Monday, October 24, 2011

Vamp or Not? Hocus Pocus

Hocus Pocus was a Kenny Ortega film from 1993 and, as the name suggests, it was indeed a (Disney) film about witches.

So, why ‘Vamp or Not?’ Firstly because good friend of the blog Anthony Hogg suggested it as a subject worthy of a ‘Vamp or Not?’ Next, because both traditionally and in fiction the witch and the vampire have always been closely connected.

Some traditions have the witch (who might also be a living vampire) become a vampire on death. Also, I have certainly heard it argued that once society could no longer explicitly target women as scapegoats for their ills (and thus have them ‘tried’ and murdered for alleged witchcraft) then society turned its attention to corpses and made them the scapegoat (hence the vampire panics that occurred – at different times – on both sides of the Atlantic).

Binx peeks in
In this case, however, we are talking Disney witches and a film set in Salem. The film starts with Thackery Binx (Sean Murray) waking to discover that his sister, Emily (Jodie Rivera), has been lured from their home by Sarah Sanderson (Sarah Jessica Parker) the youngest of the hag like Sanderson sisters. He chases after his sister and finds their home. Winifred (Bette Middler) is making a potion that she, Sarah and their sister Mary (Kathy Najimy) will force Emily to drink.

sucking Emily's life
Binx interrupts things and is turned into an immortal cat for his trouble. However – in terms of ‘Vamp or Not?’ – it is the potion we must look to. It allows the sisters to drain off the life energy of Emily, killing her and causing them to become younger in the process. It is, indeed, a form of energy vampirism – albeit through an artificial medium but we allow that in many a film. The witches are caught and hung, but not before Winifred manages to utter a curse that will bring them back.

Max and Allison
In the present and Max (Omri Katz) has been moved to Salem by his parents. He is not a believer in the Sanderson story – as relayed at school – and not a fan of Halloween. He is, however, a fan of classmate Allison (Vinessa Shaw). It is Halloween and he is expected to take younger sister Dani (Thora Birch) trick or treating. They end up at Alison’s home and, on discovering that the Sanderson’s house was turned into a (now-abandoned) museum, he persuades Allison and Dani to go to the witches' house. In there is the ‘black flame candle’ a candle that, if lit by a virgin on a Halloween with full moon, will bring the sisters back. Virgin Max lights it.

weird sisters
The sisters have returned but, helped by Binx the cat – who can now talk – the kids manage to escape with Winifred’s spell book. The black flame candle has only brought them back for one night and they will die with the dawn – bringing in the familiar vampire sunlight trope. They can avoid it by draining the life from the town’s children and becoming immortal. But to do that they need the potion and the ingredient is in the spell book.

Sarah in the light of day
Being Disney there is a happy ending (and some cheesy smiles) so it won’t spoil things to say they get destroyed by the sun. However this occurs in two ways. For Mary and Sarah it is simply a quick light show and then a puff of coloured dust. Winifred however turns into a statue first and then explodes. Why? It isn’t clear but I suspect it is because she has fallen into the graveyard and the film also establishes the rule that witches cannot set foot on hallowed ground. Another piece of lore established is that a circle of salt will protect someone from the witches' spells.

Sarah on broom
The film is cheesy in parts but is lifted and carried, in a kid friendly way, by the performance of the three witches. Bette Midler is on particularly fine form as Winifred and the moment where she sings “I Put a Spell on You” to the town’s adults and leaves them locked in a St Vitus Dance is superb. Sarah Jessica Parker switched between (not too explicit) slattern and bizarrely mad woman with ease, putting a large dose of vamp into her character, and though Kathy Najimy has a less overtly over-the-top character than the other two she is nevertheless excellent as the witch with a nose for children and a vacuum cleaner replacing her broom.

Binx as a cat
Is it Vamp? Clearly it is about witches, first and foremost, but these are witches who drain life to remain young/become immortal. Thus they are Energy Vampires and, certainly, they cannot exist (in the present) without devouring lives. They also died and came back, making them undead. It was so stereotypically witchy that I wanted to suggest that the film just had a genre interest but, in truth, they are energy vampires as much as witches. Vamp.

The imdb page is here.


Zahir Blue said...

For what it is worth, I agree.

Ironically, Thora Birch was supposed to have starred in a Broadway production of DRACULA earlier this year but was let go. Given that the production crashed and burned in about a week, that might have been for the best.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

cheers for that Zahir.

It probably was for the best given the crash and burn

Unknown said...

Good film, even though idea of Salem "witches" being real deal deserving punishment is quite unsavory. And why being old is always something monstrous in Disney films? Great lesson to kiddies... Otherwise nice Halloween film.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

I quite agree Christine :)