A 1993 Halloween-themed Disney
film for "kids"
. This was the second film directed by Kenny Ortega, previously known for Newsies
(1993). Now considered a cult favorite
, the film's rather campy, but pretty entertaining. It does, after all, contain a memorable rendition of "I Put A Spell On You" by Bette Midler. The song "Come Little Children" from this film went on to become a Halloween classic.
The film opens in the year 1693. Thackery Binx (role shared by Sean Murray and Jason Marsden
), a teenager living in Salem, Massachusetts, discovers his little sister Emily (Amanda Shepherd) has gone missing. Emily has been lured away to the farm of the Sanderson sisters, a trio of witches—consisting of older sister/leader Winifred "Winnie" (Bette Midler), middle child/tracker Mary (Kathy Najimy) and little sister/siren-like predator Sarah (Sarah Jessica Parker
) — who suck the life-forces of little children to prolong their lives; such is the fate suffered by Emily. Thackery attempts to save her, but the sisters transform him into an immortal black cat. The sisters are soon after captured by the townspeople and hanged. Before her death, Winnie pronounces her death-curse, that "on All Hallows' Eve
, when the moon is round, a virgin will summon us from under the ground."
The scene shifts to 1993. The Dennisons are a California family who have just moved to Salem, bringing along teenaged son Max (Omri Katz) and 8-year-old daughter Dani (Thora Birch
). Max is a virgin. Halloween night, Max takes his sister trick-or-treating and gets to hang with new love interest
Allison (Vinessa Shaw). Allison tells him of the legend of the Sanderson sisters and of a supposed way to revive them; Max laughs and tries it out, bringing the Sandersons back to life. Now the three kids and the immortal cat Binx have to face the witches throughout the night, with the lives of every kid in Salem at risk.While a 1994 side-scrolling platformer by the same name also exists, they don't have any connection to each other
. Also unrelated is Kurt Vonnegut
's 1991 novel of the same name.
This film provides examples of:
- Absurdly Spacious Sewer: Max, Dani and Allison have to flee the witches and zombie Billy Butcherson by following Thackery into the sewers, which are filled with spiders and rats, which is what Thackery eats as a cat! Very squicky to the trio.
- Accidental Misnaming: In one scene Max introduces himself to the two bullies, Jay and "Ice", and says he's from Los Angeles. They start calling him "Hollywood" from then on.
- Adults Are Useless:
- The children tried to get help from their parents and the rest of the party-goers. They don't believe them and think it's some kind of Halloween prank.
- They also tried for help from the man they thought was a police officer. (He was only in costume.)
- All Hallows' Eve: The Black Flame Candle only works on this day, and once lit, will not last beyond this day.
- All Part of the Show: What the adult party-goers think of the Sandersons taking over the stage and singing a song to them, to the point they indulge in audience participation and sing too, thus unknowingly enchanting themselves.
- All Witches Have Cats: Inverted. The witch sisters transform Binx into a black cat For the Evulz. By the time of the main narrative, he's their sworn enemy. As mentioned in Animal Motifs below, Mary's more like a dog.
- Ambiguously Evil: Whereas Winnie is evil and scheming, Sarah and Mary are basically dumb and more or less harmless — until Sarah's Not So Harmless moment. If Winnie wasn't around they probably wouldn't even be villains.
- And I Must Scream: Ironically, This would have been Winnie's fate at the end, had she succeeded in draining Max's life force, having violated hallowed ground.
- Animal Motifs: The animal itself is never mentioned, but Mary's appears to be a dog, what with her tendency to bark, her power to smell children, and the way she's always at Winifred's side.
- Badass Normal: The kids fight against witches and zombies without any kind of special power of their own.
- Berserk Button: The minute someone calls Winifred "ugly" she starts handing out the Disproportionate Retribution.
- Beware the Silly Ones: Sarah — see Not-So-Harmless Villain below.
- Bigger Bad: The devil (see "Satan" below).
- Big Bad Triumvirate: The Sanderson sisters, ostensibly - though from very early on, it's quite clear that Winifred is the dominant one, arguably making her the Big Bad and Sarah and Mary her Co-Dragons.
- Big Brother Instinct: Thackery Binx and Max are both deeply protective of their little sisters, and Binx projects a lot of his feelings about Emily onto Dani.
