Only in the world of Hocus Pocus can the full, foggy silhouette of a zombie — set against the ghoulish backdrop of Salem on Halloween night — conjure warm, cozy feelings of adoration instead of ice-cold chills of terror.
"It does something to your soul, it's so surreal, it's so mind-blowing," Hocus Pocus 2 director Anne Fletcher exclusively tells EW of seeing actor Doug Jones step back into the role of Billy Butcherson, the undead loverboy who returns from the grave to battle the resurrected Sanderson Sisters, for the first time in 29 years. "He's in a moment of betrayal [in the scene], so you're looking at this beloved character in such a way who's been hurt, and it blows your socks off. I'll never forget that."
Matt Kennedy/Disney+ Doug Jones returns as Billy Butcherson in 'Hocus Pocus 2'
In other words, there's a little more than ancient moths flowing from his decrepit lips, and definitely more heart beating — or, well, not beating, depending on how you look at it — in his chest: "I was really happy that Billy comes out of the grave talking," Jones says of the tortured, kind-hearted corpse he first portrayed in Disney's 1993 original. And he definitely has more to say this time around.
"It is seamless between the first movie and the second, that's the first thing I felt. It keeps the pureness and nostalgia alive and well for those who grew up with the first movie, and for any new fans we're gathering now will be excited about modernization for the current time we're in," he says, later adding: "Billy came back to me immediately, it was frightening how he's been alive while I've been playing other characters all these years, but, Billy's like, 'I wanted my chance again.'"
That chance begins in Fletcher's sequel as Billy's eternal slumber is interrupted after a brand new group of teens (Belissa Escobedo, Whitney Peak, and Lilia Buckingham) light the Black Flame Candle, ushering in a new reign of terror on contemporary Salem at the hands of the witchy trio (Bette Midler, Kathy Najimy, and Sarah Jessica Parker). Jones confirms that Billy is still a friendly zombie, and that his backstory in the sequel further fleshes out the soul hiding beneath his decayed flesh.
"His hatred for the witches puts him on [the teens'] side," Jones says, promising that fans will get a clearer glimpse into his past relationship with Winifred "back in the day," before she poisoned him on May 1, 1693 for cheating on her with Sarah.
Matt Kennedy/Disney+ Kathy Najimy, Bette Midler, and Sarah Jessica Parker return in 'Hocus Pocus 2'
Later, Billy is still looking for love, albeit in a platonic sense. He finds it, Fletcher says, in what those who've seen the film have dubbed a "bromance" between Billy and Gilbert (Sam Richardson), the owner of the Salem Magic Shoppe — an occult tourist attraction operating out of the old Sanderson Sisters cottage.
"It's such a sweet, special little relationship and side story," Fletcher observes. Jones likens it to their "own little buddy film going off on the side as the movie plays out," which he hopes fans will find to be as "charming and lovely" as he does.
It's endlessly amusing, even to Jones, that people have such warm affection for what appears, on the surface, to be a visually horrifying character. But he says the millennial crew members all shrieked with joy when he first set foot on the Hocus Pocus 2 set in costume. Seeing himself back in Billy's 1600s garb, Jones, too, squealed internally, but for entirely different reasons.
Disney + Billy Butcherson's grave in 'Hocus Pocus 2'
"He was pretty decrepit to start with, and I come out of the grave looking exactly like two minutes have passed," he remembers, noting that Hocus Pocus makeup artist Tony Gardner reprised his role behind the scenes for the sequel — as did producers David Kirschner and Steven Haft, composer John Debney, and, well, Jones' wig.
"It was the exact same wig, they had it on a dummy on display for 29 years, they put it back on my head in the same style, it didn't even need a touch-up. The costume was rebuilt to be the same as the first one, so I looked exactly the same," Jones finishes. "It was so nostalgic for me to look in the mirror and go, 'You're 30-nothing years old again."
In Billy's case, it's more like 300. But, who's counting?
Hocus Pocus 2 premieres Sept. 30 on Disney+. See EW's exclusive first-look photo of Jones' return as Billy Butcherson above.
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