Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Let's Go to the Movies, Part 3: "Amok, Amok, Amok"

Unfortunately, I’m unable to attend my beloved Popular Culture Association in the South conference this year; being laid off has had the paradoxical effect of giving me plenty of time to think up paper/presentation topics but no income to share that work, but such is life. Since there have been a few ideas bouncing around in my head--midnight breakthroughs, all--I’m going to share them with you. I’ve written with the assumption that my audience is familiar with the films I’ll be discussing, so consider this a pre-emptive spoiler alert. Read on!

For Part 1, click here. For Part 2, click here.


Halloween is two days away, so I thought I would take the opportunity to talk about my all-time favorite Halloween movie: Hocus Pocus.

As my father put it to me a couple of weeks back, "Bette Middler had a good career. But then she made Hocus Pocus and had a LEGACY." This is perhaps the most accurate thing my father has ever said. Because everyone who was raised on this film now has a shared cultural touchstone on October 31st, no matter how costume, candy, or decorating trends have changed throughout the years. (If you've never seen it, you've clearly been living at the bottom of the ocean since 1993, and I feel bad for you.) It's the Halloween equivalent of A Charlie Brown Christmas. And I, for one, could not be more grateful.

Hocus Pocus was probably the movie that sparked my love of Halloween. Well, that, and the fact that people hand out bags of Better Made chips when you go trick-or-treating in southeastern Michigan. It's extraordinarily perfect: extravagant costumes, jokes that speak to children as well as adults, Sarah Jessica Parker's spot-on ditzy display, and a show-stopping musical number in the middle of the action. You know the one I'm talking about:

Sure, it's a far cry from Screamin' Jay Hawkins' "I Put a Spell on You," but hey--this is a family film. (One in which Disney decided it would be okay to show Garry Marshall and his sister Penny as spouses, but that's a minor detail.)

And let's talk about Thora Birch for a minute. She was ten or eleven when Hocus Pocus was made--years before she made a splash in American Beauty. Not only does she make the perfect little sister opposite Omri Katz, but she's able to hold her own against Middler, Parker, and Kathy Najimy. Besides, her name is Thora, and that makes her awesome.

Oh, and here's a thing that will blow your mind: Kenny Ortega, the director of Hocus Pocus, is also a well-known choreographer who has spent a good deal of time working with other music legends like Madonna and Cher. Who knew someone could be responsible for such large chunks of our shared popular culture experience (he also directed Newsies and the three High School Musical movies)?

If you ever get homesick for childhood outside of the Halloween season, by the way, just go watch some NCIS; Sean Murray, who played the cat on whom so many girls had a weird, inappropriate crush, is now McGee on the long-running CBS drama (even though someone dubbed his speech in Hocus Pocus, I still give credit to Murray).


Thora Birch image via here.

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