WONKY TIMES

10 Wonky & Interesting Things About The Film ‘Hocus Pocus’

These 10 facts about the cult-classic Disney film ought to be interesting enough to share with others

Credit: Walt Disney Studios

For many folks, Hocus Pocus is a true Halloween classic.

Some are pretty open about it, while others hide the fact that they love watching the movie every October. The 1993 film stars Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy as the Sanderson Sisters, three witches from the 17th century hellbent on achieving eternal youth by sucking the souls of children.

No matter how you celebrate the spooky season — and possibly getting ready for the Hocus Pocus sequel — these 10 facts about the cult-classic Disney film ought to be interesting enough to share with others.

1. HOCUS POCUS ALMOST STARRED LEONARDO DICAPRIO

The role of Max was originally offered to Leonardo DiCaprio. He turned it down to do What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (1993). In a 2014 interview with Variety, DiCaprio said, “I don’t know where the hell I got the nerve. You live in an environment where you’re influenced by people telling you to make a lot of money and strike while the iron’s hot.”

2. HOCUS POCUS ORIGINATED AS A BEDTIME STORY

The story for Hocus Pocus came about after writer David Kirschner invented a bedtime story for his kids. He later wrote the story up and submitted it to Muppet Magazine (why does this not still exist?), where it gained recognition.

3. THORA BIRCH REVISITED THE HOCUS POCUS NEIGHBORHOOD IN AMERICAN BEAUTY

While the kids are prematurely celebrating victory against the Sanderson sisters after locking them in the kiln, they’re shown talking in front of a house as they walk to a park. The house was later used as the house Thora Birch’s character lived in for American Beauty (1999).

4. MULTIPLE CATS WERE USED ON SET TO PLAY BINX

Due to the length of the film and the variety of tricks Binx performs, several cats were used on the “Hocus Pocus” set. Humane Hollywood reported that the crew chose which cat to feature in each scene based on the animal’s skills and personality. Still, the animal stunts required training and creativity.

According to Humane Hollywood, “When the children first meet Binx at the witches’ house, Binx surprises Max by jumping on him and Max falls down. To achieve this scene, one trainer released the cat, while a second trainer called the cat by way of a buzzer hidden in the actor’s clothing.”

5. REAL MOTHS FLY OUT OF BILLY’S MOUTH

Doug Jones, who played Billy Butcherson, had real moths in his mouth. 

“There was a small hole in the very back of the pocket so that Doug could cough some air through it … An animal wrangler would place several moths in the pocket with tweezers … Then the stitches would be glued shut, and we’d run out of frame so that they could get to the shot as fast as possible,” Gardner said

6. THE MOVIE WAS ALMOST CALLED HALLOWEEN HOUSE

“Hocus Pocus” was originally titled “Halloween House” and the title wouldn’t have been the only difference. The first draft Mick Garris wrote in the 1980s was much darker than the final version. 

What I had written originally was about 12-year-olds,” Garris told Entertainment Weekly in 2017. “The kids being younger and in more jeopardy was certainly something more explicitly frightening.”

7. THE ORIGINAL TRAILER HAD DELETED SCENES

Kathy Najimy, who played Mary Sanderson in the film, told SYFY Wire in 2018 that the movie originally was centered around the witches, but was later edited to be more kid-friendly. As a result, five major Sanderson sister scenes were cut. One of the deleted scenes found in the trailer involved Mary being set loose in a supermarket, Najimy said.

8. SARAH JESSICA PARKER IS RELATED TO A WOMAN FAMOUSLY ACCUSED OF BEING A WITCH

Had Sarah Jessica Parker known then what she knows now, she might have approached the role of Sarah Sanderson a little differently. When the actress went on the show Who Do You Think You Are to trace her family history, she discovered that one of her ancestors was Esther Elwell, one of the women accused of being a witch during the Salem Witch Trials. After a young girl said she saw Esther’s “spectre” strangling neighbor Mary Fitch, Elwell was arrested, but escaped going to trial.

9. BETTE MIDLER INSPIRED HER OWN COSTUME

In a 2019 interview with Glamour, the film’s costume designer, Mary Vogt, said each witch’s outfit was tailored to resemble the character’s personality.

Sarah’s dress was inspired by “Sleeping Beauty,” Mary’s resembles a baker’s uniform, and Bette Midler herself inspired Winnie’s look.

Vogt recalled, “When I talked [to Ortega] about my vision for Bette, I said, ‘You can’t put her in some black witch outfit. You have to put her in something that’s colorful and fun and has a little sparkle to it.’ So when I did sketches and talked to Kenny about it, he responded, ‘Now let me talk to Bette, because this might not be what she was thinking of.’ So he talked to Bette, who said, ‘Well, of course. I’m not going to wear some black dress.'”

10. HOCUS POCUS WAS NOT AN IMMEDIATE HIT

Though it’s a cult classic now, Hocus Pocus didn’t do that well when it first came out in 1993, perhaps because it was released in July instead of September or October. Though it didn’t have a terrible opening—$8,125,471, putting it in fourth place at the box office that weekend—it fell to $2,017,688 a few weeks later, and bad reviews from the critics didn’t help matters. Entertainment Weekly was particularly put off by the movie, calling it a “piece of corny slapstick trash” and saying that “It’s 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.”

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Matt Sterner

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