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Hocus Pocus (1993): A short history

History

The film originally started off as a bedtime story film producer David Kirschner, who also created the Chucky series, told to his kids. He’d originally submitted the idea to Muppets Magazine. People really liked what they read, and that lead to him submitting it to Disney. The
film was also inspired by some personal events from his childhood; even Binx the cat was named after his pet cat, Inks.

Originally to be called Halloween House and intended as a Disney Channel Original Movie. Studio heads at Disney read the screenplay and decided that Hocus Pocus had a chance to become something really big. And they were right, at least after the initial box office burn.

It starred Bette Midler, Kathy Najimy, and Sarah Jessica Parker as the Sanderson sisters.

Leonardo DiCaprio almost starred as Max, the virginal black flame candle lighter, who chose instead the film What’s Eating Gilbert Grape and Omri Katz got the part instead. Despite being
42 years old now, Katz is now retired from acting. He also starred in another cult show, Eerie, Indiana. DiCaprio was nominated for best supporting actor for his role in Gilbert Grape.
Thora Birch was in her pre-teens when she appeared as Danielle “Dani” Dennison, Max’s younger sister. Later in life, she did American Beauty and Ghost World, both roles earned her high praise.

Curiously, Hocus Pocus wasn’t released in October of 1993 but instead in July. Producers probably did this in order to avoid the other Halloween-themed movies released, such as The Nightmare Before Christmas and Addams Family Values, both of which didn’t do too well at the
box office but have earned cult status like Hocus Pocus.

Hocus Pocus was a box office flop, making just $39.5 million—far less than what is expected for a Disney production. It also garnered mostly bad reviews from critics. Roger Ebert said it “is a film desperately in need of self-discipline.”

“We had no expectations because we didn’t get very good notices and we didn’t do the business that anyone expected us to do,” Midler said.

Thanks to VHS, DVD and digital streaming, as well as repeated airings on Disney’s Freeform’s annual “13 Nights of Halloween,” the film has earned its status as a cult classic.

 

Easter Eggs, goofs, and little known facts

  • Max gives Allison his number in class, but when she returns it in the next scene it’s a different note.
  • The movie takes place on Halloween, 1993, which was a Sunday. There wouldn’t be school on a Sunday. And there hasn’t been a full moon on Halloween since 1974.
  • Even though it is set in Salem, Mass., it was filmed in Los Angeles
  • In the scene in the Dennison’s kitchen, you can see the camera crew in the reflection.
  • Mrs. Dennison’s wedding ring disappears and reappears throughout the party scene, where she is dressed as Madonna.
  • Winnie’s hood goes on and off throughout one scene.
  • A dead body of the girl moves as the sisters dance.
  • A fountain that appears is also seen in the opening credits of the Friends TV series.
  • In the Book of Spells, the spell to the left of the Life Potion, is also to the left of the Excruciating Punishments.
  • When Winifred takes the stage to perform, she says “Hello Salem, my name is Winifred. What’s yours?” Winifred is referencing “Gypsy,” which Milder also starred in, specifically the famous line, “Hello world, my name is Rose, what’s yours?”
  • Despite what rumors say, Edgar Allan Poe did not write the song that Sarah Sanderson sings.
  • Doug Jones, who played Pale Man (and also the Faun) in “Pan’s Labyrinth” played Billy Butcherson. Real moths are coming out of his mouth.
  • The Devil and his wife are played by a brother and sister, Garry and Penny Marshall.
  • Hocus Pocus is the first Disney film to use the word “virgin.”
  • Sarah Jessica Parker, later know as Carrie Bradshaw from Sex in the City, had a tenth great grandmother, Esther Elwell, who was an accused witch during the infamous Salem Witch Trials but the charges were dismissed.

Legacy

Critics today still dismiss the movie, saying at best that children will like it.

Yet, the many who watched it as children are now grown up and still enjoy it. Yohana Desta in her blog, Mashable, said:
“The generation who grew up watching it can relive it and finally understand the many adult themed jokes that lace the dialogue. (How many 8-year-olds actually know what a virgin is?) It manages to have the right amount of spice and scariness, teetering on the cusp of child film and secret adult guilty pleasure.”

Bette Milder calls it her favorite movie she’s played in and has dressed up as Winifred Sanderson for performances. The actress/singer is pleasantly surprised by the movie’s cult status: “All of us are just stunned. Kathy, Sarah Jessica and I have talked about it. We are
totally thrilled to death. Because when it came out, it laid a tiny little bit of an egg, so we didn’t expect much. And now look at it! OCTOBER is HOCUS POCUS MONTH!”

The movie is still in print and available for purchase and streaming through various outlets.

Written by Mark Griffin

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