Hocus Pocus Beat Sheet
Though Hocus Pocus wasn’t the smash success that Disney had hoped for when released in theatres on July 16, 1993, it became a cult classic when it was later released on VHS and DVD. It’s now watched regularly every October and is the subject of many Internet memes. A sequel is in the works. Hocus Pocus is currently streaming on Disney+.
Screenplay by: Mick Garris and Neil Cuthbert
Story by: David Kirschner and Mick Garris
Directed by: Kenny Ortega
Genre: Monster in the House (Supra-natural Monster)
Logline: Cynical Max Dennison is forced to save the children of Salem (house) from being killed by three witches—the Sanderson Sisters (monster)—that he inadvertently unleashed (sin) on Halloween night.
MITH Cousins: The Witch, Rosemary’s Baby, The Shining, The Exorcist, Candyman, Black Sunday, The Blair Witch Project, The Babadook, The Dunwich Horror, The Wicker Man, Witchfinder General, Blood on Satan’s Claw, Plague of the Zombies, Cry of the Banshee, Onibaba, Wake Wood, Kwaidan, The Guardian, Masque of the Red Death, The Demon, Viy, Night of the Demon, Burn Witch Burn, The Lair of the White Worm
Opening Image (1): The shadow of a witch on a broom flies over Salem, Massachusetts on October 31st, 1693. Thackery Binx (Sean Murray) awakens to discover his sister, Emily, gone.
Set-Up (1-10): Dashing outside, Thackery glimpses an unearthly smoke billowing from an autumnal forest. The witches are conjuring. He tells his brother, Elijah, to gather the elders. Thackery sprints toward the smoke. He spies a witch take Emily (Amanda Shepherd) inside their evil, rustic cottage. There, the Sanderson Sisters—Winifred (Bette Midler), Mary (Kathy Najimy), and Sarah (Sarah Jessica Parker)—conjure a spell from an ancient tome to siphon the lifeforce out of Emily Binx and give them youth.
Thackery tries to stop the sisters, spilling the potion in the boiling cauldron. Winnie incapacitates Thackery with her magic powers and the potion works. The sisters grow younger. To punish Thackery, Winnie consults the book and decides that he should live forever with his guilt, and so she and her sisters transform him into a black cat.
The villagers arrive with pitchforks and torches (as all villagers do) to the witches’ cottage. The Sanderson Sisters stand trial. Before they are all hanged, Winnie consults one final spell from her book—that a virgin will conjure them from their “eternal” sleep, and they will rise again, and the lives of all of the children shall be theirs in revenge. The barrels kicked out from under their feet, the sisters are hanged. Thackery Binx, the cat, watches on, not being able to do anything. 300 years later, a Salem school teacher, Mrs. Olin (Kathleen Freeman), tells the history of what we witnessed.
Theme Stated: Max Dennison (Omri Katz) is unimpressed. He’s the new kid from California, and he doesn’t buy into all of the Halloween shenanigans. He thinks the legend of the Sanderson Sisters is just that. Halloween was invented by the candy companies, not the one night of the year where the spirits from the dead can return to earth. Max must learn to believe.
Catalyst (12): Trying to be suave, Max tries to give Allison Watts (Vinessa Shaw) his phone digits but strikes out. It’s his interest in the lovely Allison, who is knowledgeable about the town’s folklore, that will later start the chain of unfortunate events that will release the Sanderson Sisters from their graves.
Debate (12-25): Max rides his bike home through the creepy old cemetery. He’s liberated of his flashy Nike sneakers by tough boys, Jay and Ice. Max hates Salem; he wants to go home. He also hates Halloween, but he’s forced by his parents to take his 8-year-old sister, Dani (Thora Birch), trick-or-treating. Max runs into Jay and Ice again, this time with Dani; he’s infuriated and acting like a jerk. He makes his little sister cry. Having a change of heart, he wants to make it up to her. (This is his Save the Cat! moment since so far, Max has been a jerk.) Max and Dani trick-or-treat Allison’s house. It’s lavish with a stately Halloween party in progress.
