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Featured Blu-ray Review: Hocus Pocus

September 22nd, 2012

Hocus Pocus - Blu-ray Combo Pack - Buy from Amazon

Hocus Pocus is a horror film aimed at kids, which means its mostly comedy with some horror elements. This is one of those movies I think I watched a couple times while babysitting, but my recollection of the film is very vague. It did come out nearly 20 years ago, which is plenty of time for a movie to fade from my memory. However, there's also a chance it is just a very forgettable film. So which is it?

The Movie

The film begins way back in 1693 in Salem, Massachusetts. We meet Thackery Binx (Sean Murray from NCIS), as he wakes to realize his sister, Emily (Jodie Rivera who became VenetianPrincess), is missing. ... I'm going to stop right there for a second. One of the fun things I like to do when reviewing older movies is to pay attention to the child actors and see if they went on to do other things. Already this movie is a success in that regard.

When Thackery and his friend spot purple smoke rising from the nearby woods, they know the witches, the Sanderson Sisters, are conjuring something. When he goes forward, he sees his sister has been bewitched and is following one of the witches into the woods. He gets his friend to bring the village elders while he runs forward to rescue his sister. Unfortunately, he arrives too late and the Sanderson Sisters, Winnie, Mary, and Sarah, use her life force in a spell to make them young and beautiful again, killing poor Emily in the process. They then curse Thackery making him immortal so he will have to live with his guilt, while transforming him into a cat. They are caught and executed for their crimes, but before they do, they cast a spell so that they will be revived by a virgin on a full moon on Halloween.

Flash forward to today, and we see Max Dennison (Omri Katz) in his classroom being told the legend of the the Sanderson Sisters. He's skeptical of the legend and isn't a big fan of Halloween in general. This might be why he's having trouble making friends since he's moved from California to Salem, as the whole town is obsessed with witches and Halloween. He's particularly interested in one town member, Allison, a classmate, but she's not interested in him. His day continues to get worse, as he's accosted by two bullies, Jay (Tobias Jelinek) and Ice (Larry Bagby), while on his way home and they steal his shoes. It's not a good day for him.

When he gets home, Max has a small fight with his parents before learning he has to take his 8-year old sister, Dani, trick-or-treating. Max refuses to take her, but Dani has a secret weapon, a high-pitched scream to mom. With that he is forced to go. Trick-or-treating is no more fun than the rest of his day, as he has yet another run-in with the bullies. Eventually, Max and Dani trick-or-treat at a mansion, only to discover it is Allison's house. Dani's still a fan of Halloween and is really interested in the Sanderson Sisters, so Allison decides to take them to the witches' old house, which was first turned into a museum and then shut down. While the trio of them explore the place, Max finds the black flame candle, which raises the three dead witches, if lit by a virgin on a full moon. Max suggests they do just that, but is attacked by Thackery Cat. After that scare, both Dani and Allison want to leave, but Max insists on lighting the candle, thus freeing Winnie, Mary, and Sarah.

With the three witches back, they continue their plan to steal the life force of the town's children and become immortal. However, Max, Allison, and Dani try to stop them, with the help of the talking Thackery Cat.

According to Wikipedia, Hocus Pocus started out as a TV movie, but someone thought the script was strong enough to be a theatrical release. It wasn't a big hit when it was released in theaters in July of 1993. (On a side note, who releases a Halloween movie in July?) But it has since become a cult classic. Personally, I don't get it. There is really nothing here that stands out in a good way. It has a weird vibe to it with a mix of some dark horror scenes (Emily Binx is killed, on screen) but the vast majority of the film is filled with silly slapstick humor. The writing is weak without much in the way of originality, while it can't build up real tension either, because there's no sense of urgency. The acting ranges from way over-the-top in the case of the three witches, to just plain bad in the case of most of the young cast. At least with the witches, there is some humor in the way they act, but even then it grows tiresome. In the actors' defense, they were not given a lot of help from the screenwriters, as most of the characters are merely a collection of tics rather than developed personalities. There's quite a lot of special effects, some of which aren't bad, for a kids movie, and this is one place where the film benefited from going from a TV movie to a theatrical release. However, everything else from the story to the acting feels more at home on TV.

And before someone brings it up, I understand it is a kids movie, but just because it is aimed at kids, doesn't mean it has to be bad. There are many kids movies that are filled with good writing, well-developed characters, good acting, etc. I'm not expecting it to be Oscar-worthy, but I wanted better than this.

The Extras

There are no extras on the Blu-ray, not even a trailer. It does comes with DVD, which I guess makes a little sense since it is a kids movie and kids movies tend to sell better on DVD than on Blu-ray. The video quality is mixed. Granted, the film is 20 years old, so one can't expect it to look as good as a first run release would, but there are still issues with many scenes that are too dark and that lack details. When the film is brightly lit, the video is much better with solid colors and stronger details, but there are too many darker scenes to give it a really good grade. The audio is fine, but not great. The dialogue is clear, but thin. There's very little activity in the surround sound speakers, except for a few scenes. The price of the Blu-ray Combo pack is $18, which is too much for a featureless catalogue release, even with the DVD.

The Verdict

Hocus Pocus is TV movie quality with a bigger special effects budget. Granted, there are quite a number of people who love the film and it has become a cult film of sorts on the home market. For these people, the Blu-ray Combo Pack might be worth picking up, but be warned, it is a weak Blu-ray release.

On a side note, Kathy Najimy was in another Halloween TV movie that was made by Disney called The Scream Team. It was made ten years ago and has never even been released on DVD. I would love to see that one again, mainly because it has Eric Idle in it.

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Filed under: Video Review, Hocus Pocus