How Gay Is Hocus Pocus?

Expanding the LGBTQ Conversation
Oct. 31 2013 10:11 AM

Is Hocus Pocus the Best Gay Halloween Movie?

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Happy Halloqueen!

Promo still courtesy of Disney.

It's been 20 years since Max (the virgin) first lit the Black Flame Candle in Hocus Pocus, summoning the Sanderson sisters out from under the soil of Salem and into our lives. Fittingly, the Internet has been ablaze in the approach to Halloween with recollections and clips celebrating the ghoulish Disney classic; but one element of the film’s impressive legacy remains unaccounted for—its huge gay fan-base. Rare (and unfortunate!) is the gay man who can’t toss off a quote like “I’ll have your guts for garters, girl!” or call to his “sis-taaaas!” in Bette Midler’s distinctive, glass-cracking register. Even in a candidate pool swimming with strong contenders like The Craft, The Witches of Eastwick (CHER!), and, in its way, Beetlejuice, I’m going to call a winner: Hocus Pocus is the best gay Halloween movie ever.

J. Bryan Lowder J. Bryan Lowder

J. Bryan Lowder is a Slate assistant editor. He writes and edits for Outward, Slate’s LGBTQ section, and for the culture section.

Some might find it strange to award that title to a light-hearted film that was ostensibly made for children, but trust me, if you haven’t watched it in a while, revisit Hocus Pocus with a gay sensibility in mind. As is common with all truly great “kids” movies, multiple levels of enjoyment are possible.

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Delight with me, for starters, in the mere fact that Bette Midler, Kathy Najimy, and Sarah Jessica Parker have been called together on the same set to play dress-up to the point of drag. Midler and Najimy are both (sorry) bewitching in their costumes, but it SJP who always steals my attention: In a violation of the camp timestream, her slightly damp look and man-hungry, “A boy! A boy!” demeanor somehow serve as a perfect trailer for Carrie Bradshaw in Sex and the City. Remove the children (and don’t mind the syllable count) and Sarah Sanderson and Carrie are essentially the same character: “Come, Mr. Big man, I’ll take thee away, into my impossibly-nice-for-a-writer apartment.”

But even without the anachronistic SATC connection, it’s clear that the Sanderson sisters—like the gays I know and love best—occupy most of their time by camping about and complaining about how youth is wasted on the young. On that latter point, it’s hard to miss how neatly the overarching narrative of the Sanderson sisters’ quest for youthful immortality through sucking the life out of children mirrors the gay community’s agenda of luring young people from their upstanding families, converting them to our wicked ways, and leaving them drained and haggard at 40, crammed into an Abercrombie T-Shirt in the back of some sad club. As Dani cautions Max and Allison at the town-hall dance party, “Don’t listen to them!”

But then again, when Bette takes to the stage to sing “I Put A Spell On You,” resistance is futile. If there was any doubt as to the gayness of Hocus Pocus—after all the homoerotic bullying and old queen bickering and hot fireman investigating (you’ll want to freeze-frame to capture that last bit)—the sisters’ amazing group number/spell (“dance [parents], dance until you die!”) is the clincher.

If you haven’t seen the movie in a while, today’s a fine day—cast a salt circle, direct your enchanted book to a streaming service of your choice, place your black (former colonial hottie) cat on your lap, and, in jurisdictions where it’s legal, find yourself a delicious child to sip upon. Sunrise is coming soon …

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