Happy pre-Halloween, Tor.com! In celebration of the encroaching Pumpkin Spice Day, please accept this humble offering of one of the Butler Sisters’ all-time favorite holiday movies: 1993’s Hocus Pocus! Whoo!
Please note that as with all films covered on the Nostalgia Rewatch, this post will be rife with spoilers for the film.
And now, the post!
Okay, so, let’s go ahead and cut to the chase.
This is not only the best part of Hocus Pocus, it is one of the best non-horror Halloween scenes ever:
A bold claim, Leigh, you cry! But wait, I have supporting evidence! To wit:
- This scene has Bette Midler singing while dressed as a witch in it.
KEW EE DEE, BEACHES.
I’m actually not kidding. The Divine Miss M may no longer have quite the fame or presence in the pop culture zeitgeist she did in her heyday, but her heyday was glorious. No one who grew up in the 80s and 90s could possibly have hoped to have missed the awesomeness of Bette Midler; even the heinous overplayed ubiquitousness of “Wind Beneath My Wings” does not dampen my love of the memory of (just for example) watching her wheelchair mermaid zoom around the stage in magnificent, beautiful ludicrosity.
A genuinely brilliant musician who is also a genuinely brilliant comedian is a rare beast indeed, and Bette Midler is one of the few who can claim the distinction. How many times can you say you’ve watched a musical number that cracked you up while also giving you chills? Not many, if you ask me. And as silly as it was, that last run of notes Bette sings in the above scene gives me goosebumps every time I watch it.
The clip I used is interesting for another reason, which is that whoever posted it edited and manipulated the video and audio to focus on the number itself, and ignore the plotty kid-related bits as much as possible. Which is oddly apropos, since my sisters and I agreed that even when we first saw it in 1993, we identified with and enjoyed the adult actors in the movie far more than the soi-disant child actor protagonists who are nominally the focus of the film.
Basically, watching Bette Midler, Kathy Najimy and Sarah Jessica Parker bounce around and have a fabulous time being comically evil witches is the best thing ever. (And it seems that Bette, at least, agreed: she’s said that of all the films she’s been in, Hocus Pocus was her favorite.) Everything else was just a support system for making that happen, as far as I am concerned.
Fun fact: This is SJP’s second appearance in the Nostalgia Rewatch (the first time was in Flight of the Navigator). More importantly, her portrayal of a Salem witch turned out to be startlingly historically accurate, as it transpires that one of her ancestors narrowly escaped being burned at the stake as a witch during the Salem witch trials. Whoa.
As an aside, SJP tends to get rather pooh-poohed in terms of being a comedian, probably because she’s pretty and people have a weird prejudice against admitting that pretty people can also be funny, but I don’t care how much you might hate Sex in the City, this movie proves that she is hilarious. Fight me.
And Kathy Najimy, of course, is a comedic treasure and always has been.
Najimy will forever have a special place in my heart for her supporting roles in three movies: this one, of course, Sister Act, and Soapdish. (Interestingly, Bette Midler was supposed to play the lead in Sister Act, but ultimately turned down the role and it went to Whoopi Goldberg instead. I am glad it worked out that way because Whoopi was fabulous, but I can’t help wishing I could also have the alternate universe version in which Bette played the character too.)
There are no good video clips out there of it that I have been able to find, sadly, but Hocus Pocus’s cameo scene featuring real-life siblings Garry Marshall and Penny Marshall, both formidable actor/producer/directors in their own right, is also pure comedy gold, and the movie is worth watching for this scene alone, if you ask me. My sisters and I have seen this movie any number of times, and every time this scene comes up we giggle madly all through it. RIP, Garry, you were the bomb.
Props must also be given to actor-and-contortionist-and-expert-prosthetic-makeup-wearer Doug Jones, who is probably best known these days for his roles in various Guillermo del Toro films (Pan’s Labyrinth EEEEEEK), but is also memorable here as Winifred Sanderson’s unwilling zombie ex Billy Butcherson.
Jones claims that the moths that flew out of his mouth when he cut the stitches holding it closed were real and not a special effect, but I remain sort of skeptical of that. If true, though: ew.
Relatedly, the costumes and special effects in general for this movie were surprisingly good, if not necessarily spectacular. We agreed that we loved how the Sanderson sisters’ outfits in particular skillfully rode the line between being comedic and cool, and how well they conveyed the concept of “witch” without hewing to any of the more dreary stereotypes of what that look should entail.
Hocus Pocus, I was a little surprised to discover, was something of a critical and box office disappointment when it was originally released in 1993, but over the years it has built up a devoted following, to the point where annual Halloween viewings of the film are considered essential seasonal fare for both kids and adults. Naturally, then, we had Nephew Remy sit in for this showing of it, and asked his opinion.
REMY: I liked it a lot. I liked the cat and the witches and when the zombie fell asleep.
LIZ: Did you think it was scary?
REMY: No, it was funny.
LIZ: Which part was the funniest?
REMY: When they burned up in the flames!
In conclusion: I can’t imagine that you haven’t already seen this movie, but if for some bizarre reason you have thus far managed to avoid it, my advice to you is to quit being stubborn and just watch it already, because it is awesome. Just wait patiently through the mostly unimportant (if vaguely endearing) kid/plot bits, and join the rest of us in delighted squee at the hilariously-evil-and-ultimately-properly-punished antics of the Sanderson sisters, some of the most adorable Disney villains to ever be.
Originally published in October 2017.