- Big Eater: Mary Sanderson is clearly implied to be this with children.
- Black Magic: Mind Control, life stealing, turning people into cats, lots of nasty dark stuff here.
- Blonde, Brunette, Redhead: The three witches; Sarah is blonde, Mary has dark hair, and Winnie is a redhead.
- Blondes Are Evil: Downplayed with Sarah, who is less malicious than Winifred, and averted by Allison.
- Bratty Half-Pint: Dani keeps mocking her brother for being a virgin. It's possible she just doesn't know what it means but she does still keep saying it to get a rise out of him. She also mocks her brother's attraction to Allison and to Allison's "yabbos" in particular.
- Bratty Teenage Son: Max is this in the beginning, but he gets over it.
- Bullying a Dragon: The three witches were about to go easy on the two bullies and leave... Until they called them ugly.
- Burn the Witch!:
- Averted in a Disney film! The witches are hanged, just like the real "witches" of Salem. (Of course, this is a rare case where the "victims" are actually guilty of witchcraft.)
- Subverted later. The kids trick them into a walk-in kiln and burn them, figuring that's the way to get rid of a witch. They probably got the idea from Hansel and Gretel rather than the Salem witch trials. The candle's magic keeps them from perishing completely.
- Butt Monkey:
- Max, whose virginity is repeatedly invoked and commented on.
- Billy Butcherson counts even more. He easily suffers the most physical abuse of any character, getting his head knocked off on two separate occasions, and his fingers crushed when he's coming out of the sewers and a motorcycle rides over top of the lid. That's not even going into Winifred poisoning him and sewing his mouth shut so that he can't speak even in death.
- Card-Carrying Villain:
- Winnie Sanderson at one point says to her sisters "We are witches, we are evil!" But then, being that they got their powers by selling their souls to Satan, this probably just represents a realistic view of themselves.
- Also, during "I Put A Spell On You" song:
Your wretched little lives have all been cursed 'Cause of all the witches working I'm the worst. [...] Ask my sisters.
- Cats Are Magic: Binx, a teenager who was transformed into a black cat by the Sandersons. He has the ability to speak, and he is effectively immortal.
- Compelling Voice: Sarah's primary power - her song about halfway through the movie calls all the children in Salem to the Sanderson sisters' home, and lets the viewers know that she isn't as harmless as she appears to be (up to this point, she played the part of The Ditz and was Winifred's punching bag).
- Convenient Slow Dance: Parodied: While the Sanderson sisters are in "The Master's" house, Sarah goes to "The Master" and says, "Master, wouldst thou dance with me?" She then makes a tender slow dance with him... until his wife shows up and sees them both dancing, which triggers her Berserk Button.
- Cool and Unusual Punishment: Sarah tortures the two bullies by force-feeding them Halloween candy. (They were already almost sick from it in the previous scene.)
- Credits Pushback: Because of this, the Disney Channel no longer airs The Stinger for the movie.
- Creepy Cemetery: It relies on elements from the rest of the movie to add the creepiness factor. It's actually a Place of Protection since witches "can't set foot" on hallowed ground.
- The Cuckoolander Was Right: Winnie tries to remember the life potion's recipe but gets stuck at a dead man's....something. Aforementioned Cuckoolander Sarah abruptly shouts out "Dead man's toe!" but is shushed. As Mary and Winifred continue to try to remember the ingredient, Sarah shrugs and wanders off screen.
- Darker and Edgier: For Disney in general. Any more so, and they'd likely have changed the label to Touchstone.
- Deadpan Snarker: Max and Binx. Winnie has her moments, as well.
- Defiant Captive: Dani, when captured by the witches.
- Died Happily Ever After: Thackery and Emily at the end. Thackery consoles a grieving Dani.
- Disproportionate Retribution: Pissing off Winnie usually gets you this.
- Thackery Binx was already going to have his life sucked out of him for trying to stop the witches from killing his sister, but he makes the mistake of calling Winifred a hag and is instead damned to a Fate Worse Than Death in the form of being trapped in the form of a black cat... for all eternity... living with his failure.
- In case of Billy Butcherson, Winnie's lover. Winnie poisoned him and sewed his mouth shut after she caught him sporting with Sarah.
