Who Decided Hocus Pocus Was A Great Movie?

Sanderson Sisters in Hocus Pocus
(Image credit: (Disney))

Ah, Halloween time! When you think about it, All Hallows’ Eve really is the perfect holiday for movie fans, usually through paying homage to our favorites through pumpkin carvings, decorations, homemade costumes or movie marathons. But, I just have to ask: who crowned Hocus Pocus the on-repeat Pumpkin King of the holiday? Slow the urge to throw your PSLs or cast your witchcraft my way. Try and pry the nostalgia glasses off for a moment. I come from a place of treats, no tricks. I mean no offense to your childhood, only to reflect and encourage a more tasteful future.

I’ll pause. Take it in. Plenty of Halloween fans exist who happily celebrate the season without a traditional viewing of Hocus Pocus. But at this rate, it’s almost impossible to make it through October without hearing Sarah Jessica Parker yell “Amuck” on a television screen in the distance. The Sanderson Sisters really put a spell on a generation. Disney-owned channel Freeform has vowed to play the film 30 times this October. If you were so compelled, you could watch it just about every day this month.

Quick disclaimer: I’m a kid of the ‘90s. So Hocus Pocus was specifically made for me in mind to remember fondly and revisit year after year. I watched it as a kid, probably a bunch of times too. I just don’t think it’s very good. It didn’t stick with me... until I revisited it at a Halloween party last year and again shortly before writing this. Now let’s dig into it:

Thora Birch in Hocus Pocus

(Image credit: (Disney))

The Magic Of Nostalgia Overpowers Hocus Pocus

First, a little background. Hocus Pocus hit theaters back in July 1993. Yes, July. Marketing the Halloween cult classic as a summer movie the same year Jurassic Park made a box office splash certainly contributes to the film’s initial No. 4 rank and $39 million total earnings. Hocus Pocus (which cost $28 million to produce) also suffered harsh critical reception, with an overall 33 percent Rotten Tomatoes score. So to begin, Hocus Pocus wasn’t a big hit. But its prominence would come later.

It wasn’t until 2012 when Hocus Pocus really started to crack the top 10 of October sales, and it has since maintained the trend every year. Without fail, the movie has already done it again, currently and traditionally way ahead of The Nightmare Before Christmas. It’s the clear Halloween favorite. The resurgence of the film seems rooted in a generation’s rediscovery of the movie 20 years later. Taking a trip down memory lane of our childhood is sometimes what a holiday like Halloween is all about. So Hocus Pocus is the perfect sugar fix for twenty or thirty-somethings, but that doesn’t mean it’s good.

Sanderson Sisters in Hocus Pocus

(Image credit: (Disney))

Halloween-Themed? Yes. But That’s Literally It.

After revisiting Hocus Pocus, I imagine much of the views Freeform racks up don't equal active viewings of the movie. It’s the perfect screensaver to have in the background to get people in the Halloween spirit! Hocus Pocus is very high energy and is filled with the aesthetic of the holiday. Witches, various-aged children in costumes nearby candy and the perfect fall-esque location of Salem, Massachusetts! There’s a black cat in it, a singular zombie (played by Doug Jones) and ghosts show up. It checks all the boxes!

But if you were to place Hocus Pocus in a genre, it’d be “Halloween.” It’s not successful at being anything other than this. It doesn’t have an emotional core to check the boxes of family movie and it’s not nearly scary or creepy enough to fall into horror. Hocus Pocus also doesn’t really explore the lore of Halloween enough to be a good classic it’s amped up to be among audiences. Anyone else want to know more about the witches? It ends up feeling like a missed opportunity that could have been better than it actually is.

kids of Hocus Pocus

(Image credit: (Disney))

The Questionable Messages In Hocus Pocus

To expand on the previous point, the Sanderson Sisters could have been incredibly interesting witch characters. What we get is bumbling “Three Stooges” types that are playing for cheap laughs the entire movie. When they aren’t showing off their exaggerated “ugly” features, they are playing dumb or singing about taking children off to their “garden of magic” and such. There’s no motivation at all for us to get behind the three leads of the movie. Yes, they are the villains, but Hocus Pocus doesn’t even try to make them interesting enough to fear or understand them.

Another problematically massive pumpkin in the room when revisiting Hocus Pocus is how obsessed with “virginity” it is. The entire plot leans on how a virgin must light the black candle and save the day and it turns out 15-year-old Max Dennison is the one who’ll do it. The character is subject to a number of lines that shame his virginity, too. Did I mention he is 15? It perpetuates the idea of manlihood being valid after one has sexual experiences, and constantly pokes fun and highlights virginity on young people throughout its runtime. For no real reason!

That being said, I’m quite aware that there are tons of family films with questionable themes. Continue loving Hocus Pocus! Continue your Halloween traditions! The Disney film is a fine movie, in my opinion, that is still watchable and understandably at cult-classic status. But can we agree it’s a bit overrated? Overplayed? A lot more vanilla than pumpkin spice than you remember?

What makes a movie a Halloween classic? Hocus Pocus has Halloween vibes all the way checked and in a child’s eye in may also hit the scary mark too. It wins big on the nostaglia element that does come up around Halloween. The holiday often has us thinking back to our childhood costumes and candy stashes. Considering these elements, Hocus Pocus wins. It’s also a lot less niche than A Nightmare Before Christmas or slasher films like Halloween are. By default, it has become the Halloween for everybody movie.

Okay, the rant is over. Hocus Pocus re-runs will continue – but I’m curious what are your thoughts? Leave a thoughtful comment below!

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Sarah El-Mahmoud
Staff Writer

YA genre tribute. Horror May Queen. Word webslinger. All her writing should be read in Sarah Connor’s Terminator 2 voice over.