Doug Jones Hocus Pocus

Hocus Pocus: Doug Jones talks about playing a 'dateable' zombie and more from the film's 25th anniversary special

Contributed by
Oct 21, 2018

We smell children!

This year, the Disney Halloween cult classic Hocus Pocus celebrates its 25th birthday. In order to ring in the anniversary, Freeform decided to throw a "Halloween Bash" for the film at the Halloween Forever cemetery in Los Angeles, California. The event was produced by original director Kenny Ortega.

“I was on the floor most of the time, making the movie," he said onstage, referencing the humor of the three Sanderson witches played by Bette Mittler (Winnie), Sarah Jessica Parker (Sarah), and Kathy Najimy (Mary).

Near the start of the special, a featurette was played in which members of the cast and crew reflected on the movie's production and how they're so grateful to the fans who have treasured it since the theatrical release in July of 1993—the same weekend as Jurassic Park, no less!

In particular, Doug Jones (who plays Billy Butcherson) reflected on how he was told to portray his zombie character not as scary per se, but as an undead individual that you'd want to date. After all, this was a Disney production and nothing could be too dark. In fact, an early title for the project was "Disney's Halloween House," even making it onto one of the drafts of the screenplay.

Sarah Jessica Parker added that while some of Hocus Pocus's elements are a little scarier than what we'd see today from the family-friendly studio, it was delivered in such an over-the-top way that the movie came off funnier and more light-hearted than flat-out frightening.

Billy was Jones' first big onscreen role, and it only took five hours to get all of that makeup put on his face.

“I have used a lot of baby wipes," joked the Shape of Water and Star Trek: Discovery actor during a live appearance on the main stage. “I have had molds taken of every part of my body.”

His professional background up until that point had been as a mime, which explains why a lot of Billy's personality and comedy come out in the physical performance. Jones compared it to being like a silent film star in those moments, where he was asked to react without speech.

In another featurette about the movie's special effects (created during CGI's early days), Jones explained that the moths that fly out of his mouth in the film were live insects. They were covered in dust to keep them dry, which meant they would not fly. Only when he opened his mouth and coughed would they fly away. 

Hocus Pocus 25th anniversary on Freeform

Credit: Freeform 

Another practical effect involved the black cats that would interact with Omri Katz (Max Dennison) and Vinessa Shaw (Dani Dennison). The cats were trained to expect food at the sound of a buzzer, so when a scene called for the felines to jump onto the cast members, they would have to press a buzzer, thus attracting the cats onto them.

However, a lot of the final effects (e.g. the witch's spells, the translucent Thackery Binx) were done with computers, and they surprisingly hold up to this day, nearly 30 years later.

“It became what it was in the post-production," said Bette Midler, who expected the movie to be embraced when it first opened.

When it did fail at the box office and with critics, Jones expected it to disappear forever. Imagine his and the rest of the crew's surprise when Hocus Pocus made a cultural comeback with shows at Disney theme parks and tattoos of Billy Butcherson on people's bodies.

Nowadays, Hocus Pocus is the be-all and end-all Halloween movie for many, many people. Writer/producer David Kirschner said he brought the project to Disney because he believed that there was an untapped market for family-friendly Halloween fare. While it wasn't a box-office or critical success, the film is, without a doubt, an indelible part of pop culture, particularly in the month of October ... when the black flame ignites. 


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