Break into Two (25): When the conversation turns to witches, Allison mentions that the Sanderson Sisters’ house is closed. It was once a museum, but too many spooky things happened there. Max convinces Allison to take Dani and himself to “make a believer out of me.” This is his decision that begins Act Two; he’s saying “Yes” to the Catalyst, which is…
B Story (30): … to spend as much time with Allison as possible. His relationship with Allison will make a believer out of Max and also make him a more caring person, especially to his sister.
Fun and Games (30-55): The Sanderson Sisters’ house (the old, closed museum) is dark, dusty, and filled with cobwebs. Allison shows Max Winifred Sanderson’s spellbook, which is under glass. She said that the devil himself gave her the book, and it’s bound in human skin. Max finds a Zippo lighter and wants to light a candle—except it’s a magical Black Flame Candle. If a virgin lights it on Halloween night, it will bring back the souls of the dead. Thackery Binx, the 300-year-old black cat, attacks Max, stopping him from lighting the candle, but only for a moment. Max lights it, believing “it’s all a bunch of hocus pocus.”
The Sanderson Sisters return in a promise of the premise moment. The young characters are genuinely in the upside-down world of Act Two. They hide from the cackling witches. Mary Sanderson, who can sniff out children, finds Dani. The sisters plan to eat her. Big brother Max comes to the rescue, only to be zapped by Winnie. Allison and Thackery manage to create a diversion, and they all escape—with the ancient, evil book! The sisters must get the book and cast their spell before sunrise, or they’ll turn to dust forever. They chase after Max, Dani, Allison, and Thackery. But 1993 is a new, scary realm to the witches. They have to learn the rules and customs of this strange, modern world.
Thackery the cat explains that the witches cannot get them in the old cemetery—it’s hallowed ground. So the witches summon Billy Butcherson (Doug Jones) as their lackey, mouth-sewn-shut zombie to retrieve the book.
Max, Dani, and Allison escape into the catacombs under the cemetery, led by Thackery. It connects to the sewer.
Witches need to find children. They want to live forever. They take the bus into Salem. Max and his friends intersect when they climb out of the sewer. Thackery is struck by the bus, but he cannot die. His curse is to live forever as a cat.
Midpoint (55): False Victory. Max, Allison, Dani, and Thackery enter the Town Hall, where Max’s parents are partying down with the rest of the adults. Max takes to the stage, and in a going-public moment that raises the stakes and ties A and B Stories together, he warns all the adults that the Sanderson Sisters have returned from the grave and will eat all of the town’s children. (This is a far cry from the non-believer that Max was at the beginning.) Of course, he’s laughed off the stage but worse…
Bad Guys Close In (55-75): The Sanderson Sisters, who are also lurking in the audience, have found them. And in a musical montage, Winifred jumps on stage and casts her magic by singing “I Put a Spell on You.” (Because if you cast Bette Midler, you’d better have a song-and-dance number.) She enchants them to dance until they die.
Max, Dani, Allison, and Thackery escape to the high school. Using her finely-tuned nose, Mary Sanderson sniffs them out. Max sets a trap by putting a boom box in the kiln. He locks them in and burns them up. It’s over, the witches are dead, right? Up in smoke. Not quite.
Max returns home with Dani, Allison, and Thackery. The parents are gone, still partying. They all fall asleep. The witches manage to manifest back into their form and break out of the kiln. Mary Sanderson sniffs out Jay and Ice, as the latter is wearing Max’s shoes. The boys insult the witches and are locked in cages. Winnie Sanderson tries to recreate the magic potion from memory, but it’s no use—she needs the book. She opens the window and desperately calls for the sentient book across town.
