It doesn’t have to be Halloween season to watch the cult classic Hocus Pocus, but now that it’s October, watching it is somehow even more fun! It was released in 1993, and despite originally being a flop, it would later change a generation. An annual Halloween favorite, Hocus Pocus has been casting a spell over anyone who watches it for the last 24 years. As Home Alone is to Christmas, Hocus Pocus is to Halloween, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
It’s the story of three wacky witches, the Sanderson sisters, Winifred, Sarah, and Mary. The three were burned at the stake 300 years ago but were inadvertently brought back to Salem, Massachusetts by a teenaged virgin on Halloween night. Having been resurrected, they run around the streets of Salem trying to steal the souls of children so that they may live forever. And then, there’s the virgin, his little sister, the girl he’s crushing on, a zombie named “Billy,” and an immortal cat. Obvious plot holes and silliness aside, any child of the ’90s will tell you that actually, Hocus Pocus is a timeless Halloween masterpiece.
Join me in learning about something very few people know about: the behind-the-scenes facts about Hocus Pocus that are sure to put a spell on you. The movie already has, and the secrets and details about its making will only serve to make it that much better. Read on to find out 15 fun facts about the making of everyone’s favorite Halloween movie, Hocus Pocus.
15. Pitching The Movie
Nowadays, it’s shocking to think that Hocus Pocus may never have come to be. But alas, there was a time before it existed that it was just an idea in someone’s head. But that person knew it was a great idea, and thus, he had to get his pitch to Disney just right to make sure it became a reality. To pitch it to Disney, the writers set up a room that was dark and decorated spookily. There were broomsticks and a vacuum cleaner hanging from the ceiling, and 15 pounds of candy corn were scattered throughout the room to make feel and “smell” more like Halloween. The plan worked, and the execs made the wise decision to go ahead with the movie. Can you imagine if they hadn’t?
14. It Bombed At First
Now, this is something incredibly hard to believe, knowing what we know now about Hocus Pocus and its success. It’s even become a cult classic, something people around the world love to watch every Halloween (or just because)! But when it was first released, Hocus Pocus wasn’t such a big hit. One reason for this could potentially be because someone decided to release it over the summer and not in the fall closer to Halloween. Originally a flop, this movie debuted in fourth place at the box office on its opening weekend and earned just $39.5 million. But it opened against Free Willy and Jurassic Park, two other movies that are arguably pretty awesome, too. It was done this way to avoid opening on the same weekend in the fall that other Halloween movies would come out, like The Addams Family. At first, critics said things like “The only real curses in this film will be yours as you walk up the aisle to leave.” Ouch, that’s pretty harsh.
12. The Link to Home Improvement
You may think that the ’90s sitcom Home and Improvement and the Halloween movie Hocus Pocus have nothing in common, but you would be incorrect. In fact, the two productions shared something that brought the casts quite close together during filming: a lot! In the early part of the 1990s, both were being filmed on the Disney lot, and as a result, the kids from Home Improvement and the kids from Hocus Pocus became pretty close. Vinessa Shaw, who played Allison in Hocus Pocus, said, “Tim Allen‘s show Home Improvement was filming, so the kids of Hocus Pocus and Home Improvement were on the lot and high-fiving each other. We hung out with Doug Jones [the zombie, Billy Butcherson] and laughed with him and Sean Murray, and we really just had the best time.”
11. The Moths Were Real
Something that very few people seem to know about Hocus Pocus is that the moths that flew out of zombie Billy Hutcherson’s mouth were not fake at all. He actually had live moths inside of his mouth! During the scene where Billy, who’s a good zombie, cuts open his mouth that his ex-girlfriend Winnie sewed shut upon his death 300 years prior, moths and dust fly out of it. In an interview, Doug Jones, the man who played Billy, explained how they did it: “They used a dental dam-like device to keep them from going down my throat. The first line of action was to have real moths come out of my mouth, so I was wearing a protective, latex sheath in my mouth that tried to keep the moths as dry as possible. They had a moth trainer who came with the moths, and he was an expert on how they flew and what keeps them healthy. Moths are very dry, and if they get moist at all are not going to fly. The key was to keep them as dry as possible so that they would fly out of my mouth and flutter into the air. They would place these moths into the rubbery sheath over my tongue, and the moth trainer used tweezers by their wings from their cage into my mouth. Then, the makeup artist[s], Tony Gardner and Margaret Prentice, would have to run in and lightly tack glue my stitches across my mouth, so that I could take that knife and run that across the pre-cut stitches and cough out the moths and the dust.”
10. Human Binx Voiced by Cat Binx
One strange behind-the-scenes fact about Hocus Pocus is that the man who voiced the immortal cat also dubbed over the human version of Thackery Binx. People would normally assume it would be the other way around, but in fact, the producers thought that Sean Murray (the human Binx) had a voice that sounded too “contemporary”. So, instead of having him voice the cat Binx, they had Jason Marsden do the voice for both the cat and the human. So, even when it’s Sean Murray on the screen, like in the first and last scenes, it’s Jason Marsden whose voice you’re hearing. In order to be more true to the time period, Marsden’s less contemporary voice was used for both, also ensuring that the cat and the human had the same voice as one another.
9. Dozens of Cats Used to Portray Binx
Speaking of Binx, the immortal cat, did you know that he was played by not just one cat, but dozens? For parts of the film (like when he was talking, of course) the cat was an animatronic cat. For the other parts, several real-life black cats were utilized because each brought a different skill to the table. For example, one cat was jumpy, one preferred to just sit still, one would move on cue, and one would cuddle. But they were apparently not as easy to love as Binx was supposed to be. In fact, the kids hated working with the cats because every time a new cat was used, they would have to teach it to trust them, coerce it with treats, etc. That sounds like a lot of work. But it was all worth it because just look how great the movie turned out!
8. Lessons in Broomstick Riding
If you’re not an actual witch, riding a broom around takes some practice. Even with all sorts of special effects, the actresses who played Winifred, Sarah, and Mary Sanderson had to learn how to “realistically” ride their witchy mode of transportation: the broom — or, at least in the case of Sarah and Mary in one scene, a mop and a vacuum cleaner. Choreographer Peggy Holmes gave lessons to Bette Midler, Kathy Najimy, and Sarah Jessica Parker on how to ride a broom/mop/vacuum cleaner (although how Peggy, herself, knew how to do so wasn’t disclosed). Peggy Holmes even rode around in cars with the witches to see how they drove, and then applied her broomstick lessons utilizing their own personal driving styles. Pretty cool!
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