- Disney Death: Binx revives after being crushed by the bus. In a darkly humorous twist, it only seems this way because the characters (and presumably the audience) forgot that he couldn't die (though it also sets up his death later). When he revives, he shrugs it off like it was nothing and is legitimately surprised that the others were concerned.
Binx: (as though getting run over by a bus is the most normal thing in the world) "What? I can't die, remember?"
- The Ditz: Sarah.
- Do Not Call Me Paul: One of the two bad boys, "Ice", hates being called "Ernie."
- Don't Go in the Woods: The witches lived in the woods prior to their execution.
- Dying Curse
- Establishing Character Moment: Sarah's first appearance after being resurrected.
Sarah: My lucky rat tail! Just where I left it!
- Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: Winnie apparently can't understand self-sacrifice, especially for a family member.
- Evil Is Hammy: Let's face it, the witches are about the biggest hams you've ever seen.
- Evil Plan: The witches want to be young and beautiful forever but they need to retrieve their spellbook from three human children and a cat.
- Evil Redhead: Winifred.
- Faux Affably Evil: Winnie is this when she's not busy to kill children or whatever.
- Femme Fatalons: Winifred's sharp nails.
- Fête Worse than Death: The party at the town hall, at least after the witches take over the proceedings.
- Fiery Redhead: Winifred.
- Five-Man Band:
- Flying Broomstick: Played straight and then parodied when their brooms are stolen, forcing Sarah to fly on a mop and Mary on a vacuum cleaner.
- For Halloween, I Am Going as Myself:
- Max wears street clothes when he takes Dani trick-or-treating. His father Dave thinks he's supposed to be a hip-hop deejay, while Dani insists he's a Little Leaguer.
- The Sanderson sisters are dressed as stereotypical witches because, well that's what they are. Meaning they're attending Halloween as themselves, but just happen to fit in extremely well.
- Freeze-Frame Bonus: In the cable version, the "phone number" that Max ostentatiously hands to Alison is just the famous 555 exchange...and nothing else. The real movie contains a seven-digit 555 number.
- From the Mouths of Babes: Dani regarding Max's nonexistent sex life.
- Also, "You sold your soul!" to Winifred.
- Four-Temperament Ensemble: Winifred is choleric, Sarah is sanguine, and Mary is phlegmatic.
- Functional Magic
- Funny Background Event: During a scene where the witches are hiding from firemen after Max sets of the sprinkler, Winnie explains to Mary they must be which hunters, whereas Sarah notices "a pretty spider" and proceeds to eat it.
- Genki Girl: Sarah.
- Getting Crap Past the Radar: See above.
. Bus Driver:
Hey, it may take me a couple of tries, but I don't think there will be a problem.
- One wonders how it was so easy for this movie to have a male character being a virgin as a major plot point, despite being for kids. It may be the same reason it was so easy for Dani to keep insulting said virgin: because most kids watching this movie don't even know what a virgin is.
- Hair-Trigger Temper: Winnie.
- Handsome Lech: Sarah is a rare female example. It's honestly shocking for a Disney film that she flirts with every single male she comes across—from Thackery to Max to Billy to a random bus driver to Max's bullies to a random costumed man at the party...the list goes on and on. And despite being rather attractive and flirtatious, there is no evidence to suggest she actually is successful with men or boys. Moreover, her idea of fun probably isn't what most men anticipate.
Thou wouldst hate me in the morning. Bus Driver:
No I wouldn't!...st
. Winifred: Believe me
, thou wouldst.
- When they are deciding what to do with Binx, Sarah says, "Hang him on a hook and...let me play with him?" in a very suggestive but creepy manner.
- Have a Gay Old Time: Invoked in setting up the A Man Is Not a Virgin Overly Long Gag.
- The Hecate Sisters
- Heel-Face Turn: Billy (although he really wasn't a bad guy to begin with, aside from the obvious fact that he two-timed Winifred).
- Holy Burns Evil:
- When Winifred sneezes, a passing little girl (in costume as an Angel) says "Bless you!" prompting all three sisters to react with horror.
- As per the spell that only resurrected them for one night, the Sanderson sisters will be turned to dust when the sun rises.
- Witches can't set foot on hallowed ground and when Winifred tries to quickly kill Max in the graveyard before sunrise, she's turned into a stone statue for standing in a holy place. As if that weren't enough, when the sunlight hits the statue, it explodes.