The book awakens, as does Max and Allison. It’s now five-o-clock in the morning. They feel bad for Binx the cat and decide to help him. If the book has the spell, it might have a spell to undo the curse. The witches are dead, so what can it matter, right? When they open the book, it shines a magical light. Winifred and Mary see it. They now know where to go. Their magical brooms were purloined earlier by trick-or-treaters, so they find a broom, mop, and a vacuum cleaner in the closet to make their magical flight to retrieve the spellbook.
All Is Lost (75): From the book, Max and Allison learn that a circle of salt can protect them against evil. While they’re downstairs in the kitchen, the Sanderson Sisters break into Max’s room and steal back the book and Dani. Winnie zaps Max. Is he dead? All is truly lost!
Dark Night of the Soul (75-82): Allison awakens Max. Flying in the night skies, Sarah Sanderson sings an enchanting, siren song that conjures all of the trick-or-treaters out of their homes. Like the pied piper, the children wander toward the Sanderson house.
Max and Allison must get Dani back and stop the witches, but how? They need the sun to come up—and soon!
Winifred has Dani tied to a chair and the cauldron bubbling with green liquid—it’s like a repeat of Emily Binx from 300 years ago.
Like Thackery before him, Max enters the Sanderson house to save his sister. He claims he knows something they don’t: “Daylight Savings Time.” With that, light bursts through the windows, frightening the evil sisters. They cower. Max dumps the contents of the cauldron and takes Dani from the Sanderson house. They scammed the witches by putting colored gels over the headlights of their truck. Once the Sanderson Sisters figure out they were scammed, they want revenge—on Dani for calling Winnie ugly. She has just enough potion for the girl. Winnie attacks Max, and he drives with Dani, Allison, and Thackery. He manages to knock Winnie off the road.
Break into Three (82): Max, Allison, Dani, and Thackery return to the old cemetery. They’ll be safe now on hallowed ground. They only have to wait until sunrise, and it will all be over. They’ve Gathered the Team.
As they’re Executing the Plan, however, Billy Butcherson is waiting—he captures Max. After Billy manages to cut his stitched mouth open, though, he cusses out Winnie, who’s on the other side of the iron gate. He has no love for the witch who cursed and killed him. Billy puts Dani down into his grave. Allison pours a circle of salt around it. Now Dani is protected from evil.
— High Tower Surprise: Winnie attacks from the air. In the melee, she kicks Billy’s head off, and she manages to scoop up Dani, who climbed out of the grave to help. She now has the potion and can complete what she planned to do 300 years ago.
— Dig, Deep Down: Thackery leaps up and grabs the vial out of Winnie’s hand. Thackery pays for it with his life. With vial in hand, Max drinks the liquid, sacrificing himself in an act of faith for his sister’s life. He’s now the vulnerable one. He fights with Winnie, who tries to suck out his lifeforce. Dani, Allison, and Billy play tug-o-war with the electric cord of Mary’s vacuum. Sarah flies in to help. They let go of the cord at an opportune moment. Mary flies into Sarah, knocking her into the air.
— Executing a New Plan: Max, fighting with Winnie, crashes to the cemetery ground. Winnie starts burning up, touching sacred earth. That doesn’t stop her from trying to suck the lifeforce out of Max, though. The morning sun rises. Sarah and Mary explode into dust. Winnie turns to stone and then explodes into dust. Thackery gives one final meow and then dies, no longer kept alive by the centuries-old curse. Billy returns to his grave again for his eternal slumber. Thackery Binx is now a spirit; he joins his sister Emily. He is released forever. He’s happy to return to those he loves; his soul is free. He had to wait 300 years for a virgin to light the candle.
Final Image (93): In a perfect, contrasting snapshot from the beginning, Max Dennison has grown by leaps and bounds, no longer the cynical jerk. He’s now a believer who has won Allison’s love and has strengthened his sibling bond with Dani. The “I Put a Spell on You Spell” spell broken, the adults are released from Town Hall, partied out. Jay and Ice are justifiably stuck in their cages back in the Sanderson house, singing “Row-Row-Row-Your-Boat” to pass the time. The sentient, evil book moves its single eye. There is life within its insidious pages.