Hocus Pocus is streaming now on Disney +
Halloween movies are not just about the scares, gore or suspense. Sometimes the best Halloween movies have kids in mind, and no Halloween countdown would be complete without diving into the wonderful world of the Halloween kids movie. And I can’t think of a better place to start than with Hocus Pocus.
When talking about the significance of Hocus Pocus in the landscape of Halloween movies, we need to start by exploring the enduring legacy of the Christmas film. Strange huh? But bear with me here. Ever since the dawn of cinema, Christmas films have transported audiences into a world where the magic of Christmas overcomes even the most negative of human emotions and actions. Over the years, the Christmas movie became a sub-genre of drama, comedy, science fiction and fantasy, with a range of films becoming part of our festive celebrations. However, Halloween movies aimed at a family audience are more challenging to identify pre-Hocus Pocus. Of course, that does not mean they didn’t exist, but they primarily centred on the TV special, for example, Charlie Brown, Disney and Looney Tunes.
However, in the cinema, horror reigned supreme during the Halloween season. And while a few movies would attempt to cross the divide between horror and family entertainment, many still found themselves receiving classifications that ruled out a kids audience. The only exceptions to this rule were Jaws and Poltergeist; however, could either really be described as family entertainment? But in 1993 one movie would merge a comic-book-inspired kid’s horror with the classic Christmas movie template—creating the first live-action Halloween holiday movie.
READ MORE: THE MUPPET CHRISTMAS CAROL
Let us explore this further by looking at the classic Christmas movie template and its links to Hocus Pocus. Most Christmas film’s centre around an individual or group who have lost faith in the joy or meaning of Christmas. In Hocus Pocus, teenager Max (Omri Katz) has lost faith in the joy and meaning of Halloween. Here, his dismissal of Halloween traditions, stories, and fun offer us a late October version of Scrooge. And just like Scrooge, Max would find his way back to appreciating the holiday and its traditions via a series of unwanted interactions with the supernatural world.
Hocus Pocus takes the classic Christmas movie template and surrounds it with mainstream monster horror. Here, Hocus Pocus twists and subverts the horror movie; for example, the vulnerable virgin girl of classic horror becomes a virgin teenage boy hunted by a group of female witches. In fact, our witches coven of Midler, Parker and Najimy dominate every man in their path, in turn sticking up two fingers to a male-dominated genre where women were often mere victims.
But delve deeper, and Hocus Pocus carries some rather adult themes beneath all the music and laughter; for example, I am sure the recurring theme of virginity won’t have passed you by? These themes are explored in-depth by Aaron Wallace in his book ‘Hocus Pocus – In Focus‘. Here Wallace highlights the complex exploration of innocence and virginity present in the film, including the witches power over the children and teenagers of Salem. In many ways, this insight also places Hocus Pocus into the realms of the classic coming-of-age movie.
Hocus Pocus very nearly slipped into the mists of cinematic history, its doomed launch, lacklustre reviews and disappointing box office receipts labelling it a flop. But, like many 80s and 90s films, its saviour was VHS rental. In fact, here Hocus Pocus has a lot in common with The Muppet Christmas Carol, a movie that also bombed at the box office only to earn its cult status years later. And just like Brian Henson’s Christmas Carol, Hocus Pocus is now passed down from parent to child, uncle to nephew, and aunt to niece every Halloween. Here Hocus Pocus has earned a place at the heart of Halloween, its importance equalling that of pumpkin pie and trick or treat.