Witches, intrigue, deception, and a Book with an eye. Yes, Wanderers, this Halloween we’re hopping onto our broomsticks and flying off with the last witches of Salem in Hocus Pocus.
On October 31st, 1693, Thackery Binx, a teenage farmer living in Salem, Massachusetts, discovers his little sister Emily has been spirited away by the three Sanderson sisters, Winifred, Mary and Sarah, who intend to regain their youth by absorbing the life force of children through their witchcraft. Sneaking in the witches’ cottage, Binx’s attempt to save Emily fails when the sisters transform him into an immortal black cat and absorb Emily’s life force, regaining their youth. An angry mob led by Binx’s parents capture the sisters and prepare to hang them, but Winifred’s spell book casts a spell which will resurrect the sisters on All Hallows’ Eve when a virgin lights their black-flamed candle.
Three hundred years later, on October 31st 1993, teenager Max Dennison struggles to come to terms with moving from Los Angeles to Salem, although he quickly develops a crush on fellow student Allison. Initially Max is reluctant to believe in magic and the truth behind Halloween and the Salem Witch Trials, and Allison makes it a personal mission to make him believe. After his new shoes are stolen by bullies Jay and Ernie (“Ice”), Max is further frustrated when he has to take his mischievous little sister Dani trick-or-treating where he is humiliated further by Jay and Ernie. Max and Dani meet Allison at her house, and when Dani strikes up interest in the Sandersons, the trio venture to their old cottage, which had been turned into a museum and long-since shut down. Max lights the candle, resurrecting the witches, who try to take Dani prisoner – only for Max to fool them by triggering the building’s sprinkler system. Binx appears, instructing Max to steal Winifred’s spellbook. Realizing they have been had, the Sandersons give chase.
Things go from bad to worse for Max, Allison and Dani over the course of the night – including being laughed out of the city hall after trying to warn the adults about the impending doom for their children, being chased through the sewer system by a zombie, and being dive-bombed by witches on hoovers and mops – and their only hope is to try to defeat the witches and release Thackery’s soul from its imprisonment in Binx the cat.
Oh Wanderers, this film is a bizarre combination of scary and funny. A stellar cast including Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, Kathy Najimy, Sean Murray and Thora Birch bring the witty-but-sinister storyline to life, accompanied by music and songs composed by John Debney and James Horner (the mastermind behind the inherently creepy Come Little Children). The bizarre combination of humour and fear makes this film an awkward one to watch – especially since some aspects of the film touch on more mature themes, such as the development of adult relationships.
Watching with my housemate, we suddenly realised how much mythology and superstition is shared by different canons and cultures (Supernatural fans, look out for the use of salt to ward off evil!), and the one thing this film has in bucket loads is superstition – and cynicism.
So, Wanderers, why would I ask you to watch Hocus Pocus? Because it’s creepy and funny in equal measure. Because it puts a spin on the modern Halloween, mixing existing and modern traditions and customs. Because sometimes it’s good to watch something that gives you the creeps.
Hannah Carter (is off to watch something funny without the creepy spin now)