31 Days of Wicked Watching [DAY 13]: The Mary, the Sarah and the “saintly” Winnie

While my headlines is meant to be a play off of the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria, the purpose of the reference is two-fold: they forged a journey for children’s horror that really hadn’t been embraced previously and they unlock a part in all of us that wishes deeply in the power of witchcraft and are hopeful of its possible reality (and that we only have history and Salem to rely upon for that). Their story, the story of “Hocus Pocus,” put a spell on the world and I refuse to ever going back to a time without the Sanderson sisters.

The film is both fun and campy, and it is intelligent and it is sassy. The cast is a brilliant mix of comedy and chemistry, youth and maturity, and newcomers and veterans. It is a film that would be just a blip in many of the acting resumes of its illustrious case, but it is a blip that became a star that continuous to shine brightly in the hearts of its adoring fans.

I watch this film far beyond the Halloween season, but if I were to talk about a list of 31 classics of the genre there is no question that this particular film belongs on that list. It has all the elements of a good Halloween story–the classic and kitschy icons and images of witches, jack ‘o lanterns, black cats, graveyards and more. Part of what I love most is the world that Kenny Ortega creates seamlessly for us, of course with the assistance of Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy at the helm. The other part that I love is that it isn’t just a film for kids. The black flame candle coupled with jokes that are a little high brow for the youthful audience (Sarah’s infidelity, the mom’s Madonna cones, the subtle offering of sex to the bus driver and, well, a continued roasting throughout the film of a teenager being a virgin still) are core to mature intelligence and comedy of the film.

From Billy to Max to Binx the cast has no love loss for the male companions. While they are all relevant, as two of the three do drive the plot and all three do serve as protectors in some capacity, this film is a triumph of women and a feminist icon for the ages. The women in this film are strong and powerful; they know what they want and they own it. They will put a spell on you and you will be theirs.

I personally identify with the vapid hilarity that is Sarah, many others identify with one of the other members of the trio. This is what makes the film so enjoyable and lasting–we all have a Sanderson sister in us. I certainly know plenty of Mary’s and Winifred’s in my life. Although I adore Sarah Sanderson and everything about her, I do think that Mary get’s the most entertaining “broom” from the broom closet–a vibrating vacuum certainly adds a new layer to the adultness of the movie.

The film has more than a cult following because its following isn’t niche. It is beloved by a significant amount of people and it has catapulted the trio to pop culture phenomenon status. They are center-stage in Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween celebration at Disney; they have merchandise that spans from masks to backpacks to artwork to appliances; they’re lines have become colloquial.

Let’s find a virgin to light the black flame candle and let the Sanderson sisters live forever.

Published by Patrick R. Johnson

Patrick is a Ph.D. student and graduate instructor in the SJMC. He comes from nearly a decade of teaching high school journalism and English, and an adjunct professor of journalism and media studies at Marquette University (where he received both his bachelor's and master's degrees). He is a former Dow Jones Distinguished National Journalism Teacher of the Year. His research interests include the intersection of news literacy, journalism ethics, journalism studies, and professional boundary work. He also focuses his attention on issues of deviance within the media industry, particularly as it relates to issues of sex and issues resulting in paradigm repair. Patrick is also deeply passionate about teaching and the role of journalism schools in the professionalization of their students. He focuses a lot of his thinking on mass communication and journalism pedagogy and identifying ways for journalism courses to be both rewarding in content and enriching in skill. He currently teaches Journalistic Reporting and Writing in the SJMC and taught a number of courses at Marquette, including Media Ethics, Visual Communication, Magazine Design and Production, Digital Journalism 1-3, Strategic Communication Writing, and the Journalism Capstone course for the department. His work in curriculum, instruction, and educational leadership includes serving as the Journalism Education Association’s Mentor Program Chair, designing curriculum to accompany Pulitzer Prize winning content for the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, reviewing the Praxis national journalism certification exam, and developing a number of courses at the high school and collegiate levels. Patrick served as a 2021 Public Humanities Intern through the Obermann Center where he worked specifically with University Special Collections to develop public-facing exhibits and curriculum materials related to the Tom Brokaw Collection.

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