“There are those who say that on Halloween Night, a black cat still guards the old Sanderson House, warding off any who might make the Witches come back to life.” –Miss Olin
“Don’t get your knickers in a twist! We’re just three kindly old spinster ladies.” –Winifred Sanderson
It’s been 25 years since the Sanderson sisters first came flying into our lives, hoping to put a spell on all of us. And every year, Winifred, Sarah, and Mary do just that. Hocus Pocus may not have been a big hit when it was originally released, but it has gone on to become a cult classic, a film that new generations of kids get to anticipate every Halloween. There are a lot of interesting things that we never really knew about the movie, and also things we simply overlooked because we loved it so much. Things like big-name celebs who turned down certain roles, or even time-period issues that make us say, “wait, what?” Nonetheless, it’s still a great film for families (and singles!) to watch year after year.
Hocus Pocus Facts
29. Abracadabra, Indeed!
Twice in the film we hear the line “it’s all just a bunch of Hocus Pocus!” The first when Max is lighting the black flame candle that ends up starting all the mayhem, and the second when Winifred says it later on, presumably quoting Max. But wait—she was technically still dead when he said it. How could she have known? Maybe it all really is just a bunch of hocus pocus after all.
28. Don’t Believe Everything We Read
Critics were particularly harsh for this light-hearted movie, Entertainment Weekly specifically. They called Hocus Pocus “acceptable scary-silly kid fodder that adults will find only mildly insulting. Unless they’re Bette Midler fans. In which case it’s depressing as hell.” In part because of all the negative reviews, the film’s earnings dropped a good 6 million dollars just weeks after its release.
27. All in the Neighborhood
Spoiler alert! The witches die. And they kind of die in a kiln, but hey, they weren’t very nice. The reason I bring this up is actually because of Max. He’s celebrating in front of a house that may seem a little familiar: It’s the house from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. And just down the street? The same witch house from the TV show Bewitched. Oh, and the house Thora Birch’s character lives in during her later film, American Beauty, also makes an appearance.
26. Splish Splash, Just No Baths
Houses aren’t the only recognizable things to pop up in the film. Your favorite fountain from Friends? Yup, it’s in there too. It can be seen behind Dani and Allison while they’re also celebrating the deaths of the witches.
25. Sheer, Dumb Luck Perhaps?
Remember that scene where Max uses a Zippo lighter to call on the “burning rain of death”? Well, he grabbed that at the long-closed gift store at the museum for the Sanderson sisters. Here’s the thing though: Zippo lighters require lighter fluid. If it really was from that gift counter, wouldn’t the fluid have, I don’t know, evaporated since it was first put on the shelf? Seems a little odd, doesn’t it?
24. What Year Is It, Anyway?
There are some interesting bits in the film that make us question the time period. For instance, the Sanderson sisters’ reference of margarine. The spread wasn’t invented until the 1800s, yet they first died in 1693. It wasn’t actually used as an alternative for butter until 1869, but the sisters talk about using it.
23. No Lisps Here
Contrary to popular belief, the name is not Zackary Binx, it’s actually Thackery Binx. There was a novelist back in the nineteenth century named William Makepeace Thackeray, which most often was misspelled as—you guessed it—Thackery.
22. Nine Lives Times Nine Cats Equals a Whole Heap of Binx
Binx was portrayed by roughly nine different cats. Okay, not the human version, but I think you already guessed that. Each cat had their own special skill or talent, which is why they needed so many. Plus, cats can be fickle, as any cat lover or owner would tell you. It’s almost like the dwarves we see in Snow White, just cats! The voice of the cat was done by Jason Marsden.
21. A Tangled Web of Cats
You might wonder why, if Marsden was the voice of Binx the cat, the man Binx is a different actor altogether, Sean Murray. Producers felt Murray’s voice was too modern for the film and wanted someone else who could sound like the time period Binx came from. Marsden even had to read the human Binx’s lines for continuity purposes!
20. Talk About Purrsonalities
All the kids admitted that they struggled working with the cats, since there were so many. They had to try to get each cat to trust them and warm up to them, to the point that the kids actually tired of it all. Treats and clickers were used every time a new cat was brought out to the set.
19. Max or Gilbert, Who Would It Be?
You know who almost played Max? None other than Leonardo DiCaprio. The actor said he was offered “more money than [he] ever dreamed of,” but ultimately went to star in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape instead. He even admits he has no regrets about that decision, saying, “if there’s one thing I’m very proud of, it’s being a young man who was sticking to my guns.”
18. How Many Midlers?
Midler got the statue treatment to the extreme for this film. And it was only for one scene! Seven statues in her likeness were made for that one scene when her character goes poof in the sunlight. You can even check out one of the statues, along with Winifred’s spell book, at Planet Hollywood in Orlando.
17. To the Moon and Back
Films always take some liberties with certain plot points in the hopes that the audience suspends their disbelief. In this case, there was a major point in the storyline that we really have to put in the back of our minds: the Halloween full moon. The film is set in 1993, and there wasn’t a full moon on Halloween in the real world that year. In fact, the previous Halloween full moon was in 1974, with the next one set to happen in 2020—we haven’t even reached that one yet!
