When Hocus Pocus was released theatrically in 1993, it received less-than-stellar reviews from critics, and at first glance it can be easy to see why. The cheese factor is too high to win over most teens and adults, yet most of the humor lands too far out of the reach of the grasp of kids. And some of the scarier elements can be a bit too intense for the young children who would be attracted to its almost cartoonish nature. Bette Midler looks absurd with her exaggerated overbite and, to be completely honest, the screenplay as a whole is as over the top as a circus. But somehow when I watch this movie I’m able to ignore every critical bone in my body and just enjoy the hell out of it. It’s my favorite Halloween movie of all time, and I find more to love about it during each rewatch (which occurs at least three times each October), and I know I’m not the only one. Hocus Pocus has become a cult classic among our generation over the years, particularly for those who prefer their horror to be, well, less horror-like. So how is it that time has been so kind to this campy, mindless Halloween romp?
Although its entire fanbase can’t be defined by a single age group, it’s safe to say that Hocus Pocus is most popular within the same age group that watched it as children in 1993, and it probably wasn’t love at first sight. I was five years old then, and this family-friendly movie absolutely terrified me. I cried with Thora Birch when Thackery Binx was run over by a car, and I had nightmares about Billy Butcherson the zombie. Several years later I was channel surfing and decided to give it another go. This time around I was appalled at my 5 year-old self for being afraid of this laughably corny movie, it wasn’t cool anymore to watch Halloween movies that weren’t scary, so I couldn’t admit to liking it any more than Max Dennison could admit he was a virgin when he lit the black flame candle.
Fast forward a couple more years to another channel surfing session. This time a sense of adoration and nostalgia began to creep up on me as I watched the Sanderson sisters cause a ruckus and Max awkwardly attempt to balance an annoying little sister and a hot new girlfriend while trying to maintain a small semblance of cool. Suddenly the cheese factor became endearing, the campy attempts at scares were whimsical and adorable rather than preposterously fake, and this movie quickly became a permanent staple in my yearly Halloween preparation routine. After all, it features Sarah Jessica Parker before she became Carrie Bradshaw, and in what universe does not that not instantly make it a requirement for every girls’ night in October? My friends and I mastered the Sanderson sister walk down the halls at school (you know the one), and we practiced our routine to the “I Put A Spell On You” performance almost as often as we rehearsed our version “If You Wanna Be My Lover” by the Spice Girls. It’s that same giddy feeling we get when Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You” is acceptable to blast in the car every December 1st.
Because of the progression of the age group that grew up with this film, Hocus Pocus has evolved from a mediocre family friendly horror comedy into a beloved Halloween classic that serves as a benchmark for our generation. Those of us who grew up in the 90’s are protective and passionate over the things that represent our childhood, like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Cabbage Patch Kids. They remind us of where we came from, and they ground us in those moments that allow us to feel just for a moment that nothing has changed when life passes too quickly and people seem to drift apart. And since it’s no longer socially acceptable to carry around a Cabbage Patch doll and Michael Bay has tainted our memories of the Ninja Turtles, we cling to other ways to have those moments. Now if ABC Family would just add reruns of Are You Afraid of The Dark episodes to their 13 Nights of Halloween schedule, we Millennials would have it made.