A full moon, a virgin, the Black Flame Candle, and All Hallow’s Eve are all it takes to resurrect evil. Honestly, it seems simple enough, but it’s really not. The witchy Sanderson sisters plotted their return to the Earthly realm before being summarily executed by villagers three centuries ago for their crimes of witchcraft — a sentence that, in this movie, was well-founded unlike actual history. Funny enough, a full moon and Halloween don’t sync up very often. In fact, this spooky event only occurs once every two decades or so. The last full moon on Halloween occurred in 2020, and won’t happen again until 2039. During the setting of "Hocus Pocus," the year is 1993 — a year that definitely did not entertain a full moon on Halloween. But we’ll just pretend. The Sanderson’s are witches bestowed with power from the devil after all. Perhaps, they beguiled the lunar rotation in this fictional tale.
Winifred (Bette Midler), Mary (Kathy Najimy), and Sarah Sanderson (Sarah Jessica Parker) have become something of Halloween icons. Even though the film didn’t originally release during the Halloween season and was not a major box office smash, the cult following this cinematic adventure has only grown with each passing year. "Hocus Pocus" is likely part of the annual Halloween viewing catalogue for most seeking to get into the festive spirit of the season. The Sanderson sisters may be Disney characters, but their origins and machinations are far darker and more sinister than most might perceive on the surface. These are three women who colluded with Satan, eat children, and own a spell book bound in human flesh. It’s not exactly Mickey Mouse’s clubhouse out in Salem. With that said, let’s take a peek at some of the lesser known facts behind this devilish trio.
The sisters share a stage with Oogie Boogie and Maleficent
The ever-expanding world of Disney is chock full of characters of all kinds from animation to live action. Disney theme parks are the best place to see all of these colorful characters come together, sometimes in brilliant displays. The Sanderson sisters actually host their own event during the Halloween season. Those who have access to Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party can witness the "Hocus Pocus Villain Spelltacular" show. As the title implies, there’s more to this show than just a bit of hocus pocus. Villains from Disney’s pantheon of characters also take the stage alongside the Sanderson sisters.
There are a few villainous characters in particular that the witches recruit to aid them in haunting the park. Fans of "The Nightmare Before Christmas" can see the devious Oogie Boogie take the stage. Maleficent of "Sleeping Beauty" fame also makes an appearance. In fact, the sisters seem to worship the tyrannical sorceress for her dark and twisted powers. In the world of Disney, perhaps, Satan worshipping is a bit too much. But Maleficent makes an great stand-in! The production also features a variety of other Disney villain appearances including Dr. Facilier from "The Princess and the Frog."
The Sanderson sisters are cannibals
When it comes to the Sanderson sisters, there’s not really any redeeming qualities about their very nature. They’re malicious in both spirit and deed. Winifred truthfully only looks out for number one. Her sisters are just assistants in her quest to gain immortality. However, both Mary and Sarah demonstrate at least a smidge of compassion towards their siblings. But when it comes to us mere mortals, all bets are off. Throughout the film, Mary mentions on multiple occasions that the sisters dine on tasty little children. When we see them actually kidnap a child, however, they only use them to drink their life force in order to de-age themselves. Because, of course, Disney won’t actually depict these witches cannibalizing youngsters.
During a behind-the-scenes discussion with the actors and actresses, Bette Midler shared that she had quite a bit of input when it came to designing Winifred. Midler explained the reasoning behind Winifred’s make-up and also stated that they gave her "a little rosebud mouth." She continued, "That was important because I wanted her to have teeth because basically she was a flesh eater." While viewers might mistake these witches’ desire for child consumption as "eating their life force" as shown in the film, the two ideas are entirely separate. They very much also physically dine on the flesh of the innocent as part of their backstory.
Winifred’s infatuation with youthful appearances is a result of infidelity
It is truly amazing that the Sanderson sisters even function as a team. With Winifred dead set in her own self-serving ways, and the other two sisters distracted by men and the smell of children, there’s not a lot of cohesiveness to this family unit. In fact, one incident may have threatened any semblance of a bond shared between these siblings, Winifred and Sarah in particular. It’s mentioned in the film that Winifred was courted by the once dashing Billy Butcherson (Doug Jones). Their romantic relationship crashed and burned when Winifred discovered that Billy was cheating on her with her sister Sarah. Because of this betrayal, Winifred murdered Billy by poisoning him and subsequently sewed his mouth shut in order to keep him from sharing any of her secrets in death.