- I Take Offense to That Last One:
Jay: Man, how come it's always the ugly chicks that stay out late?!
- Contrast with Winifred's offense at Dani calling her "Ugly."
- Idiotic Partner Confession: At the beginning of the film, the Sanderson sisters are trying to convince the angry mob that they are not witches:
Winnie: Don't get your knickers in a twist! We're just three kindly old spinster ladies.
Mary: Spending a quiet evening at home.
Sarah: Sucking the lives out of little children!
[Winnie chokes Sarah]
- Infant Immortality: Averted in a Disney movie! The Sanderson sisters kill Emily.
- If I Can't Have You: Winifred's reason behind killing her ex-boyfriend.
- Intellectual Animal: Binx to some extent, but especially when compared to those around him...
- Ironic Echo: At one point, Winifred swoops in on the kids, taunting them with Max's earlier line "It's just a bunch of Hocus Pocus!"
- It's Personal: The witches spend much of the time trying to capture and kill Dani, but when she calls Winifred ugly, this very trope makes her even more determined to capture and kill Dani.
- Large Ham: Bette Midler. And it's surprisingly awesome.
- Laughably Evil: The witches are surprisingly comedic considering the fact that they drain the life out of children, particularly Sarah.
- Life Energy: With the help of a potion, the witches could just take a few long whiffs and their victim will be dead.
- Light Is Not Good: Beautiful, sunny-haired, ditzy Sarah, singing sweetly to lure children to their deaths at the hands of the witches.
- Literal Metaphor: "I Put a Spell on You" as sung by Winnie.
- Magic Music: "Come Little Children" and "I Put a Spell on You" combine this with Compelling Voice, providing an excellent justification for a Villain Song.
- The Man Behind the Man: The devil is implied to be behind the Sandersons (see "Satan" below).
- A Man Is Not a Virgin: The audience is reminded every five minutes that Max is one. Rather jarring considering the target audience and that Max is young enough to still be commuting by bicycle. Seriously, Disney?
- Murder by Cremation: The main characters do this to the trio of witches. However, they are later revived by their magic book, and the kids have to come up with a different plan.
- Nature Abhors a Virgin: Surprisingly matched with Virgin Power. Virginity provides the wherewithal to bring Satan's minions to earth. Subverted in that Max never gets over his virginity. (This being a Disney film, and Max being 15.)
- New-Age Retro Hippie: Max appears to be this at first, and gets treated this way by most of the other characters. And who can blame them? Max does wear a tie-dyed T-shirt and harbors radical left-wing beliefs (such as his suspicion that Halloween is actually a conspiracy on the part of the candy companies). But he ultimately subverts the stereotype when he's offered a marijuana cigarette and he turns it down.
- Then again, it IS Massachusetts. It is one of the most liberal states in the country, but has yet to legalize marijuana. (Not that it matters, since the movie takes place in 1993...)
- The Nineties: Max's hair alone dates this movie.
- Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Max lights the enchanted candle to impress Allison, showing that he's not afraid of an old legend. Binx nearly says the trope name when he reveals to Max he can talk.
Binx: (sarcastically) Nice going, Max.
- No Man Should Have This Power: When Max finds out how dangerous the Winifred's book is he is Genre Savvy enough to try to destroy it on the spot. Unfortunately it's protected by dark magic which makes this impossible.
- No Ontological Inertia: The party-goers are cursed to dance until they die. The curse ends when the witches die. The curses binding Binx and Billy to life also break.
- Subverted earlier in the film. After the Sandersons are led to burn in the school kiln and the group believes they have won, Binx is still alive as a talking cat, and Allison believes another spell is necessary to undo the curse.
- The Nose Knows: Mary can smell children from very far away (possibly a Shout-Out to Hansel and Gretel); this leads to a rather humorous scene, where she can smell them all over the place, but can't see them, and starts to lament that she may have lost her powers. (They're actually all in plain sight, but the Halloween costumes are confusing all three of them.)
- Actually, it's far more likely a Shout-Out to The Witches, the film of which had just come out in 1990.
- Not Evil, Just Misunderstood: Billy, unless you count two-timing on his lover "evil". The whole reason he's assumed to be evil for most of the movie is because his lips are sewn shut and he can't speak; when he finally manages too, then he's able to express his true loyalties.
