Subgenre: Witch / Family
Summary: Three colonial-era witches return three hundred years later to wreak havoc.
Review: We open with a prologue, set in 1693 Salem Massachusetts, showing the hanging of the Sanderson sisters, three witches responsible for the death of a local child. Before they die, the witches cast a spell that will resurrect them if a virgin lights their magic candle.
Three hundred years later, it’s Halloween once again, and California-born Max is having a hard time adjusting to his new home. The school bullies torment him, his crush Allison barely knows he exists, and he’s stuck babysitting his younger sister while she trick-or-treats. When he runs into Allison with his sister in tow, he jumps at the opportunity to impress her by visiting the old Sanderson house. He lights a candle for some light, awakening the fiendish sisters from their slumber. Now it’s up to our plucky trio of kids (with the help of a talking cat) to stop the witches before they can take more children.
Hocus Pocus is nostalgically endearing right off the bat, with evocative small-town Halloween atmosphere and a wholesome family-movie score. The young protagonists are likable-if-generic, and the story chugs along easily enough. When the witches arrive, it becomes a chase movie, with our heroes running around town on Halloween night, trying to stay one step ahead of the evil brood. This virtually plotless midsection is little more than an excuse to indulge in witchy hijinks, but the movie gets away with it because these are its best moments. The three actresses all throw themselves into the material, especially Bette Midler, who genuflects and shrieks like there’s no tomorrow. Things fall apart in the third act, whose clunky pacing betrays a clear lack of ideas, though it manages to pull itself together in time for a sweet, E.T.-esque ending.
The Verdict: There’s fun to be had with Hocus Pocus, but there are plenty of dull moments as well. I give it five conspiring covens out of ten.