While the idea might be lost on viewers, the subtext of Winifred’s vanity is there. Her desire for immortality and a youthful appearance has a lot to do with this moment in her past. There is further evidence to this motivation in the 2018 novel that encapsulated the original film and offered a sequel story. But Billy didn’t just cheat on Winifred because Sarah was beautiful and far younger. He also had grown a disdain towards Winifred over her antics which he reveals in the film as a zombie. Perhaps, Winifred should focus less on seeking a younger body and more on beautifying her own ugly personality.
Winifred’s make-up signifies her vanity
A lot of thought went into Winifred’s outward appearance. Ultimately, the character was meant to physically embody the person she was on the inside. She often showed little care for her sisters and fancied herself as the superior witch. After capturing young Emily, Winifred goes to work on creating the potion that will allow her to consume Emily’s life force. Upon completion, Winifred professes, "Tis ready for tasting! One drop of this and her life will be mine. I mean, ours." This is the first of many instances where Winifred demonstrates that her sisters are merely an afterthought. Her narcissism knows no bounds and gives way to her own vanity.
The actress behind the witch, Bette Midler, had a major influence on the final design of the eldest Sanderson witch. Besides seeking the fountain of youth, so to speak, Winifred often wore heavy layers of make-up. This wasn’t by mistake. Midler wanted to accentuate the idea that Winifred was extremely vain. The actress also used Queen Elizabeth I for the inspiration behind Winifred’s hair. What better way to depict a woman with power who looked down on everyone else than to give her a ragged but royal aesthetic?
The sisters have three different fathers
The Sanderson sisters are all very different both in appearance and in personality. They also each have unique abilities. While Winifred might have a bit more intellect than her sisters, Mary has the unique ability to smell and track children. Sarah can seemingly seduce men and place children in a hypnotic trance with her siren-like song. These sisters are so different in fact, it’s even a wonder at all that they’re siblings.
But you might be surprised to learn that they are actually all half-sisters. They each share the same mother but have different fathers. In an era where patriarchal societies were at an all-time high, it seems the Sanderson clan must’ve been bit of a black sheep built around a matriarchy. This is evidenced by the fact that their mother had multiple suitors and they must’ve taken her surname instead of their father’s. Perhaps, their mother also had something to do with her daughters getting into the witchcraft biz.
In the scene where Binx (Jason Marsden), the cat, is spying on Max (Omri Katz), Allison (Vinessa Shaw), and Dani (Thora Birch) in the Sanderson home, Allison is speaking but the audio is indiscernible. It’s revealed in a behind-the-scenes look that she’s explaining that Winifred’s father was a warlock and Mary’s father was a bloodhound giving her the capability of following a child’s scent for miles. That’s right, he was a dog — don’t ask. Additionally, Sarah Jessica Parker clarifies later in the documentary that the three witches had separate fathers and that Sarah’s father was the "village idiot." The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
A fourth Sanderson sister
Witchcraft is a fickle thing. When it comes to the Sanderson trio we know and love from "Hocus Pocus," it typically involves the grimy and occult. The results fit right at home on Halloween night. Boys are turned into cats, corpses are resurrected into undead zombies, and party goers must dance until their hearts stop beating. It all sounds like a real Halloween-lovers delight. But what if the Sandersons were but just one type of witch? What if witches existed that weren’t bent on self-preservation and offering ordinary humans as sacrificial lambs for their own designs? What if there was one more Sanderson sister?
Fans of the film might be delighted to here that this is more to the history of the Sanderson clan than what is shared in the 1993 film. In 2018, a novelization of the original film that also includes a sequel storyline was published. Entitled "Hocus Pocus & The All-New Sequel," the back half of the novel takes place 25 years in the future. Max and Allison are married and they have a young daughter by the name of Poppy. As expected, Poppy and her friends Travis and Isabella get into trouble and inadvertently resurrect the Sanderson sisters. However, in a fun turn of events, Poppy’s friend Isabella turns out to be a descendant of Elizabeth Sanderson. Her name is etched inside the cover of the spell book next to Winifred’s. The only difference is that Elizabeth is a good witch and she provides aid for Poppy and her friends in the struggle against the three evil Sanderson witches.
