Events & Attractions, Movies

10 Things We Learned About Hocus Pocus During ‘We Put A Spell On You: Celebrating 25 Years of Hocus Pocus’ at Midsummer Scream

We Put A Spell On You: Celebrating 25 Years of Hocus Pocus

One of the most packed panel’s at this year’s Midsummer Scream was, We Put A Spell On You: Celebrating 25 Years of Hocus Pocus.  The panel, which was moderated by Disney Coast To Coast Podcast host Jeff DePaoli featured Hocus Pocus writer and producer David Kirschner, actress Thora Birch who played Dani in the film, screenwriter Mick Garris, composer John Debny, production designer William Sandell, and makeup and cat effects artist Tony Gardner.  The panel explored a number of rumors and stories behind the film and acted as a 25 year retrospective of a film that failed at the box office, but has become a cult hit over the last 25 years.  The panel lasted for an hour and a half and while a lot of stories were shared, here are 10 of the most interesting things we learned during the panel.

Hocus Pocus Was Originally Titled Disney’s Halloween House

While we, unfortunately, didn’t get any backstory on this, leading up to the start of the panel they shared trivia questions and answers on the screens and this was one of the facts that was shared.  Thank God they went with Hocus Pocus.

Candy Corn Helped Sell Hocus Pocus

As bizarre as it sounds candy corn was part of the overall presentation to pitch Hocus Pocus to Disney.  In addition to witches brooms and a hollowed out vacuum hanging from the ceiling, writer David Kirschner filled a Halloween decorated grocery bag with about 20 pounds of candy corn and then tore the bag to create a serpent-like shape in front of executives so that the whole room smelled like Halloween. Kirschner then went on to tell the story of Hocus Pocus and the rest is history.

Hocus Pocus Started as a Story Writer/Producer David Kirschner Told To His Daughters

The story of Hocus Pocus has had many iterations.  The original story began as a story that Writer/Producer David Kirschner told to his daughters.  He later wrote it as a short story for Muppet Magazine and then from there, it became a screenplay.  The screenplay was written in 1986 and wouldn’t go into production for another eight years.

Steven Spielberg Almost Directed Hocus Pocus

David Kirschner and Mick Garris pitched Steven Spielberg the story of Hocus Pocus the same way they pitched Disney in hopes of having him direct.  He was on board and delighted until he learned Disney was involved since Disney and Amblin Entertainment were both competing at the time for the family audience.

The Original Hocus Pocus Was Much Darker

While this has been said numerous times over the years, Mick Garris dove into this a bit deeper during the Midsummer Scream panel explaining that instead of the slapstick type comedy used in the Disney version, the humor was much darker.  Additionally, the story was centered around 12-year-olds and not 16-year-olds and explored more of the fears a younger, less mature kid would face like confronting death and being underground beneath a graveyard.  In the end, Disney felt teenage characters would sell more tickets so the story was changed.

The Set of Hocus Pocus Was Fully Immersive and It Would Make You Feel Like You Were Actually In The World of Hocus Pocus

During the panel, there was a significant discussion about the detail on the set.  In fact, Thora Birch called it the most incredible set she had ever been on.  The set was so spectacular and so detailed that it made you feel like you had been transported to Salem, Massachusettes in Hocus Pocus. “It was a whole stage,” explained Tony Gardner during the panel.  “You literally opened this stage door and you walked into the outside at night and the sky was lit up and the colors disappeared in the distance and there were different layers of trees coming at you.  You felt like you were surrounded by this world. Then in the middle of all that was this little house with a wheel and there was really water and you would walk into it and you would forget where you were.  It was the coolest place to get lost in.”

The Moths That Fly Out of Billy Butcherson’s Mouth in the Film Were Real

In the scene where Billy Butcherson cuts his stitches and a puff of dust and moths fly out of his mouth, real moths were used.  Today, filmmakers would have added the moths using CGI, but at the time it simply wasn’t available.  Instead, the effects team had to create a latex reservoir that actor Doug Jones, who played Billy Butcherson, had to put in his mouth while filming the scene.  The reservoir would have dust added to the bottom and then animal handlers would come in with tweezers and gently add moths atop the dust inside the reservoir.  During the scene, Jones would cut the stitches and blow both the moths and the dust out of his mouth.

In one instance it took too long to set the shot and the dirt and moths remained in his mouth longer than usual.  When the director yelled action Jones cut the stitches but when he went to blow out the dust and moths a puddle of sludge just poured out of his mouth onto the ground.  After that take, it was clear time was of the essence.

Mary Sanderson’s Look was Inspired by a Pumpkin with a Gnarled Stem

If you ever thought that Mary Sanderson’s head looks a bit like a pumpkin, you’d be right.  During the panel, Tony Gardner explained that Kevin Haney designed Mary Sanderson so that her head was like a pumpkin with her hair acting as the twisted stem.  In the film Kathy Najimy, who plays Mary Sanderson also wore a nose.  The nose in the film was designed to fight against the roundness of the character’s face, but early concepts actually had the nose longer and more snout-like since Mary Sanderson is able to sniff out children like a dog.

Mary Sanderson

John Debny Wants To Conduct a Live Orchestra at The Hollywood Bowl Along With the Film for Its 25th Anniversary  

Toward the end of the panel film composer John Debny asked the audience for hands or a shout out if they’d be interested in seeing the film accompanied by a live orchestra. The crowd’s response was overwhelming, but Debny stressed it can’t happen without fan support.  He stressed that Disney won’t listen to the cast and crew of the film, but they will listen to the fans and he encouraged everyone to get on the internet and tell Disney they want it.  Debny even publicly announced that he is willing to pay for the orchestra to make it happen if Disney gets on board.

There Will Be a Hocus Pocus Announcement Soon

One of the final questions of the panel was whether there will be a Hocus Pocus 2.  The question was directed at David Kirschner and while it was an uncomfortable response it is one that may leave fans hopeful.  “Disney has asked me not to talk about…stuff.  But, in a short time there will be some news.”  He then went on to encourage fans to go pick up “Hocus Pocus & The All-New Sequel,” which was released early this month.

We Put A Spell On You: Celebrating 25 Years of Hocus Pocus was an hour and a half well spent and I hope that those of you who weren’t able to make it out to this year’s Midsummer Scream learned something new about this Halloween classic.  And if you want to see Hocus Pocus with a live orchestra, get out there and tell your friends and family to make some noise on the internet about it and maybe Disney will make it happen.

Send this to a friend