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It's Just A Bunch of Hocus Pocus



Behind the scenes photograph of Kathy Najimy, Bette Midler, and Sarah Jessica Parker; Found on Geek x Girls, 2019; via Geekly (see bottom).

Disney's 1993 film, "Hocus Pocus" wasn't always beloved. In fact, when it hit the big screen, it was considered a flop, since it was released in July, so not to compete with The Nightmare Before Christmas. However, in 1994, the film won A Saturn Award for best costumes, and a Young Artist Award for Thora Birch’s performance as Dani; it was also nominated for 11 other awards. 

Grab your vacuum cleaners and Swiffer mops as we take you on a spellbinding ride through the hidden gems, production secrets, and history of filming locations that will make you appreciate the movie that much more. 

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The Ropes Mansion,  (c) Peabody Essex Museum, Harvard University, 2021.

The Ropes’ Mansion in Salem, Massachusetts is considered one of the most haunted buildings in the city. Set as Allison’s house, the Ropes’ Mansion was built in 1768 and is named for Nathaniel Ropes. Nathaniel, a very unpopular judge, succumbed to smallpox in the home. Abigail, his daughter, burned to death in the home after her skirts caught fire from a fireplace. It is said that their spirits still haunt the building. Today, it’s a museum run by the Peabody  Essex Museum at Harvard University.


Tony Gardner (effects artist) adjusting teeth on an animatronic Binx, (c) Tony Gardner//Alterian, 1993; released to the public in 2018. View more here

There is perhaps nothing more iconic during Halloween than a black cat. For storyline writer David Kirschner, it was Inks, his childhood cat, that served as the inspiration for Hocus Pocus. Binx was played by multiple cats: live, posable stand-ins, inflatable and animatronic. Live cats each had a certain skill needed for that scene, like jumping or meowing on command. Tony Gardner is seen here attaching teeth to one of the animatronic cats. After the  filming of Hocus Pocus, the animatronic cat was used to play Salem on "Sabrina the Teenage Witch", a spin off of the Archie Comic Series.

The cast of Hocus Pocus is a stellar one we couldn’t imagine being any different. Kathy Najimy, Bette Midler, and Sarah Jessica Parker are iconic as the Sanderson sisters. 


 However, Rosie O’Donnell, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Jennifer Lopez either were

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Rosie O'Donnell in A League of Their Own, 1992. Found on

offered or auditioned for the roles of Mary, Max, and Sarah respectively.

DiCaprio turned down the role of Max to star in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? 

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Top: Leonardo DiCaprio, (c) Getty Images, 1993.
Bottom: Jennifer Lopez, (c) Getty Images, 1997.


Tony Gardner (effects artist) & Margaret Prentice (makeup  effects artist)  reapplying makeup on Doug Jones as Billy Butcherson. (c) Tony Gardner//Alterian, 1993; released to the public in 2018. View more here

(Above) To start the costuming, a complete head, body, and teeth cast were completed. Why teeth cast? So that the live moths used in the film could be housed in a ring stored in the mouth. A full body spandex suit was created so Jones’ body could be visible through the tattered costume and there still be a protective layer for the glue and makeup.

(Below) This behind-the-scenes photograph is of Tony Gardner and Doug Jones as they  prepare for the lowering of the coffin into the grave of Billy Butcherson. A breakaway lid and piles of dead leaves, a bit of dirt, and moss were added on top of the lid so Jones could break through and “rise from the dead”.


Tony Gardner (effects artist) talking with Doug Jones as Billy Butcherson. (c) Tony Gardner//Alterian, 1993; released to the public in 2018. View more here

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Tony Gardner (effects artist) & Margaret Prentice (makeup  effects artist)  creating the fake Billy Butcherson head for Karyn Malchus's costume while Doug Jones looks on. (c) Tony Gardner//Alterian, 1993; released to the public in 2018. View more here

We're introduced to Billy Butcherson after Max lit the Black Flame Candle. He's woken from his slumber by Winifred Sanderson to be used as her Man on the Ground since she and her sisters can't step foot on hallowed ground. 

Not long after, Max, Allison, and Dani fight him off with a tree branch, which knocks his head off his shoulders... but of course, you'd need some movie magic to make that happen. So, the effects crew made up a fake head (pictured above) that would rest on the shoulders of Karyn Malchus (pictured below). In order for the head to come off and not hit Malchus, there were many practices to get the angle of the branch just right. This was really important considering the "branch" was made of metal and coated in foam!

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Director Kenny Ortega giving directions. (c) Tony Gardner//Alterian, 1993; released to the public in 2018. View more here

Kenny Ortega directed Hocus Pocus. He also directed High School Musical 1-3, Descendants 1-3, "Gilmore Girls", "Crazy Ex Girlfriend", Julie & The Phantoms, and more films, and television shows and specials. He's choreographed The Cheetah Girls 1-3, Dirty DancingXanaduFerris Buller's Day Off, and St. Elmo's Fire. Of course, this isn't his full list of credits, but he's been a part of some amazing projects since 1980!

In the image above, he's running through the scene in the cemetery where Winifred Sanderson (Bette Midler) kicks Billy Butcherson's head off while she's on a broom. Karyn Malchus is seen with a hand-held fan blowing at her face within the headless Billy costume. 


Kathy Najimy, Bette Midler, and Sarah Jessica Parker between takes with Kenny Ortega and a woman from the makeup department. (c) Disney,, 1993.

Scroll Through the Gallery 

Film stills from "Making Of: Hocus Pocus (1993)", uploaded by MrReto2812 October 14, 2014.

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Kathy Najimy, Bette Midler, and Sarah Jessica Parker with crew in a deleted scene. (c) APA PictureDesk, N.d.

Like most movies, there are filmed scenes that don’t make it into the final product. The film was originally focused on the Sanderson sisters, but Disney decided to go in a more family-friendly direction. According to Kathy Najimy (Mary Sanderson), there were 5 major scenes that never made it the big screen; this is one of them. When the Sanderson sisters follow Max, Allison, and Dani into the school, originally, they looked around first. This led them to the pool, where Mary and Sarah eventually pushed Winifred in. During the scene where the witches enter the kiln, Winifred’s hair looks like it got wet— that’s why.

Other deleted scenes also include a trip to the super market, where Mary begins eating most things in sight. You can view some of these in the video below!

Other Fun Resources

The Haunting of the Rope's Mansion on the Boozie Musies Podcast - coming soon! 

Insider information, interviews, and more on

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