- Not-So-Harmless Villain: The Sandersons may seem comically bumbling about 80 percent of the time, but you'd be wise not to mess with them when they really get angry. Sarah in particular seems a harmless, ditzy woman through most of the movie. Then she starts singing sweetly, luring children into the trio's clutches, and you know she's deadly.
- Oh, Crap: Billy reacts in this way twice, each time just before he (literally) loses his head.
- Painful Transformation: Thackery Binx, intentionally invoked by the Sanderson sisters.
- Pillar of Light
- Please Wake Up: Dani, to Binx. Harsher because he was immortal up until then.
- Police Are Useless: Subverted — the apparent cop who bullies the children and insults Max's manhood is only in costume.
- Precision F-Strike: The times within the space of a few minutes when Billy says phrases that involve the word, "Hell!"
- Product Placement:
- Psychopathic Womanchild: Sarah. She's so childlike, it's very easy to forget she's homicidal and very dangerous, and her idea of "play" likely involves death and, at one point, possibly torture. Sarah Jessica Parker's delivery makes her lines less creepy, until you think about them.
- One line sums her up instantly.
Sarah: My lucky rat tail! Just where I left it!
- Redhead In Green: Winifred.
- Resurrective Immortality: What Thackery is cursed with.
- Revenge Before Reason: The witches could have won if they'd given the potion to the two bullies, but Winifred wanted specifically to consume the life force of Danni, who had called her ugly.
- Rule of Funny: The entire film, except for certain moments of Mood Whiplash.
- Sanity Ball: Is briefly held by Sarah and Mary when they point out to Winifred that they don't need to chase after Max and Dani because they've already got a kid to feed their potion to, and thanks to Sarah's singing more are coming to the house. They can always make more potion afterwards because they've got the book back, but Winifred's too dead set on getting back at Dani for calling her "ugly" to care.
- Satan: Never appears in person, but the Sanderson sisters call him their "master" and a museum sign claims he gave Winnifred her spell book.
- Schmuck Bait: The candle.
- Seeking Sanctuary: cemeteries are hallowed ground, and any witch who sets foot on hallowed ground gets turned to stone.
- See You in Hell:
- Shadow Archetype: Max begins the film extremely self-centered, over-dramatic, short-tempered and showing an enormous amount of disdain for his annoying but loving little sister. Obvious and weak comparisons are drawn with Max and Binx, but the stronger parallels are with Max and Winifred, an extremely self-centered, over-dramatic and short-tempered witch who despises her incompetent, yet devoted, younger sisters. Sarah and Mary follow Winifred into what will clearly be their own demise and die after a clumsy attempt to save her from Max, a gesture Winifred would hardly return.
Winifred: What a fool to give up thy life...for thy sister's.
- Shock and Awe: Winnie can do this on Emperor Palpatine's levels.
- Shout-Out: During the "I Put a Spell on You" number, Winnie calls out, "Hello, Salem, my name is Winifred! What's yours?" This is a nod to Mama Rose in Gypsy, who said, "Hello, world, my name is Rose! What's yours?" (which was spoken by Louise earlier) Doubles as an Actor Allusion when Bette Midler played Mama Rose in the TV version on the same year that Hocus Pocus was released.
- Skeptic No Longer: Max.
- Sophisticated as Hell: Binx snarling "Nice going, Max!" in his standard 17th-century Colonial accent.
- Spell Book: Bound in human skin, and emblazoned with a living human eye, no less.
- The Stinger: A number of them, actually. After we see Thackery and Emily finally reunited at the gates of Heaven, the end credits are accompanied by the following: Dave and Jenny Dennison and all the other townspeople stumbling out of the town hall in their costumes, with Dave commenting that "I thought L.A. was a party town!"; Jay and Ice still locked in birdcages in the Sandersons' lair, pitifully singing "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" to pass the time; and a final tip-off that the Sanderson sisters may be Not Quite Dead.
- Surrounded by Idiots:
Winifred: WHY? Why was I cursed with such IDIOT sisters?
Sarah: Just lucky, I guess.
- Binx as well. Max, Dani and Allison are about as sharp as bowling balls.
- Take a Third Option: At the end, Max either has to give up the potion or Dani dies. What does he do? He drinks the potion instead.
