If you ask any child of the ’90s what their favorite Halloween film is, there is a good chance that Hocus Pocus is somewhere in their top five. Disney’s spooky comedy was a bit of a flop when it was released in 1993, but thanks to home video/DVDs and annual showings on ABC Family and the Disney Channel, it has become a cult classic.
When Max Dennison, Halloween skeptic and virgin extraordinaire, moves to Salem with his family, he lights the Black Flame Candle (to impress a girl, natch) and accidentally summons the Sanderson sisters (Bette Midler, Kathy Najimy, and Sarah Jessica Parker), three witches from ye olde Salem who want to suck the souls out of Salem’s children, including Max’s little sister, Dani. With the help of Binx, the immortal boy-cat, Max has to stop Winifred and her sisters before it’s too late (dun dun duuuuun).
As with many beloved films, the goings-on behind the scenes and everything that went into production, so take a look at these awesome bits of trivia before Hocus Pocus puts a spell on you again this year.
Winifred Sanderson is one of Bette Midler’s favorite roles.
Midler magnificently chews the scenery through the entire film, and apparently it was as fun to film as it is to watch. In a 2013 interview with Katie Couric, Midler talked about how much she loved working on Hocus Pocus:
“Oh, I love it. I love it,” Midler said. “We made at before the tidal wave of Halloween happened. Now it’s like huge. It’s huge. Kids, grown-ups, everyone takes part in it. This movie was kind of like the beginning of the wave. We had a great time making it. It was Kathy Najimy, Sarah Jessica Parker and I and we laughed the whole time … we just had the best time.”
According to her Reddit AMA, Midler is down for a sequel if Disney is.
“You have to go to send in your cards to the Walt Disney company. The ball’s in their court.”
Make it happen, Disney!
Leonardo DiCaprio missed his chance.
Leonardo DiCaprio was originally offered the role of Max, but he turned it down to appear in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?. DiCaprio was only 18 at the time and was offered “more money than he had ever dreamed of” to take the Disney Halloween romp over the family drama, according to an interview with Variety.
“I don’t know where the hell I got the nerve,” he says now. “You live in an environment where you’re influenced by people telling you to make a lot of money and strike while the iron’s hot. But if there’s one thing I’m very proud of, it’s being a young man who was sticking to my guns.”
Considering the fact that the role of Arnie Grape got him his first Oscar nomination, this was probably the right call.
There are a few inconsistencies.
As much as we hate to admit it, sometimes even the most beloved movies have a few goofs and inconsistencies. Hocus Pocus is no different in that regard. For example, the film takes place on Halloween 1993, which fell on a Sunday that year. However, somehow Max, Alison, and Dani are in school that day. Also, the Sanderson sisters had allegedly met their doom for the first time in the film on October 31, 1693, despite the fact that the Salem Witch Trials had ended by 1692.
During the burning scene at the beginning, Sarah Jessica Parker’s teeth fillings were also visible during her witchy laugh. Those definitely weren’t invented for another few hundred years or so. The Sandersons also mention cooking with margarine, which would not have been around in 1693 either.
Singing played a huge part in the movie.
Sarah Jessica Parker’s Sarah had the gift of mesmerism, so at many points in the film, she used her voice in an attempt to lure children, and others, to ruin. Parker did her own singing for the role, including the “Come Little Children” showcase. Sure, she’s trying to steal the life force of children, but at least it sounds pretty?
During the musical number “I Put A Spell On You”, the eldest Sanderson says “Hello Salem, my name is Winifred. What’s yours?” This is a reference to Rose’s famous line, “Hello world, my name is Rose, what’s yours?”, in Gypsy. Coincidentally, Midler also starred in an adaptation of that classic musical that same year.
Remember that couple from the movie? Well, you may not recognize him in a Satan costume, but that’s film director Gary Marshall (Overboard, Beaches, The Princess Diaries). The woman with him is his sister, Penny. However, in Hocus Pocus, they play husband and wife. Ewwww.
Sarah Jessica Parker has a historical connection.
While researching her ancestry on the show Who Do You Think You Are?, Parker discovered that her 10th great-grandmother, Esther Elwell had resided in Salem during the tail-end of the witch trials and had been accused of “sundry acts of witchcraft” which had resulted in the death of her neighbor, Mary Fitch. Luckily for Esther, the courts had dissolved by the time she was brought to trial, so she managed to escape judgment and lived to the ripe old age of 82.
Billy’s moths were real.
When the cursed Billy Butcherson finally gets to cut open his zombie mouth and speak again, dust and moths fly out of his gaping maw. According to actor Doug Jones, those moths were real:
“The first line of action was to have real moths come out of my mouth, so I was wearing a protective, latex sheath in my mouth that tried to keep the moths as dry as possible. They had a moth trainer who came with the moths, and he was an expert on how they flew and what keeps them healthy. Moths are very dry, and if they get moist at all they’re not going to fly. The key was to keep them as dry as possible so that they would fly out of my mouth and flutter into the air. They would place these moths into the rubbery sheath over my tongue and the moth trainer used tweezers by their wings from their cage into my mouth. Then, the makeup artist, Tony Gardner and Margaret Prentice, would have to run in and lightly tack glue my stitches across my mouth, so that I could take that knife and run that across the pre-cut stitches and cough out the moths and the dust.”
There’s dedication to a role, and then there’s Doug Jones.