16. Let’s Do the Time Warp
The Sandersons didn’t live in an era where cars, buses, and even blacktop roads existed. Yet, somehow, Winifred chases Max down and asks to see his driver’s permit. How would she know about that? Not to mention, how would she know what a police officer would say to someone in that situation? Yes, we’re ruining the fun.
15. Ahead by a Few Centuries
Sarah Jessica Parker has a few oops moments in the film. Basically, things that got missed during editing. At one point, she laughs, mouth open wide, only to show off her cavity fillings. I don’t think anyone back in the 1600s had the opportunity to get fillings, did they? Another interesting goof: her costume shifts a couple times in the film, showing off her denim shorts.
14. Celebs Are Fans, Too!
Kathy Najimy was pretty over the moon when she was cast opposite Midler, portraying Mary Sanderson. In fact, Najimy had previously gone to two of Midler’s concerts and snuck backstage just to meet her idol!
13. Star Favorites
Midler once admitted that this film is her favorite film that she’s starred in. Who can blame her? It’s timeless! Even Thora Birch said that working on Hocus Pocus was some of the most fun she’s ever had, and Najimy confessed to watching it every August 15 with her family.
12. What’s Old Is New Again
There’s been a lot of talk over the years about a sequel. Unfortunately, most of it has been just that—talk. Our three leading witches all expressed interest in coming back for round two, but Midler later changed her mind, saying she didn’t like the idea of a sequel.
11. Just Call Her a Witch Hunter
Just this past summer, a Hocus Pocus book was released, fast-forwarding time 25 years and following Poppy, Max and Allison’s daughter. Don’t worry, I secretly squealed too! Our Poppy doesn’t quite believe her parents’ telling of what happened that fateful day so long ago and doesn’t understand their aversion to Halloween in general. I don’t want to spoil anything for you, but I’ll just say that she ends up at the Sanderson house, checking things out for herself.
10. Write, Re-Write and Then Re-Write Some More
The film took a long time to be made, and took a lot of reworking, too. Disney bought the script for Hocus Pocus eight years before the film was actually produced. Originally called Disney’s Halloween House, the concept was much darker and scarier from the comedic film we’ve come to know and love. Writer David Kirschner had been writing a bedtime story for his own children, came up with the film’s concept, and even sent it off to Muppet Magazine.
9. Ahead by a Season
Generally speaking, films set around specific holidays or a time of year will come out around that time. Not so with Hocus Pocus. The Halloween-themed film was released in the summer of 1993. All things considered, it didn’t do too bady in its opening weekend, making a little over 8 million dollars and placing fourth in the box office.
8. A Mind of Its Own
There may be a slight nod to The Wizard of Oz in Hocus Pocus, but you may not have realized it. Sarah’s hair is constantly going from straight to curly and back again. Seems legit, considering she’s a witch, right? Well, if you’re a fan of Oz, you’ll likely remember that Dorothy’s hair is likewise always going between long and short.
7. Mary, Mary Quite Contrary
Originally, Rosie O’Donnell was offered the role of Mary Sanderson, but decided to turn it down. She wasn’t comfortable in a role that would have seen her character killing children and being a scary witch. Oddly enough, Najimy was a little timid to take the role too, but for a different reason. She just didn’t want to offend any real witches through the portrayal.
6. Driving, Flying, What’s the Difference?
The three main actresses—Middler, Parker, and Najimy—had a choreographer go for car rides with them, all in the name of art. Peggy Holmes wanted to get a feel for how the ladies drove, and used that knowledge to conceive of how they rode their brooms (and vacuums) in the film.
5. Vroom Goes the Broom–and Vacuum
We all associate witches with brooms. Sarah finds a mop to use, since they couldn’t find brooms, but Mary uses a vacuum cleaner. But, how does she know what a vacuum cleaner is? It’s not like they were invented when the sisters were alive; they came about in the 1860s. Maybe, since the vacuum was in the closet alongside the mop (which the sisters would have known about, since mops were being used way back when), she decides it’s worth a shot?
4. Little Witches
Something you may have noticed but not really taken in: the three little girls who take the sisters’ brooms from outside a house. Those little girls look like their older counterparts. One is dressed as Winifred with the green cape and red hair, while another looks like Sarah with a purple cape and blonde hair, and the last as Mary with the dark locks and red cape.
3. A Halloween Set-Up
Executives from Disney were pitched the idea for Hocus Pocus in a dark room. The writers had tossed a good 15 pounds of candy corn all over it and hung vacuums and brooms from the ceiling. If that doesn’t scream innovative, I don’t know what does.
2. Moth Got Your Tongue?
Doug Jones, who plays Billy Butcherson, had quite the revelation during a 20-year celebration screening. He admitted that the moths coming out of his mouth at the end of the film were, indeed, real. No fake moths to be found here. And in case you want to know how he didn’t end up swallowing them, a dental dam device was used. It’s literally just something that stopped them from going anywhere but out his mouth.
1. Art Imitating Life, Sort of
A young Parker played, oddly enough, Sarah Sanderson in the film, which is even more ironic because some 20 years later she found out that she has an ancestor who was accused of being a witch. During an appearance on the show Who Do You Think You Are? Parker discovered that Esther Elwell, a 10-time great-grandmother, was accused of various cases of witchcraft in Salem during the late 1600s. Although Elwell was arrested, she actually never made it to trial. Upon learning of this incredible past, Parker said, “it has changed everything about who I thought I was.”