Believe it or not, when Hocus Pocus was first released in 1993 (the year I was born?!) it was panned across the board by its critics. I’m serious. They called the film “desperately in need of self-discipline,” “not quite bewitching”, and “a garbage movie.” Needless to say, the audience didn’t quite agree because, 25 years later, this movie is a Halloween classic, a piece of 90’s kid nostalgia, and prime real estate for all of those childhood in-jokes that you can’t help reminiscing on even as an adult.
So, my question is: How did a one-star movie become the defining piece of Halloween pop culture that caused an entire generation to fear the black flame candle? I attended the 25th-anniversary screening of the film at Alamo Drafthouse on the lookout for some answers.
Prior to the screening, I asked some of the other audience members why they still watch this movie all these years later.
Stella* (25) says “It’s about the relationship between the sisters. I barely remember anything about the other characters, but the Sanderson sisters are the soul of the movie.” Shay* (24) thinks it’s a necessary part of getting into the Halloween spirit. “It’s the Christmas Story of Halloween. You don’t feel like it’s October unless you watch this movie at least once.”
I have to admit, even in the 99 degree Summer weather, when you’re sitting in the dark watching the sisters sing “I Put A Spell on You” and Billy Butcherson comes lurching out of his grave, you can’t help but feel that vaguely chilling shiver of anticipation come creeping up your spine. The movie portrays completely the strange sensation of possibility that defines October 31st. It’s a night that even as an adult feels apart from any other. You think you wouldn’t be surprised if you saw a dead man crawl out of the ground, or if you were suddenly kidnapped by a witch.
Hocus Pocus star Kathy Najimy (the creepy and mildly pathetic Mary Sanderson) gave a Q&A after the screening. At one point, Kathy reflects on the legacy of Hocus Pocus—like the 25-year-old audience members whom I had spoken to earlier, what stood out most for her, was the theme of sisterhood in the film.
“I wanted to play my character as being sort of in awe of [Winnie Sanderson], because that was how I felt about Bette Middler.” She pauses for a beat reflecting. “You know, the sisters are evil, but not that evil. Yiu can see that they really care about each other, and that’s what I like. They don’t feel anything about the kids they eat but they feel loyalty to each other which I think is beautiful.”
True girl power!