For a lot of reasons, rewatching Hocus Pocus has become an annual Halloween tradition since the Disney comedy classic's early-1990s debut. But scaring the daylights out of audiences the way Michael, Jason, and Freddy do probably isn’t one of them.
For tons of nostalgic fans, it’s the movie’s not-too-spooky mix of supernatural fantasy and its madcap, frantic funny side — buoyed, of course, by a witchy triad of stars (Kathy Najimy, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Better Midler) who brought a bubbling cauldron full of personality to their gleefully villainous roles. But as members of the 1993 movie’s cast recall, Hocus Pocus could have been a very different movie — and a much darker one.
Speaking recently with Entertainment Weekly, Vinessa Shaw (Allison), Omri Katz (Max), and Jason Marsden (the voice of Binx the cat) said an early draft of the film pointed to a “much scarier” atmosphere than that of the lighthearted movie Disney went on to release three decades ago. How scary? Well…we’re not exactly talking Friday the 13th levels of blade-wielding terror, mind you: Think more along the lines of an unhinged villain of the sort who covets Dorothy’s ruby slippers.
“It was more like the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz; it had a darker, 'I'll get you, my pretty' quality,” Shaw explained, noting that the original Hocus Pocus script “was much scarier, and that was the draft we auditioned with."
“When we started shooting, it became a funny version, much lighter,” she shared. “It had the female Three Stooges element in it, and all the choreography that was added lent itself to a much more comedic movie bringing out the strengths of the actresses, and I think that's why the movie is beloved. Obviously, the witches and what they're doing — sucking the lives out of children — is scary, but the fact that it's done in a comedic fashion is palatable.”
Even hampered by an apparent lungful of marijuana haze while in character all those years ago, Katz (as teenage protagonist Max) manages to recall the early Hocus Pocus story aiming at something creepier.
“I also remember reading a scarier draft,” he said. “…Once they had an idea of who they wanted to cast, I'm sure they had their two cents on it, too, and brought a more comedic, family-friendly, happier, not-so-sinister movie…I don't remember a lot of those punchlines or one-liners being present [in the first draft].”
Shaw, Katz, and Marsden weren’t recruited to take part in this year’s Hocus Pocus 2, though each confessed they enjoyed the new sequel and wouldn’t hesitate, if asked, to sign on for a potential third film. “Absolutely,” answered Marsden when the subject came up, with Katz and Shaw in full agreement.
“I'd be 100 percent down to do it,” confessed Katz. “…The witches are 30 years older, so we've got to get this done sooner than later. We can't wait another 30 years. Sorry, it's the truth! I'm sure Bette does not want to be doing this at age 98.”
Hey, Max showed up in the first film to literally raise a whole coven from the grave — so who’s to say what limitations age (or worse) can put on a scary tale this juicy? Both the 1990s original as well as the just-released Hocus Pocus 2 are streaming now at Disney+, where the sky’s the limit on testing the boundaries of the “not-so-sinister” supernatural.
Looking for more supernatural action? Check out SYFY's Reginald the Vampire and Chucky, which are both airing new episodes on Wednesdays. Want something a bit more ghostly? SYFY's SurrealEstate is hard at work on Season 2 and returns next year.