorite amongst Millennials specifically for the Disney Channel. But isn’t every pre-9/11 Disney film a Millennial Holy Grail? Of course they are.
In the immediate aftermath of Clinton-era cruise missile attacks on Iraqi Intelligence Headquarters, Gian Ferri committed a mass shooting at 101 California Street leading to the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act. Weeks later, three things would happen: the Clinton Administration would enact “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” which allowed gays to serve in the military as long as they weren’t being gay about it, Deputy White House Counsel Vince Foster was found dead amidst an ethics controversy, and a little horror comedy called Hocus Pocus was released to little critical or commercial success.
Hocus Pocus, directed by Disney superstar, Kenny Ortega, centers around three witches named Winifred (Bette Midler), Mary (Kathy Najimy) and Sarah (Sarah Jessica Parker)…the Sanderson Sisters. Walt Disney, himself, would have been endlessly proud of the way Jewish women were portrayed as vain egomaniacal occultists.
We open the film on Halloween night, 1693 in Salem, Massachusetts. Spooky stuff. A boy named Thackery Binx witnesses his sister’s youth absorbed by the Sanderson sisters. When he confronts them, they transform him into a spinster’s fantasy: an immortal cat. This will serve as a strange and forced plot device to bring a good character from the olden times into the present.
In 1693, the Sanderson sisters are hanged–but not before casting a spell that ensures their resurrection on a full moon…on Halloween…when a virgin lights a Black Flame Candle. Spoiler alert: it takes exactly 300 years for this shit to happen. And a Disney movie wouldn’t begin with a hanging until Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End.
If these witches died in 2017, it would’ve taken about 15 minutes to get a virgin to light a black candle on Halloween. And, of course, the real magic in this fun children’s flick was managing to convince young boys that Sarah Jessica Parker was hot.
300 Years Later, it’s 1993 and our main character, Max Dennison (good solid name for every kids’ movie character ever), has just moved from LA to fucking Salem fucking Massachusetts. He’s a wise-crackin’ smart ass know-it-all who makes an ass out of himself in front of his class of teenagers who are unrealistically excited about Halloween. He responds to the utter humiliation by giving Allison–the hottest girl in class, I guess?–a note with his number on it…in front of the whole class!
We have to pause for a moment and reiterate something about 90’s Disney movie boys. They are always too cool for school. Even if they’re bullied, it’s because they’re too cool and the bullies are all dorks. And in those rare circumstances where our protagonist is an actual loser, he’ll be vindicated in the first act by doing something anticlimactic like joining in on a prank or catching a baseball.
Moving on–Max’s cool guy LA attitude and his tie-dye shirt are no match for the conservative yet questionably superstitious attitudes of his classmates and he doesn’t get the date. So just as we were rooting for our cool hero, he gets played–hard. Not so cool after all, are we, Max? But Disney won’t stop there. No sir! Enter…the bullies!
Jay and Ernie…I mean…Jay and ICE…are almost certainly the highlight of the entire film. These two mentally challenged teens more than make up for the film’s stale plot and obvious anti-Semitic overtones. They’re pretty stylish for dumb kids, and they smoke. It’s odd, though that they decide to steal Max’s sneakers but not his bike…
When Max returns home, we find out that his parents are just getting moved in to their new home and Max is very upset to have been transplanted from cool tie-dye LA to bland, bully-ridden Massachusetts. Just as Max had finished lamenting his lot in life and settled into bed to masturbate to the memory of being rejected by Allison, we get a surprise introduction to Max’s 8-year old sister Dani (Thora Birch). Not so fast, Max!
Max is forced to take Dani trick-or-treating by his disturbingly-normal-for-a-kids-movie parents. Dani dresses as a witch (of course), and a reluctant Max dresses like a “rap singer” (without the blackface). When the bullies show up again, he is forced to defend his honor and stick up for his little sister, solidifying Max as not just the good guy of our story…but the best guy of the story. His flaws have officially been erased. Now we can get on with our Disney flick.
The two inadvertently wander into Allison’s house where she’s having some kind of weird Eyes Wide Shut meets Amadeus Halloween Party. Dani and Max also introduce us to a new word for breasts: Yabbos.
Allison wants to take Max and Dani on a tour of the Sanderson Sisters House to prove that Salem is all ’bout dem witchez! But when they inevitably break into the house, they get more than they bargain for as shit starts to get real about 30 minutes in.
The Sanderson House is supposed to be some kind of museum to the three witches’ legacy, but it appears like it’s never been in use–covered in cobwebs and dust. Max gets viciously attacked by Immortal Cat and, trying to show he’s not scared, proceeds to light the BLACK CANDLE! He claimed that all that witch stuff is just a bunch of “Hocus Pocus.” Get it? That’s the name of the movie. So Max fucks up and the witches come back, of course–which tells us two things about this universe: Magic is Real…and Max is a Virgin. No wonder he’s been yankin’ it to Allison’s yabbos.
