Wednesday, September 25, 2013
Riske Business: Hocus Pocus 20 Years Later
I finally caught up with Pocus in 1997. It aired one chilly October night on the Disney Channel and I had it on as background noise while I was studying for a math test. Ten minutes into the movie, I stopped studying. Pocus had me. I was a goner. I flunked the hell out of that test. I didn’t care. I found a perennial favorite to watch every Halloween. I know I made the right decision, because I’m not writing a column about math 16 years later.
Prisoners over and over again (that movie is good, btw). Also on the upside, there’s no Goonies derivation to be had with Hoke Poke. It’s just as entertaining to me as an adult as it was when I was 15 and already too old for it. But I was a weird teenager until I became handsome at 16. All of my friends from my old elementary school and junior high gang (Karate Blood) went to either a different high school or were on drugs and/or always in trouble. Like Don Corleone, I was a square and wanted nothing to do with drugs, so we gradually parted ways. Being in between groups of friends, I had a lot of time on my hands. I think there’s another reason I like , so much. It feels like comfort food. It’s safe but reminds me of a simpler time when I felt very alone and yet knew I was doing the right thing. Just like Mookie.
Not everyone has my history, though so what is it about this movie? How did Hocus Pocus become a seasonal classic, beloved by so many? I’m going to venture a few guesses. The first is that it’s horror-lite, not unlike the Universal Monster movies we’ve all grown up with. Ho Po could be that bridge movie for many kids before they get into horror. In fact, did you know that if you take an editing program and cut out all of the violence, disturbing imagery, foul language and Meg Foster nudity from The Lords of Salem that you are left with an unedited cut of Hocus Pocus? Surprised you didn’t know that. All of the internet cafes are buzzing about it. You should hang out at internet cafes, Netscape Navigator!
But I think the one thing that most people like about this movie is how crazy weird it is. For a Disney kids movie, there’s stuff going on in Pocus that’s just nuts. It kills kids from the 1600s (or at least sucks the youth out of them and threatens to eat others). The bullies (who want pot at the beginning of the movie) are actually kind of threatening, even though they’re supposed to be comic relief. As mentioned before, Thora Birch’s character calls breasts yabos (and she totally shows them in American Beauty. Wes Bentley likes her yabos. In fact, he loves them). There’s a horny bus driver. Real-life brother and sister Gary and Penny Marshall play husband and wife. And finally, the movie is completely pro-sex. There is nothing worse in Pocus’ Salem, Massachusetts setting than being a virgin. It doesn’t matter if you’re 15 years old. You should be doin’ it and doin’ it and doin’ it well. Again, this is a family movie from Disney.
For those reasons alone, people come back to the Hoke each year during the month of October. Hell, I even knew a girl who named her cat after the cat in this movie. And she specifically bought a black cat so she could do that. This movie is influential is what I’m saying. It’s sort of a miracle that it’s taken the place in so many kids’ (some who are now adults) collective memories. Do we just want to see Max’s hackey sack backpack? Or wonder why he plays the same notes over and over when he’s drumming his pain away in his bedroom? And how about that bedroom! It’s two freaking stories! BTW...did you know that Leonardo DiCaprio was originally supposed to play Max but instead chose to do What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? This paved the way for Omri Katz to have one hell of a 1993 in film with both PoPo and a role in Joe Dante’s excellent Matinee.
With Scary Movie Month coming up soon, what are some other non-horror Halloween movies that are good to watch as we run up to October 1st? ParaNorman? Monster House? Also, leave a comment below with your thoughts on Hocus Pocus and, if you’re a fan, why is it one of your seasonal favorites?