- Take Me Instead: Max drinks the potion to keep Winifred from force-feeding it to Dani. "What a fool to give up thy life... for thy sister's."
- Taken for Granite: Winifred. The result of her standing on hallowed ground while trying to steal Max's life.
- Talking Animal: Binx.
- Terrible Trio: The witches, of course.
- Title Drop: "C'mon, it's all just a bunch of hocus pocus."
- Winifred later repeats the same line in a mocking way when they're flying/chasing after the protagonists through the graveyard.
- Together in Death: Binx's spirit reunited with his sister in the afterlife.
- Tome of Eldritch Lore: Winifred's spellbook. Bound in human skin (complete with human eyeball) and given to her by Satan himself. Plus, it's at least partially sentient.
- Too Dumb to Live: Sarah and Mary Sanderson.
- The kids count, too. They truly grab on to the Idiot Ball in one of the final scenes in the graveyard. Dani is safely protected by a circle of salt - with enough space for the other two to join in the circle as well, by the way. But then - ah, genius! - Dani decides to leave the circle to help Billy get his head back. At least partly justified since a child her age would realistically make such decisions, but still.
- Winnie Sanderson turns out to be literally to dumb to live. See Villain Ball below.
- Undeath Always Ends: Thackery's cursed immortality at the end, along with his sister, who has apparently been a ghost for 300 years.
- Unusual Euphemism: "Yabbos" to describe what Max loves.
- Hocus Pocus didn't originate this term. According to IMDB, "yabbos" was used in ''National Lampoon's Animal House for breasts in the phrase "major-league yabbos."
- Vain Sorceress
- Vampiric Draining: The three witches do this to a young girl to maintain their youth.
- Villain Ball: Winnie holds it pretty hard at some points, but the worst is when the three sisters have everything they need to win, at least temporarily — enough potion to suck the lives of at least one child, which would give them enough time to live at least past Halloween and make more, plus the spellbook and a whole crowd of children on which to use it, and Winnie gives up the perfect opportunity to go get the life of one specific child, who called her "ugly." Even given that Winnie had been shown many times beforehand to be vain, self-centered, arrogant and vindictive, you would still think she would insure that she would live past the end of the night, then go after Dani.
- This could probably be her one true Idiot Ball moment too.
- Villain Song: Two, "I Put A Spell On You", and the later "Come Little Children".
- "Come Little Children" also opened the movie in Salem 300 years earlier.
- The chant Winifred uses to turn Binx into a cat at the beginning of the movie (with Mary and Sarah providing backup) may count as one too
- Virginity Makes You Stupid: Virgin is almost a synonym for idiot, and Max never lives it down.
- Virgin Power:
Max: (after feeling the room shake) What happened?
Dani: A virgin (referring to Max) lit the candle.
- What Happened to the Mouse?:
- What happened to the three girls who got the Sandersons' brooms?
- The last we saw of Max's house was the Sanderson sisters completely destroying the top floor. One wonders what his parents will think when they finally get home.
- Who Wants to Live Forever?: Happens to Binx in the beginning. Not that he wanted it in the first place.
Winifred: We want to live forever. Not just until tomorrow!
- Wicked Witch: Three of them.
- Witch with a Capital B: Winnie does this in a nod to Elton John during "I Put a Spell on You"; see Shout-Out.
- Would Hurt a Child: The Sanderson sisters drain Emily's life.
- Ye Olde Butcherede Englishe: The Sanderson sisters, and Thackery and Emily Binx, and the rest of the Salem townsfolk in 1693.
Sarah: Thou wouldst hate me in the morning.
Bus Driver: No I wouldn'st!
Sarah: Come little children, I'll take thee away.note
- You Can Talk?: Max's first words to Binx.
- You Keep Using That Word: "Virgin." It's bandied about like it's the most horrifying thing ever. Dani at least has an excuse since she's eight, but Binx should know a little better.
- You Need a Breath Mint: When Billy insults Winifred, Max gets a whiff of his breath and almost loses his lunch.
Max: Say what you want, just don't breathe on me!
- Your Princess Is in Another Castle: For a little while, it seems that the witches have been cooked in the school oven. They were, but it didn't stick.
- Zombie Apocalypse: Averted; it's just one zombie and he's not exactly evil.
- Zombie Gait: Billy's silly zombie stumble.