There are three movies I need to watch every Halloween season. Hocus Pocus, Dracula Dead & Loving It, and to bridge the gap between Halloween and Christmas, The Nightmare Before Christmas. Hocus Pocus is an obvious choice. It’s funny, nostalgic and features a killer rendition of “I Put A Spell On You.” (Thank you Bette Midler, you magnificent queen.) But there’s more to everyone’s favourite Halloween movie than meets the eye.
Hocus Pocus is deeply satisfying on a number of levels, partly because it’s so atmospheric. It has the setting, taking place in Salem, Massachusetts (and although most of it was shot on sound stages in California, day time scenes were shot there, as well as in Marblehead, Massachusetts), with its gorgeous fall foliage and quaint historic town feel. It hits all the right buttons with its perfect mix of witches, black cats and zombies all taking place on Halloween night, which is basically the Halloween trifecta. And it has stunning costuming.
It’s not surprising that the costumes are so good, they were done by costume designer Mary Vogt, who also handled costuming for Crazy Rich Asians and Batman Returns. ( I mean, everything about Michelle Pfeiffer’s catwoman is on point. And her costume? Oh my God. So much yes.) She immediately decided the Sanderson Sisters couldn’t be in simple, black witchy costumes. I mean, one doesn’t put the fabulous Bette Midler in basic bitch black.
Knowing Bette would be a redhead for the movie, she went with green, because she thought it would look great against the red hair, and added purple because it looks great with green.
Sarah Jessica Parker’s costume was apparently Disney princess meets witch, specifically sleeping beauty (Hi! Yes please!). Kathy Najimy, being the more alchemist witch, was based more on a baker or cook. And Zombie Billy was inspired by Ichabod Crane from Sleepy Hollow. (Now that you’ve read it, you can’t miss it. Billy is 100% zombie Ichabod Crane and I love it.)
The most fascinating part of Mary Vogt’s costume designs? Where she found her inspiration. In the series Los Caprichos by Spanish artist Goya and the fairy tale illustrations of Arthur Rackham.
Now, chances are extremely good that you’ve seen an illustration by Arthur Rackham. He was an especially prolific illustrator, who gained recognition in 1893 and made art right up until his death on Sep 6, 1939. He did guidebooks, fairy tales and works by Shakespeare, among many others. His last published works were in The Wind in the Willows, which due to his failing health took him three years to complete.
It never fails to leave me humbled, thinking about how art always inspires more art. Fairy tales inspired so many of Arthur Rackham’s illustrations. His illustrations inspired Mary Vogt. Hocus Pocus has inspired countless books, movies and the imaginations of countless children (and adults) over the years. What other art will those new works continue to inspire? Art is like a web, tying us all together. After all, who would have guessed that Hocus Pocus and The Wind in the WIllows were connected?
Every year, as I happily binge Hocus Pocus while shoveling mini Twix bars and M&Ms down my throat, I’m not just getting in the Halloween spirit, I’m connecting with layers of art. And art is its own kind of magic.
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