Q: How many witches were hanged in Salem?
A: The official death count for the Salem Witch Trials is 20 people: 19 victims were hanged at Proctor’s Ledge, near Gallows hill, and one person was tortured to death. Four people also died in prison while awaiting trial. But ZERO of them were witches – they were just socially inconvenient women put to death for some man’s ulterior motive.
Except 300 years ago, the Sanderson sisters were hanged in Salem for practicing witchcraft, and they actually deserved it. Winifred (Bette Midler), Sarah (Sarah Jessica Parker), and Mary (Kathy Najimy) are a trio of old hags who kidnapped a little girl to suck the youth right out of her, and then turned her would-be hero older brother into a cat for daring to interrupt. And that’s just the stuff we know about. They were soon dangling from the gallows.
Alternate A: If you count the Sandersons, and we definitely do, Salem’s dead witch count is actually 3. And the townsfolk are definitely aware of their legend, even 3 centuries later. And it turns out those witches were never very far off: a group of kids including new-to-town Max (Omri Katz), his kid sister Dani (Thora Birch), and the girl he’s crushing on who’s “really into witches” Allison (Vinessa Shaw), accidentally call them back when a virgin lights a black flame candle (so don’t say I didn’t warn you). Anyway, the witches immediately want to eat Dani and it takes an immortal talking cat to offer up pro tips for defeating witches.
For some reason this movie has achieved cult Halloween status, and as one of the few films in the genre that isn’t horrifying, it makes for nice, family-friendly fare. I say this like I can’t understand the appeal when in fact as a kid, I loved it too. One year my cousin and I made our own Sanderson Sister costumes (and yeah, it’s problematic that there were only two of us, but since we both probably imagined ourselves to be the ‘sexy one’, it hardly mattered) and we were really proud to wear them, up until some well-meaning lady complimented my cousin’s teeth…who was not wearing prosthetics. It is hands-down the worst thing that ever happened to me on Halloween and I once had the candy ripped from my little hands by teenage bullies. And technically it didn’t even happen to me! But anyway, up to that point we were really smug and self-satisfied young witches with probably embarrassing handmade costumes.
Anyway, Disney World makes great use of Halloween time to break the Sanderson Sisters out of the vault. Not normally seen in the parks, they host the Villain Spectacular at Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party (other rarely-seen characters that also make an appearance for Halloween: Jack & Sally, Elvis Stitch, Cruella De Vil and more). We Assholes are actually headed for Disney on Saturday and November 2nd just happens to be the magical day when the parks erase Halloween and embrace Christmas, and yes, we’re going to Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party and Sandy Claws only knows who we’ll meet there.
Fun Facts about Hocus Pocus:
- Brother and sister Garry and Penny Marshall play husband and wife in the film. The dog held by Garry actually belongs to Kathy Najimy.
- The animatronic cat was used again on Sabrina The Teenage Witch.
- Rosie O’Donnell turned down the role of Mary. Jennifer Lopez auditioned for Sarah. Leonardo DiCaprio turned down the role of Max and did What’s Eating Gilbert Grape instead.
- Doug Jones, as in Shape of Water Doug Jones, appears in this film as a zombie (see below).
- This movie came out in July of 1993 so that it would not compete with Disney’s other Halloween offering that year, The Nightmare Before Christmas, which got the coveted October slot.
- Real moths came out of Doug Jones’ mouth. Sarah Jessica Parker ate a real spider.
- While researching her family history for the show Who Do You Think You Are?, Sarah Jessica Parker discovered that her 10th great-grandmother, Esther Elwell, was arrested in Salem in the late 1600s for committing “sundry acts of witchcraft” and choking a neighbour to death. Esther’s case never went to court; she escaped with her life and the accusation ended the Salem Witch Trials.