Hocus Pocus


A. W. Jantha


Fantasy / Science Fiction


Date Reviewed:

December 31, 2022

checked Hocus Pocus out of the library because I saw it had been illustrated by Gris Grimly. Grimly's artwork is fantastic, his illustrations are the reason to enjoy this book. Many of the illustrations fill an entire page, and there a several double page spreads. The hardcover edition of this book is a good sized 9" x 11", which means that the pages are large enough allow close perusal of the artwork. Grimly is famous for his mix of macabre with zaniness - he depicts monsters, witches, the undead - but it isn't scary, it is fun (I think the shambling zombie Billy Butcherson deliberately looks a little bit like Alice Cooper). The drawing is superb, and equally first-rate are the watercolors Grimly used to color the drawings. Grimly uses a wild palette - slimy green and putrid purple, all lit in an evil orange glow. His depiction of light and shadow is excellent!

Only Gris Grimly's name appears on the cover, but the inside pages reveal that Hocus Pocus is written by someone named A. W. Jantha. The book is actually a novelization of a screenplay from a live-action movie produced by Disney that came out way back in 1993. Apparently the movie is now a cult classic (I have never seen it) starring Bette Midler as the evil head witch Winnifred Sanderson. The book has a copyright of 2022, so evidently Disney believes interest in Hocus Pocus remains strong.

The story begins in Salem in the 17th century. Three evil witches - Winnifred, Mary and Sarah Sanderson (they are all sisters) - magically lure young Emily Binx to their cottage. They consult their evil spellbook, and concoct a potion in a boiling cauldron - add oil to make it boil, mix in blood of owl and an herb that's red, a dash of pox and a dead man's toe - the potion allows the evil witches to steal Emily's life force, making them young while Emily perishes. Emily's older brother, Thackery rushes into the witch cottage in a futile attempt to save her, but the cackling witches turn him into an immortal black cat, cursed to live forever with the guilt of not saving his sister. The outraged villagers of Salem hang the witches for their crimes, but before her neck is stretched, Winnifred promises that they will return when summoned by a virgin on All Hallow's Eve, and then all the children of Salem shall be used to make the witches permanently young.

Three hundred years later, in 1993, teenage Max and his 8 year old sister Dani have just moved with their family to Salem from California. Max is attracted to the beguiling beauty in his class, the smart Allison. While out trick-or-treating on Halloween, Dani and Max stop at Allison's house. In an attempt to impress Allison, Max talks about visiting the creepy museum that has been made from the old cottage that used to belong to the Sanderson witches. Inside the museum/cottage on Halloween is a creepy experience, but Max wants to show Allison that he is not scared. Although a black cat attempts to stop Max, he recklessly lights a strange-looking candle to show that he doesn't believe in superstitions. And of course Winnifred, Mary and Sarah are resurrected.

Max, Dani and Allison (and the black cat, which of course turns out to be the immortal Thackery Bix) escape from the cottage when Max cleverly uses his lighter to set off the sprinkler system. (The witches are stunned that Max can make fire appear from his hand, and temporarily believe that he has called down cursed water to slay them. There is a several incidents like this, where the 17th century witches encounter modern wonders that mystify them. They think an asphalt road is a frozen black river. A firetruck is monster from hell. Little kids dressed up as goblins and ghouls are actually monsters. The witches are portrayed as a pretty dim-witted.) The fleeing kids wisely steal the magic spell book when they run away, and various hijinks occur.

As a story, it is a straightforward tale, without much surprise or suspense. Maybe if the reader loved the movie, it would be fun to read the novelization. Three stars for the writing, and five big stars for the artwork of Gris Grimly!