EJ Moreno revisits the Halloween classic Hocus Pocus – a masterclass in camp…
To celebrate the Hocus Pocus sequel currently on Disney+, I wanted to take a look at the Disney Halloween classic. While it’s hard to call a film from 1993 that now sits around 38% on Rotten Tomatoes a “classic,” there’s something to say about this film as such. You may need to add the words “camp” or “cult” ahead of the word, as this retro review will focus on.
Once I finished watching the new film, it was apparent that it wasn’t hitting like the original. The performances from our three sisters were still great; the whole thing just lacked a certain charm. That charm is summed up as “camp,” and the sequel sadly tries to manufacture that same camp. The original Hocus Pocus oozed camp, and it’s hard to re-capture that.
I want to speak on the original Hocus Pocus as it was truly intended: the queer-appealing and deliciously theatre, Bette Midler playground that birthed an era of fabulous kids who love Halloween. Look, the man who choreographed Xanadu directed a family-friendly Halloween movie that is played on loops on TV stations… we need to look at this film with the camp respect it deserves.
Seeing this film on the big screen instantly transports you to a time and place that feels so comfortable. It’s the 90s, during the fall, and everything wasn’t the weirdest it’s ever been. Hocus Pocus isn’t just a nostalgic-fueled ride, though; there are some genuinely great performances by talented actors and a story that flows together for a surprisingly brisk runtime. Though the film does feel like it has five endings, you almost don’t want the fun to end…so you excuse director Kenny Ortega wanting to linger on these actors.
Being relatively young when this film came out, I never truly appreciated its theatrical experience. Yes, I was the prime demographic for it, and I did enjoy it. But there’s something to say about the film as an adult, looking at it through a somewhat critical eye, that makes you notice the film’s subtle little moments.
It feels like every moment from the three Sanderson sisters is perfectly choreographed. It’s almost like a Broadway number where no motion is wasted, and everyone is playing it for the back row. What also holds up is the film’s wonderful effects, which feel very grounded and straightforward, but all of which are striking. Doug Jones’ Billy Butcherson especially stands out as a make-up look and performance that only elevates the film. The same goes for a 90s staple, a talking cat named Binx, who ends up stealing the show from the younger cast.
I don’t think enough focus has been put on the performances in the film. And not just the iconic Bette Midler chewing up the scenery as Winifred Sanderson, but Kathy Najimy and Sarah Jessica Parker as well. That’s not to take away from the other performers in the piece as the aforementioned Doug Jones, the adorable Thora Birch, and Omri Katz all play their roles as intended…but none matches the Sanderson Sisters’ power.
Sarah Jessica Parker turns in my favorite performance of her entire career here, and that includes every season of Sex and the City. She’s ditzy and strange but has a raw energy that feels almost too mature for a Disney film. Honestly, everyone who sees this knows how contagious her delivery of the “amok, amok, amok” line is.
Kathy Najimy was my favorite sister growing up, with her snarl and humor sealing the deal. She’s a standout here, and Najimy deserves way more praise in general. Najimy’s Mary is the rock that somewhat keeps these two insanely over-the-top performances on Earth.
But you came to see this originally in 1993 for Bette, and you watch it now for her, because holy hell, this is a performance. Midler has done The Rose, Beaches, and Gypsy, but none of her on-screen roles stand the test of time like this one. Bette Midler acts with her single part of her body in this film, from the prosthetic buck teeth to those drag queen nails. I don’t know if there’s such a thing as nail choreography, but Ortega and Midler perfected it here.
She brings Winifred to life as no other performer could. Like, I’ve sat and thought who could’ve been cast in her place or who could keep up in a remake, but there’s truly no one else. Maybe Lady Gaga now, but I’d rather see her take on the Sarah Sanderson role. Midler is on par with Tim Curry as Frank-N-Furter for irreplaceable castings.
This type of performance inspires a generation of kids to appreciate their campy elders; something you know is batshit crazy from a young age but can’t help but be enamored. When I call this a masterclass in camp, Midler is our talented instructor, giving EVERY kid watching a lesson.
Hocus Pocus became a cult classic for the folks who love campy films. We have a filmmaker and actors who know the exact tone and style they want to achieve, there are hilarious one-liners and infamous moments throughout, and you can’t deny its legacy when you walk into any Halloween store these days. All of this explains why Hocus Pocus entered the box office charts during its re-release bringing in nearly $2 million and why we now have a sequel.
Hocus Pocus is a film that speaks to an entire generation and still lives on as something you can pass down. So this Halloween, make sure you sit at home with that bag of candy that’s no longer for the trick-or-treaters and enjoy everyone delivering the iconic and spooky Halloween camp classic.
What are your thoughts on the original Hocus Pocus (and its sequel)? Let us know on our social channels @FlickeringMyth…