Happy Halloween, everybody!
Of course, I’m saying this almost a month early, but that’s only because this post kicks off a solid month of Halloween-related film posts, on a hopefully consistent basis. So, where to start? Ah, yes. The obvious.
I, like any member of my generation, have fond memories of watching Hocus Pocus on Disney Channel throughout the month of October. If it wasn’t on, there was a VHS copy laying around somewhere. It’s one of those movies that I still revisit at least once a year, but rarely give any thought to outside of the brainless nostalgic pleasure it so deliciously provides. But is this the Halloween movie we deserve, or the one we need? Is there only an idea of Hocus Pocus that’s just some kind of abstraction? Is there a reason I can only think of Christian Bale movie references right now?
Hocus Pocus (or – as I often have been misspelling it – Pucos) opens in Salem, Massachusetts, in the 1600s (or is it 1980s? I’m not sure), where a young man’s sister has been kidnapped by a coven of lady-witches. The boy – Thackery Binx – goes to rescue her and discovers some fucking crazy plot to suck all of the children of their delicious child-juices (they look like a vapor – maybe an allegory for Reagan’s War on Drugs? Evaluate later). He’s discovered by the witches, and is pussified (slang for “turned into a cat”) but the entire town finds them mere moments later and hangs them. FLASH FORWARD to present day 1990s Salem, where Max is a new kid at school. Max tries to fit in with the other kids his age, mainly by scoffing at their love of Salem Witch Trial stories and trying desperately to hump the leg of the first girl he sees.
He has a younger sister (oh–very clever, movie!) and two loving parents, all of whom he hates. He’s relentlessly bullied by two bullies, Jay – played by Steven Tyler – and Ernie (who prefers to be called “Ice,” because having it nearly etched into the back of his skull wasn’t enough of an indicator), one of whom steals Max’s fucking sneakers and wears them for the rest of the movie, like some sort of goddamn sociopath.
While Max is chaperoning his sister on a simple trick-or-treat mission, he finally snaps and loses his SHIT on her for always embarrassing him (maybe an allegory for my relationship with my mother during high school? Evaluate later), but thankfully screenwriters Mick Garris and Neil Cuthbert were lazy enough to throw in the hottie from class’ house right in front of them, and the three team up, and stumble upon the witch’s lair, and accidentally awaken them, and a game of cat-mouse ensues (which is funny because they team up with the immortal cat), and they eventually kill all of them by turning them into a Pink Floyd Laser Show, and GOOD GOD THIS MOVIE IS LONG.
Seriously, there are maybe 9,000 things that happen in this movie. It’s fucking insane. It may have more plot devices than Spider-Man. Maybe the screenwriters had 4 or 5 ideas for a movie and just said, “Fuck it!” and crammed them all in the ol’ Final Draft blender. It’s not necessarily a bad thing! The movie is my idea of a nice meal, one that isn’t too filling or leaves me too hungry, but is just the right amount of wet dog food mixed with Barbeque Lay’s.
Before I get too deep into anything, I feel the need to rail off on a certain trend I’ve noticed with kids movies from the ’90s. Yes, they’re great! But I can’t be the only one that’s noticed that kids movies from this generation (this isn’t something too common in the ’80s or ’00s) feature a protagonist that’s a total shithead. I had planned on writing a post about the movie Blank Check a few months ago, but decided against it because writing about comedy is hard, and also the movie’s main character was such a bastard I wanted to travel back in time and ruin the career of the actor playing him before substance abuse could. There’s this theme of entitlement in kids movies from this decade that bothers me to no end; they are mostly privileged white kids, and/or they have loving parent(s), and/or they’re smart, etc. Take Kazaam, for Kazaample. Aside from this movie being, essentially, a pile of elephant shit on two hours’ worth of film, it also has a kid who has a loving mom and a cool-as-shit potential stepdad (who’s a firefighter!) but still is all mopey and sad because fuck him. How do screenwriters justify having these kids be all sad and angsty? Give them
a crippling heroin addiction kid problems!
Hocus Pocus gives its main character kid problems, in spades. He’s new in town, he has no friends, he’s bullied, he had an evil genie curse him with a never-ending supply of tie-dyed fabrics, and so on. The problem is, despite all of the kid problems to try to compensate, he still seems like a total jerkass. He has both of his parents, who are super cool! He has a sister who may bug him, but does it because she looks up to him. His bedroom has TWO. STORIES. But he’s still a total butthole to everyone.
The three witches (AKA “The Sanderson Sisters,” AKA “The Sisters,” AKA “SISTAAAAHS!”) are the main draw of this movie, so let’s focus on them for a moment. At their core, these are characters that are kind of tragic, aren’t they? They’re hags at the beginning of the movie, who only want eternal youth; it’s not their fault the only way to get it is to drain the lifeforce of the child population of Salem. If they’re all as bad as Max, would they really be missed? Bette Midler is great as Winnie, the leader of the Coven, but I still have no idea why she was cast. She was given top billing, all of the promotional material was focused on her, and (though it wasn’t disclosed) it’s estimated she made a huge amount of money from being in the movie. Who was this casting for, though? Did the main demographic of the film (kids?) flip their shit for Bette Midler back then the way I do for the Cousin Skeeter puppet today?
One of the most surprising things about the movie is how good the CG on Binx the Cat looks, with the exception of the fact that every shot of him looks noticeably noisy compared to the rest of the movie. But that’s a small nitpick; the movie opted to fully animate a cat instead of the more-common practice of animating just the mouth (or the more classy, rustic approach that Homeward Bound took: not animating a damn thing). What’s CRAZY, though, is that the voice of Binx is Jason Marsden, who played Eric’s friend Jason on Boy Meets World, the voice of Max in A Goofy Movie, and who’s had countless video game voice jobs, all the way up to Skyrim. He must have been 8 when this was made! It’s also hilarious, because the movie had to cast a handsome young man to play human Thackery Binx, but the studio didn’t want to put Marsden in the physical role (because he was possibly 8), so they dubbed Marsden’s voice over everything this random guy was saying. One of the great mysteries of my generation is what that guy actually sounds like.
Aside from all the nitpickery, the movie is still a lot of fun. The acting is fun to watch (Bette Midler has said this was the most fun movie she’s ever been in, which is easy to tell), and the movie moves at a relatively brisk pace, despite technically being 6 hours long.
- “Listen to them NOT!” is still such a bullshit line.
- If you watch closely during the classroom scene in the beginning, you’ll see an extra in glasses and a sweater vest that should have won an award for “Most Exaggerated Movements At Any Given Time.”
- It’s really weird to watch the two bullies in this movie, since they are almost exact clones of Jay and Silent Bob from Clerks, except this came out a year before Clerks. Conspiracy?
- Max’s Halloween costume is really a great commentary on Gen-X apathy in post-Bush America. “I’m a rap singer.” Classic.
- Billy the Zombie sighing to himself after looking at his tombstone is an amazing moment of physical comedy.
- One day, I plan on going into a library and screaming “BOOOOOK!” they way Bette Midler does.
- The movie has a weird obsession with virginity, right? One who’s pure lighting a candle that has a black (impure) flame, Max being constantly taunted about being a virgin – maybe I’m reading too far into things, but this movie sure had the word “virgin” in it more than most Disney movies (it’s second only to Fox and the Hound).
- Max is super good on drums, y’all.
- I still have only heard breasts referred to as “yabbos” via this movie. Nowhere else.
The next movie on my list is the smash hit Spooky Buddies, a children’s film about – I can only assume here – dead puppies.