The sisters’ unusual flight patterns
Imagine some weird, alternate reality where Larry King had the chance to sit down with the Sanderson sisters for an in-depth interview regarding their lives. Perhaps, one of the questions he might’ve asked would’ve been: What’s the best part about being a witch? Indubitably, the answer we might all imagine them chiming in with would be the ability to fly. Come on, who wouldn’t want to zip across the sky on an ordinary broom, or hoover vacuum? It’s a power that most would envy.
You might be surprised to learn that there was actually a bit of thought put into the choreography for each of the sisters’ flight patterns. Winifred, Mary, and Sarah have been distinguished well by their own personalities, various set of quirks, and magical abilities. But why not take it one step further and infuse their ability to handle a broomstick in the air with their individual styles as well? The choreographer, Peggy Holmes, ensured that each of the witches flew "in character" according to an archived press release. Winifred would have a far more aggressive posture given that she was the leader of the trio. Mary would typically fumble with her broom being as cautious in the air and she is on the ground. And, as usual, Sarah would have her head in the clouds simply enjoying the act of defying gravity almost like she’s floating down a lazy river. It’s that attention to detail that made the Sanderson sisters the icons that they are.
Bette Midler used period-accurate curse words and name-calling
"Hocus Pocus" begins by taking us back more than three centuries to the 1600s. It’s a period of time where colonists were actually fearful of the devil and his whims. Alleged witches were tried and executed. While we know better today, it seems this film shows us that some of the accused were truly deserving of their demise. To maintain a period-accurate tone, the Sanderson sisters communicated using a much more proper form of English than we’re used to. Words like "thou" and "thine" were used when addressing one another. In comparison, the King James translation of the Bible uses a similar form of speech.
Most curse words and derogatory terminology in modern vernacular weren’t used as far back as the 1600s. The people of those times had their own set of mud-slinging words. The creators behind "Hocus Pocus" took proper care to ensure that the time period was accurately portrayed. During a D23 panel for the film in 2013 (via Yahoo), Thora Birch, the actress behind Dani, remarked that Bette Midler’s vocabulary was well-informed when it came to curse words from the period. Birch explained, "Bette had two people running around behind her with dictionaries of old curse words." So, as you’re watching the film, be sure to enjoy some of the colorful language thrown about by Winifred, and don’t hesitate to use "maggoty malfeasance" in your daily conversations.
The Sanderson sisters actually made enchanted candy
There is one major plot hole within the film that is actually explained by a subplot that was removed with the deletion of a few scenes from the final cut. Have you ever wondered why Max and Allison aren’t enchanted by Sarah’s serenade toward the end of the film, but all the other children in Salem are? There’s actually an explanation. The original trailer for the film shows two scenes of significant importance that didn’t make the final cut of the film. The first involves the Sanderson sisters handing out candy to children on the street. The second scene shows Mary partaking in the products at a local super market.
The subplot that was ultimately removed from the film depicted the Sanderson sisters making their own candy. They are candy voodoo crows that are enchanted. They obtain the ingredients they need from the supermarket and then hand out the candy to all of the children. Those who had eaten the candy were susceptible to Sarah’s siren song. This entire plot is made clear in the original script of the film beginning on page 62. These scenes from the original trailer are also specifically mentioned within the script. Perhaps, the witches’ plot to drink the life force of children all over Salem was becoming a bit too complicated. Regardless, it’s a bit of fun trivia that does explain away this particular plot hole.
The story of the Sanderson sisters began as a bedtime story
The legend of the Sanderson sisters has proven to be a popular Halloween tradition. Despite their sinister backstory being thinly veiled by the Disney-fication of this fictional work, there’s something absolutely lovable and endearing about this trio of dark magic-wielding, Satan-worshipping cannibals. Please excuse the oversimplification, but we’re not wrong. Still, families and viewers of all ages gear up every year for another Halloween adventure alongside Max, Dani, and Allison.
While Disney might’ve made this story a fun family affair, can you imagine what it is like being told as an unfiltered bed time story? The Sanderson sisters originated as a bedtime story that movie and TV producer David Kirschner told his children. The tale eventually gained popularity after becoming the main published story in Muppet Magazine. It then gained the traction it needed to start moving toward a feature film adaptation and the rest is history, as they say. Almost three decades later, the Sanderson sisters are returning in the form of a sequel film to the original: "Hocus Pocus 2," which features all three lead actors reprising their undead roles, premieres on Disney+ on September 30. We have an inkling that nothing will outdo the spell the first cast over audiences, though.