Thirty years ago (more or less), Disney released a family friendly seasonal comedy that underperformed and was forgotten. Forgotten, except by every 8-year-old who watched Hocus Pocus then or would go on to rewatch it annually during spooky season.
The entertainment behemoth finally realized what it had and commissioned a sequel. Hocus Pocus 2 reunites willful witches Winnifred (Bette Midler), Sarah (Sarah Jessica Parker) and Mary (Kathy Najimy) with Salem, the town that hates them.
What is it that reawakens the evil Sanderson sisters? A somewhat convoluted storyline, actually, but it involves female empowerment and community and it’s charmingly, inoffensively told.
Halloween’s here, and with it, Becca’s (Whitney Peak) 16th birthday. She’ll celebrate this year as every year by sharing a little spookiness in the woods with her bestie, Izzy (Belissa Escobedo). It’ll be the first year that the third in their trio, Cassie (Lilia Buckingham), doesn’t join because she’s hanging out with her boyfriend. Meh!
Anyhoo, the Sandersons are accidentally conjured. Somehow the local crystals and essential oils purveyor (Sam Richardson, likable as ever) is mixed up in things. And Cassie’s dad – kindly Mayor Traske (Tony Hale) – is in mortal danger!
Director Anne Fletcher (The Proposal) hits enough nostalgic notes that adult fans of the original will feel seen. Its contemporary story allows for brand new witch-out-of-water scenarios to explore, and, of course, the sisters are always up for a musical number. But this is definitely a kids’ film.
The original was a kind of sibling to Fred Dekker and Shane Black’s 1987 family film Monster Squad. Both showed poorly at the box office and went on to become beloved seasonal fixtures. Hocus Pocus brought the sensibilities into the nineties by, for one thing, recognizing that boys can also be virgins. HP2 modernizes further.
To begin with, not every citizen of Salem is white. And though it’s impossible to entirely redeem three characters looking to eat children, at least the sequel skims the ideas of systemic misogyny. But mainly it offers campy, scrappy, bland but amiable fun.
Midler, Najimy and Parker reinhabit the old trio well enough to remind us why so many kids loved the original. Whether HP2 can strike the same chord with today’s youth is tough to tell, but at least there’s a Halloween flick everyone can watch together.
I have seen a lot of horror movies. A lot. You have no idea.
Do you know what I have never seen before? A horror movie that opens with a
quote from Fred Rogers.
Well done, Werewolves Within.
Mr. Rogers is a hero of sorts for Finn (Sam Richardson), new
park ranger for a very small, isolated, snowy mountain town. The townsfolk are
divided on a deal to run a pipeline through their little hamlet. But they will
have to work together despite their differences when it appears that a werewolf
has begun to prey on their town.
Because if left and right cannot work together in the face
of a common oppressor, the oppressor will win. It doesn’t matter what that is:
fascists, greedy capitalists, werewolves. Still, it can be tough to get the two
sides to come together, even for their own good, so Finn channels his hero and
does what he can to inspire the townspeople to look out for each other. He just
wants them to become good neighbors.
It is adorable.
Horror has its share of nice guys, but these are almost
invariably tragic victims, either the first to go because they don’t have the
inner meanness to overcome villainy, or eventual victims because the movie is
so much more emotionally relevant if they sacrifice themselves. The nice guy is
almost never a horror film’s hero, and this is where Werewolves Within
really does depart from standard fare.
Director Josh Ruben—fresh off Scare Me, a clever horror-comedy he wrote, directed and starred in—delivers a forgiving, even sweet tone. There’s cynicism here, and characters are not drawn with a lot of dimension, but the performances are fun and the comedy is good-natured.
Richardson makes an ideal Rogers-esque central figure, his new hometown populated by a talented comedy ensemble: Michaela Watkins, Michael Chernus, Wayne Duvall, Harvey Guillen (TV’s What We Do In the Shadows), and fan-favorite, Milana Vayntrub. (You know, Lily from the AT&T ads.)
Werewolves Within is loosely based on the video game of the same name, which may be why the plot feels so very slight. Still, writer Mishna Wolff displays a flair for whodunnit fun that elevates the film high above 90% of the video game movies that have been made.
A lot of that success lies in Wolff and Ruben’s investment
in the nice guy.
Fred Rogers once said: “When I was a boy and I would see a scary thing in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers.’”