(director: Kenny Ortega; screenwriters: Neil Cuthbert & Mick Garris/story is by Mick Garris & David Kirschner; cinematographer: Hiro Narita; editor: Peter E. Berger; music: John Debney; cast: Omri Katz (Max Dennison), Bette Midler (Winifred Sanderson), Kathy Najimy (Mary Sanderson), Sarah Jessica Parker (Sarah Sanderson), Thora Birch (Dani Dennison), Vinessa Shaw (Allison), Jason Marsden (Voice of Thackeray), Doug Jones (Billy Butcherson), Larry Bagby III (Jay), Tobias Jaliniak (Ice/Ernie), Sean Murray (Thackeray Binx), Charles Rocket (Mr Dennison); Runtime: 96; MPAA Rating: PG; producers: Steven Haft/David Kirschner; Buena Vista Walt Disney; 1993)

Not even the CGI effects held any awe.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

It’s directed by the former dance choreographer Kenny Ortega (“Newsies”/”This is It”) and future TV director on the Disney Channel. The so-so filmmaker directs an underwhelming film, with Bette Midler as queen of the witches coven. She camps it up, but the humor is strained.

Writers Neil Cuthbert & Mick Garris base the screenplay on the story by Mick Garris & David Kirschner.

A miscast Midler bumbles her way through this botched kiddie and maybe adult witchcraft film by over-acting. It blends an unfunny comedy with a dark witchcraft film, making it hard to find its target audience. Ms. Middler plays the harpy witch Winifred Sanderson, residing in 1693, in Salem, with her younger sisters–the idiotic Mary (Kathy Najimy) and the sexually aroused Sarah (Sarah Jessica Parker). She’s the eldest of three sisters, all witches, from 17th-century Salem who suddenly appear when conjured up on Halloween night three centuries later by the skeptical newly arrived teenager to Salem from L.A., Max Dennison (Omri Katz). To flaunt the legends of the three sisters, Max tries to impress his girlfriend Allison (Vinessa Shaw) and his 11-year-old sister Dani (Thora Birch), as he lights a black candle in the museum erected on the site of the sisters’ house. He’s in a state of disbelief when the sisters are indeed revived. The guilt-ridden Max then acts to stop the sisters before they suck the lifeforce out of the three children they must devour before dawn in order to fully return to life.

Spoiler alert:

Ms. Middler has too much make-up (including buck-teeth) and speaks an unclear 17th century English with a lisp. As the film becomes too silly, muddled and uninteresting, its fun was in  some hocus pocus around the cauldron. But the film’s big moments fizzled, that include Ms. Midler’s featured song (“I’m Gonna Put a Spell on You”) or her flying around on a broomstick or the changing of her into a stone gargoyle at the climax. Not even the CGI effects held any awe-that included a CGI lip-synched talking cat and a book with a living eye.

Kathy Najimy, Bette Midler and Sarah Jessica Parker in Hocus
      Pocus (1993)

REVIEWED ON 10/5/2020  GRADE:  C-

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