So I know I’ll take a lot of flak from all you gorehounds for this one, but I could care less. “Hocus Pocus” is one of the better Halloween movies out there. I know I’m getting started a little late, but as it is October, I’ll be reviewing my top eight Halloween movies. These are my semi-permanent stable of films that I feel best embody the holiday, so I watch one each day for the week leading up to Halloween. How do I get eight then, you ask? To mark the beginning of the best month of the year, I feel it necessary to watch one of my top Halloween movies on October 1st. This year, that movie happened to be “Hocus Pocus”. As a disclaimer, this list does not correspond to my favorite horror movies, just the ones I feel best adhere to the atmosphere and themes of Halloween.
The movie has all the elements to become a Halloween classic. It is set in Salem, right before the holiday. A new kid, Max, moves into town from LA, and is instantly thrust into the traditional and very old fashioned Salem customs. In order to impress a girl he meets, on Halloween night he sneaks into the Sanderson Sisters Museum and lights the “Black Flame Candle”, which has the unintended effect of bringing the witches back from the grave. The rest of the story unfolds Halloween night, as Max, Allison and his little sister Dani must keep the witches at bay and not let them suck the souls out of children. Along the way they meet a talking cat and an occasionally headless zombie, both victims of the witches 1693 escapades.
Being rated PG, this movie really is intended for families. While it’s intentions are not really to scare, it does incorporate many of the classic horror elements, including zombies, wicthcraft, virgin sacrifice, and of course, Halloween night. “Hocus Pocus” plays on these in a fun and lighthearted way, but is still true to it’s genre. It is a great way to get younger kids into the genre, without also frightening the crap out of them. To make my point, really break down the main plot: Three witches from Salem, executed during the Witch Trials, are brought back to life by an innocent kid. They regain their power and set out to trick all the kids in town into coming to their house to steal their souls and thus live forever. Taken in an R rated direction, that could be a real good, gory, scary movie. I’d like to make a comparison, but I don’t think witches have really been seriously explored in the horror genre yet. If you drop Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy from the cast of witches, Bette Middler can be downright creepy at times, which might just be what the genre needs.
Moving on, we’ll discuss the direction, and finally get to the elephant in the room. Yes, Kenny Ortega, director and choreographer of “High School Musical” and “This Is It”, put the cameras to this fine film. And for the style of movie this is, he did a great job, so shut it. The cinematography is nothing flashy, but then again this is a movie for kids. What we do get is lots of full figure framing and action-capturing dolly shots. It does very well to frame the story and keep your mind on content rather than visuals. Consequently, it’s nothing special to look at, but it gets the point across. What is done wonderfully is costuming and set design. Walking down the street while trick-or-treating, Max and Dani, and the audience, are treated to an amazing array of fall foliage, Halloween decorations, bright colors and reveling children. I think Walt Disney Studios really has a touch for creating this atmosphere, as it proves time and time again with it’s annual Halloween movies.
As a way to start off the season, “Hocus Pocus” is good fun all around and I would recommend it to anyone, young or old, depraved “Saw” lover or scared of “Spooky Buddies”. Sure, there are plenty of other great atmosphere filled movies that you could start October with, but my choice this year is “Hocus Pocus”. Get back in that youthful mindset. Remember when everything was fun and carefree? You snuck out at night and drank sodas with your friends? Start the month out like that. Then, as the leaves change, you get your house decorations all set up, and the cold starts to set in, put on a pot of spiced cider, add a generous helping of rum, slap “Trick ‘r Treat” into your DVD player and go massacre a pumpkin. That’s what Halloween is all about.