July 16, 1993 – The Live-Action Feature Film Hocus Pocus is Released to Theaters
“Oh, come on! It’s just a bunch of hocus pocus!”
On July 16, 1993, the live action feature film Hocus Pocus was released to theaters. The film used computer graphics to create the illusion of a talking cat, and the flying scenes were done with wires on a soundstage in the Disney Studios. There is a Beauty and the Beast cameo in this film, as one child trick-or-treats as Mrs. Potts. Although the film garnered mixed to negative reviews on its release, it has since become a cult classic on video, and has been shown on ABC Family for its Halloween television events to a rather large audience of at least 2.5 million. The film was directed by Kenny Ortega; the story was written by David Kirschner and Mick Garris, with screenplay by Mick Garris, David M. Evans, and Neil Cuthbert. It stars Bette Midler as Winifred Sanderson, Sarah Jessica Parker as Sarah Sanderson, Kathy Najimy as Mary Sanderson, Omri Katz as Max Dennison, Thora Birch as Dani Dennison, and Vinessa Shaw as Allison.
The film begins in Salem, Massachusetts in 1693. Thackery Binx wakes to find that his sister Emily is missing, and runs to the woods, as the witches that live there have kidnapped her. Although he tries to save her, he is too late, as Emily has taken their potion, and they steal her life. Since he spilled their potion, preventing them from stealing more lives, the lead witch, Winifred Sanderson, turns him into an immortal black cat, having to live with his guilt for all eternity. The town takes the witches outside and hangs them, but before they die, the witches cast a spell that will bring them back on a Halloween night when a virgin lights a special black flame candle.
In 1993 Salem, the tale of the Sanderson Witches is still being told in class, and Max Dennison, who is new to the area, doesn’t believe a word of the tale. He is told off by another student named Allison when he reveals his belief that Halloween was created by candy companies, but is rejected when he gives her his phone number. Things get worse when he runs into two bullies in the cemetery on his way home, who steal his shoes. He is then forced to take his sister Dani trick-or-treating, where they run into the bullies again. Max and Dani get into a fight, but quickly make up. They arrive at Allison’s house to trick-or-treat, and the three decide to check out the old Sanderson house, which was once a museum, but closed due to many mysterious occurrences. Still thinking the Sanderson sisters are a myth, Max attempts to light the candle before he’s attacked by a black cat. However, he lights the candle, and the flame turns black.
Max, Allison, and Dani hide inside the house as the sisters return to life. Although overjoyed to have returned, they begin to wonder who lit the candle. When they attempt to kidnap Dani and use their spell on her, Max intervenes, but Winnie quickly overpowers him. Allison and Dani quickly attack the witches, freeing Max, who confuses the three by setting off the sprinkler system. He takes the book before he leaves, and the three kids quickly leave, with the witches in quick pursuit, although the witches quickly get distracted by modern inventions, including paved roads and fire trucks. Winifred explains to her sisters that they only have until sunrise to take the lives of the children of Salem, or they will turn to dust. Max, Allison, and Dani, following a talking black cat (Thackery) to the cemetery, which Thackery explains is hollowed ground. He then tells them that the legend is true, and he is doomed to live his life protecting the candle, making sure no “airheaded virgin” lights it on Halloween night. He then vows to be ready to face the Sandersons for what they did to his family three hundred years ago.
Just as Thackery finishes his explanation, the witches appear in the sky on their broomsticks. Winifred tries to take back her book, but Thackery prevents it by sitting on it. As the witches can’t catch the kids, Winifred brings back to life her former lover Billy Butcherson, whom she tasks with retrieving the book. The kids escape into the sewer, and the witches begin their plan of kidnapping children, using a bus driver’s help. They are confused by the tradition of children dressing up in costumes, and soon confuse a man dressed as the Devil as their master. Max, Dani, and Allison also run into trouble, as they try to tell a man dressed as a police officer what happened, although it’s just a man in a costume. They then run to the Town Hall to find Max and Dani’s parents, asking for help, although their parents don’t believe them. The witches then arrive at the party and bewitch all the parents into dancing until they die. The kids escape, with Billy and the witches in hot pursuit, but Allison gets an idea to take the witches to the high school.
At the high school, the kids trick the witches into the kiln in the art department, where they burn them alive. Thinking they’ve won, the kids celebrate, and head back to the Dennison’s. While they sleep, the witches leave the kiln, fried but still alive. They encounter the bullies when they search for the three, and kidnap them, trapping them in cages in their house. Winifred calls out for her book, and when Max and Allison decide to look at the book, it lets out a special light that alerts Winifred to its location. The witches travel to the Dennison’s, grab the book, and kidnap Dani and Thackery. As the witches travel back to their house, Sarah begins singing her enchanting song, magically hypnotizing the children of Salem to travel to their house. Max and Allison realize they only have until the morning to save Dani and the children, and come up with a plan. Max arrives just in time to stop Winifred from feeding Dani the potion, and tricks the witches into thinking the sun is rising. After freeing Dani and spilling the potion, the kids escape and drive away.
The sisters realize they’ve been tricked and bottle up the remaining potion, as Winifred wants to kill Dani specifically, in revenge for Dani calling her “ugly.” The witches quickly catch up with the kids, and they drive to the cemetery, where they run into Billy Butcherson. After cutting his mouth open, Billy explains that he wants nothing more than to see Winifred turn to dust, and helps keep the kids safe in his grave. The witches arrive at the cemetery to retrieve Dani, but Max readies himself with a baseball bat, although it proves ineffective against Winifred. Allison uses salt against the other witches while Winifred knocks Billy’s head off. Dani leaves the grave to help Billy find his head, which gives Winifred a chance to grab Dani. She forces Dani to drink the potion, and Thackery quickly jumps to the rescue, knocking the potion into Max’s hand. Seeing this as the only way to save Dani, Max drinks the potion. Winifred grabs Max and begins to suck his life away, although he squirms and struggles.
Max struggles enough to send Winifred flying from her broom to the ground, dropping Max as well. As she begins to suck the life away from Max, she has sucked enough life to turn into stone as the sun rises. The two other sisters turn into dust, as does Winifred, and Thackery is allowed to die, free from the curse. Max and Dani reunite and hug, and Billy returns to his grave. When Dani discovers Thackery’s body, she starts to cry, but soon spies Thackery’s spirit in the graveyard, letting her know that she helped to free his soul. His sister Emily appears, calling to him, and the two walk away together into the sunrise. All of the witches’ spells are broken, and everyone is free – except for the bullies, who are still caged in the Sanderson house.