When three witches are resurrected from the grave after a young teenager named Max (Omri Katz) unwittingly fulfills their dying curse, they proceed to finish what they began 300 years prior by stealing the souls of Salem’s children in order to retain eternal youth.
While the witches are not the main focus of the story, they are definitely one of the strongest elements in the film. Their ignorance of modernity, coupled with their renewed determination to achieve their purpose, creates a perfect marriage of flamboyant humor and sinister charm. While Mary and Sarah (Kathy Najimy and Sarah Jessica Parker) provide comic relief with their individual obsessions and almost child-like devotion to their older sister, it is Winifred (Bette Midler) who truly crackles as the villain. As the unspoken leader of the trio, Winifred is a character that is able to overcome the idiosyncratic world that she has been returned to and use that ignorance to her advantage. While she is a strong character, there is also an element of fragility to Winnie which renders her emotionally vulnerable to criticism, leading to many comedic scenes.
Hocus Pocus deals heavily with the themes of sacrifice and death, as both Max and Thackary Binx are willing to sacrifice their own lives in order to protect their sisters. Both Emily and Dani fall victim to Winifred’s sinister plot, and are reunited with their respective brothers when Winnie is destroyed.
The theme of death is utilized as both a means of liberation as well as a means of destruction. At the genesis of the movie, Emily, the sister of Thackary Binx, is killed by the trio of witches when they rob her of her youthful essence in order to restore their own. Consequently, the witches are hung by the townspeople when they are discovered and cast into a death-like repose for 300 years. When Max, along with his sister Dani (Thora Birch) and high school crush Alison (Vinessa Shaw), are exploring the witches’ cottage, Max ignites the black flame candle which fulfills Winnie’s prophetic curse and summons the witches from their death-like slumber. Ironically, the witches must fulfill their purpose before sunrise or the black flame candle will be extinguished and they will succumb to death permanently.
Hocus Pocus possesses a certain flamboyant charm which has allowed it to become a memorable Halloween favorite. While there are some dark moments woven throughout the story – which were deemed quite controversial upon its theatrical release -Hocus Pocus is meant to be regarded as vivacious fun rather than a frightening horror flick. The film is riddled with cheesy, pop cultural stereotypes and Halloween related symbols (the most conspicuous being black cats, zombies, and a book of the dead) and there is a sentimental undertone which gives the story a deeper meaning. The casting choices for Hocus Pocus are exceptional, particularly in the case of Bette Midler as Winifred. I would highly recommend this film for anyone who enjoys a fun filled horror comedy.