Naturally, the three resurrected Jewish Witches want to eat Thora Birch and Sarah Jessica Parker wants to make Max less of a virgin. She was always my favorite witch as she didn’t really seem all that evil in the grand scheme of things.
It’s been quite a while since I’ve seen Hocus Pocus but the movie is both intensely suggestive and intensely silly. I suppose once you’ve raised three Jewish Witches from their 300 year slumber, a talking cat is no big deal.
Our heroes run into a graveyard where the witches can’t go. I’m not sure if it’s because they’re demonic or Jewish, but either way, they can’t set foot on Christian Turf. So, instead, they decide to raise a random corpse from the grave to help them catch dem kidz. The dead guy they raise is called “Billy Butcherson“, because why not? We don’t know much about Billy except that he was a “Lost Soul”…whatever that means.
As this nonsense goes on it becomes clear that this film is semi-autobiographical in that Kenny Ortega must use the souls of young gay men to remain so fresh and youthful in the Disney universe. There’s also an oddly out of place scene where the witches wind up at some old Jewish man’s house where they watch TV and piss off his wife. None of this belongs in the film at all and I can’t comprehend why it exists.
About half-way through the movie we get another pair of suggestive and then torturous scenes for a children’s movie. Sarah Jessica Parker is driving a bus while bouncing on the bus driver’s lap when, suddenly and without warning, our Immortal Talking Cat gets run over. Cut to…a close-up of a roadkill cat. Fun for the whole family.
But, just kidding. He’s immortal, right? The cat’s fine. As always happens in fantasy/horror films, the kids quickly realize this situation is entirely out of their control so they go to the adults for help. But the adults don’t believe a word. Also, the fake police officer they go to seems a little too interested in Max being a virgin.
At this point we’ve established that the ultimate goal of the Sanderson Sisters is…to…not die? This seems perfectly reasonable to me, other than added detail that they need the souls of the young to live forever. But don’t we all?
What’s the best way to captivate the kiddos for long enough to suck out their souls? I mean, besides putting on Disney’s Hocus Pocus. How about a lame Halloween-themed concert being attended by Max’s parents? Next best thing. The Sanderson Sisters need to find Max and get their Book of Spells back. Good thing Max decides to take center stage and once again brazenly make a fool of himself, while disclosing his whereabouts to our three witches…at least it’s a good excuse to get Bette Midler to sing.
So while Bette Midler hypnotizes all of the town’s mommies and daddies into dancing all night, the kids make their escape. Every scene in this movie seems more redundant than the last. There was no reason to hypnotize the parents. Sarah finds the kids and lets them go for some reason. And then, the witches wind up finding the kids who have taken refuge in the school…when suddenly another grisly and wholly offensive scene takes place…
Now, read this carefully because it’s…shocking if you don’t recall this scene from your childhood. Max and the kids force the trio of 300-year old Jewish Women into an OVEN and set them on fire. Yes. You’ve read that correctly. I wonder if that scene will be in the remake…
As dawn approaches, the witches kidnap Dani and fly away. Then we get another song. Sarah Jessica Parker sings an enchantment spell that causes all of the town’s children to follow them to their resting place, which begs the question…why did they need DANI at all? Why not just do this from the beginning? And why did they need the spell book?! Presumably they’ve done this before…we know at least once at the beginning of the movie.
For some reason the Sandersons have kidnapped Jay and Ice and are force-feeding them candy…which is a pretty extreme come-uppins for the bullies, but whatever.
All Max needs to do now is use his wit and knowledge of modern conveniences (like car headlights) to trick the Sandersons into believing it’s morning and they’re going to die. Spoiler Alert, they don’t die. At least, not yet. Nothing in this film makes sense, but that’s why it’s a cult classic and not a real classic.
As it turns out, all our heroes had to do was survive until morning…which would have been easier to do if not for all of their scheming.
The ending we get is even more confounding as our zombie friend Billy returns to his grave, our immortal cat actually dies, and the ghost of the young man who embodied the immortal cat has some kind of romantic connection to a drastically underage Thora Birch.
Then, as if it were a last-ditch effort to wrap up loose ends, we see the parents of Salem exiting their house party, while Jay and Ice remain locked in cages. But…what? The spell book opens up once again! Could there be a sequel in the works?
No. Not now. Not ever. Hopefully. The remake will be a Disney Channel Original so it won’t be surprising when it tries and fails to match the appeal (whatever appeal there was) about the original while falling into all the same plot holes.
Look, I know you all remember loving this movie, and that’s fine. Nothing can take that away from you; not even a remake. But let’s be honest, this movie makes zero sense and there is no way anyone will convince me that Mick Garris, Neil Cuthbert, and David Mickey Evans weren’t mentally impaired while writing it.
It was fun watching it again, though! Maybe I’ll give it another shot in 20 more years…