Hocus Pocus


Rating 2

Directed by Kenny Ortega

Written by Mick Garris and Neil Cuthbert, from a story by Mick Garris and David Kirschner

Starring Omri Katz (Max Dennison), Vinessa Shaw (Allison), Thora Birch (Dani Dennison), Bette Midler (Winifred Sanderson), Sarah Jessica Parker (Sarah Sanderson), Kathy Najimy (Mary Sanderson), Sean Murray (Thackary Binx), Jodie Rivera (Emily Binx), Doug Jones (Billy Butcherson), Larry Bagby (Ernie), Tobias Jelinek (Jay), Stephanie Faracy (Jenny Dennison), Charles Rocket (Dave Dennison) and James Marsden (Thackary Binx – voice)

Three hundred years after they are put to death in the town of Salem for draining the lifeforce of a young girl to regain their youth, three evil witches are brought back to life when a virgin lights a black-flame candle in their old house on Halloween. They now have until sunrise to absorb the lifeforce of more children or they will return to dust.


‘Hocus Pocus’ is a 1993 fantasy film with a Halloween theme produced by Walt Disney Pictures and aimed at a family audience, particularly younger viewers. I am usually more than happy to sit down and watch films of this type, despite not being the obvious target audience, but I had not previously seen this one. I am not sure why. Possibly the bad reviews put me off, or it might simply have been the presence of Bette Midler, who I am not especially fond of.

The film never quite works, largely due to the all round awful characterisation and frenetic one-note direction. The three witches are particularly disappointing; they’re simply irritating, portrayed more like ugly sisters in a Christmas pantomime than anything else. One reviewer, Chris Hicks, commented that “their hammy mugging makes the Three Stooges seem downright subtle” and went on to write “the goofy tics each of the lead actresses display... grow quickly tiresome.” The formidable Roger Ebert suggested that it “is a film desperately in need of self discipline” and “of the film’s many problems, the greatest may be that all three witches are thoroughly unpleasant. They don’t have personalities; they have behaviour patterns and decibel levels.”

With a more considered and subtle approach ‘Hocus Pocus’ could have got the mix of fun and scares just about right – the story certainly lends itself to that. In the end, we are left with a film that is not entirely disastrous, but one that should be a whole lot better than it is. It is probably a little too gruesome in places to be entirely suitable for very young children, its most obvious audience.

‘Hocus Pocus’ has a 30% rotten rating at Rotten Tomatoes from 20 reviews. Its domestic gross at the box office was $39.5 million against a production budget estimated to have been in the region of $28 million.

Review posted 15 December 2009


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