Let’s start with the title, “Hocus Pocus.” That’s a stage magician’s magic words, not the spell of witches looking to eat children, WHICH IS THE PLOTLINE.
It’s a horror comedy, but the horror is weak. I mean the Sanderson Sisters should be wicked witches, but…they are knuckleheads. It’s like producing a Bond movie and making the Ritz Brothers the villains. It’s off kilter. How can we truly feel the small town is in danger if the dangerous ones are idiots? A solid horror/comedy works because the comedy allows the release of tension of the horror. Here, the horror is Moe, Larry & Curly.
The opening really comes off as an anti-bullying ad. New kids in town, disgruntled teen, picked on. His precocious little sister. The beautiful girl out of the teen’s league. THIS is the stuff of 1950’s B-picture horror (ie, the Blob, I Was a Teenage Werewolf). They uncover/unleash a horror on the community and no one will believe them! But instead of unleashing the Creature with the Atomic Brain or a sea monster, they release the Wise-Crackin’. While we often see movies where the villain is played straight, but saddled with minions who are the comic relief, here the Sanderson sisters are their own comic relief.
Once the Sanderson Sisters come back, we enter into a brief “fish out of water” comedy, where they have to adjust to the modern world. But that doesn’t last long. In fact, in no time at all, they’re singing Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ hit “I Put a Spell on You.” Then it’s back to the “eat all the children” plot.
I mean, Bette Midler can handle it all, singing, exasperation at her sisters, cracking-wise and the panic of doom. But, to me, this doesn’t make for a good villain. The closest I can think of this type are Disney cartoon villains who are often so self-absorbed and focused on their villainous scheme that they come off as comedic, but still need a long-suffering assistant to reflect that.
And this isn't something new for me. The first time I saw "Abbott & Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" I was really bothered by the fact they turned Lou Costello into a Hyde monster for the big chase scene, which just reduced the horror of the real Hyde and made the whole thing silly. Especially when they turned him into a mouse earlier in the picture. And this coming from the team that practically created the comedy/horror movie with "Meet Frankenstein."
Meanwhile, what is the deal with the zombie? He’s all about helping the witches, until he’s not. Again, sure, he’s under a spell and forced to…until he’s not. And frankly, is anyone else kinda grossed out that Garry Marshall and his SISTER Penny Marshall are playing a married couple? Ewwww. People carry on about Luke and Leia kissing in “Star Wars,” but not a mention about this. And what is the deal that the witches can’t enter the “hallow ground” of the cemetery, except for the end, where Midler falls off her broom and then fights with the boy? She seems to be handling the “hallowed ground” thing pretty well.
I know I’m in the minority about this but I concede the film has some good moments and pays homage to the tropes of the teenage horror genre. The special effects are really good, although I have issues with two of the witches exploding at sunrise while Bette Midler gets to turn to stone, then explode. I mean, you want to set up a sequel, you have them all turn to stone, right? I’ve sat through the movie numerous times leading up to Halloween, but my reaction is always the same; oh well. Anyway, have a happy Halloween and stay away from black flame candles.