Run Amok With These 25 Glorious Secrets About Hocus Pocus

Discover what Thora Birch, Doug Jones and director Kenny Ortega had to exclusively share with E! News about working on 1993's Hocus Pocus.

By Tierney Bricker Oct 28, 2023 4:00 PMTags
Watch: "Hocus Pocus" Cast Puts A Spell on Us With BTS Secrets

Thirty years later, it's still just a bunch of Hocus Pocus on Halloween.

It's hard to believe the iconic Disney movie starring Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy as the three witchy, witty and wicked Sanderson sisters who return from the dead thanks to a virgin lighting the Black Flame candle came out in 1993. In the decades since its release, Hocus Pocus—directed by High School Musical's Kenny Ortega—has become a staple each and every October. (Just look at Freeform's 31 Days of Halloween programming block to see the spell its cast on their channel.)

And last year, fans were finally treated to the long-awaited sequel, which reunited the OG Sanderson trio and introduced a new generation of witches to Disney+ viewers.

In honor of Hocus Pocus' 30th Halloween, we're running amok, amok, amok by spilling all of the behind-the-scenes treats we learned about the making of Hocus Pocus straight from Ortega and some of the film's stars, including Omri Katz, Thora Birch, Vinessa Shaw and Doug Jones.

Don't worry, cat definitely doesn't have our tongue when it comes to spilling these secrets. 

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So, hop on your vacuum cleaner broom and come check out these fun facts about Hocus Pocus:

1. The original title was Halloween House, but eight years and about 11 writers later, it became a much less scarier, more kid-friendly movie so a name-change was in order: Hocus Pocus.

2. Production initially started out in Salem in November before finishing on sound stages in Los Angeles. Great for fall foliage. Not so great for decorations.

"The thing I love about the Salem stuff is when we went there, it was getting into Christmastime, and so people were starting to put up their Christmas ornaments," Tobias Jelinek, who played the bully Jay, told E! News. "They were having to pay them out block by block to take down all their decorations so we could get all the Halloween stuff."

3. According to Doug Jones (Billy Butcherson), Bette Midler had a unique requirement in her contract: Her feet had to be shown on-screen. 

"A little known fact there, I heard a rumor that Bette Midler had written into her contracts that there had to be an isolated shot of Bette's shoes and her feet walking somewhere in the film," he alleged, pointing to the iconic "I Put a Spell on You" scene for reference.

"So you'll see two shots in the party scene, one when she's entering the room walking forward toward the camera," he said. "Another one on stage, it's a quick blip of her feet going from one side to the other while she's walking across the stage. If you look at it quickly, it's like, why would they even bother to put that clip in there? Well, it was contractual."


4. While Dani (Thora Birch) was a smitten kitten when it came to Binx, Birch wasn't as enamored with the cat IRL.

"There were seven different live cats, two different animatronic ones and something that didn't even exist, it was like an X on a lamppost and they were like, 'There's Binx!'" Birch E! News. "I never knew exactly what I was coming into it, and truth be told, don't let anyone know, I'm not a cat person!"

5. Birch, however, was definitely a fan of the actor who portrayed Thackery Binx in the flesh: Sean Murray, who now stars on CBS' NCIS and has remained a definitive '90s heartthrob despite only being in a couple of scenes. She admitted to having a small infatuation during filming, saying, "He was dreamy! He was cute, definitely!" 

6. Birch wasn't the only young girl nursing a crush on set. Amanda Shepherd (a.k.a. Binx's beloved sister Emily) ended up developing a friendship with Elijah Wood after she snuck off to explore the Disney lot.

"So all of sudden these boys were playing basketball, and I'm like, 'I don't know how to play basketball,' and right away I saw Elijah Wood and had an instant girl crush on him, because I think at the time he was shooting Huck Finn," Shepherd said. "And then we became friends and I had a huge, ridiculous crush on him."

7. While Murray played Thackery Binx, it was actually Jason Marsden who voiced the character—both the human and cat version. 

8. Vinessa Shaw, who played Allison, told E! News the teen actors "were kind of more like brothers and sisters. We just had fun, like fun friends together. We definitely were goofing around on set all the time. I think we were still not mature enough to do any pranks on anyone, we just loved each other. It was a very sweet time!"

9. The film crew actually built the Sanderson's iconic cottage and the surrounding graveyard, a rarity for most sets. And for Birch, it's what she remembered most about filming the movie, along with a cast trip to Salem.

"It was the largest, most elaborate set I've ever been on," she said. "That was a real personal Disney moment. I heard Tinkerbell flying around!"

9. Legend has it that Leonardo DiCaprio was this close to being cast as Max, the movie's leading man. And it's sort of true.

"Well, he wasn't almost Max. I was told before he came into meet me that you're not going to be able to have him, but he wanted to come in and meet you," director Kenny Ortega explained to E! News. "It was so great. I was grateful to have met him at that time in his life. It was right at the beginning—he went on to do [What's Eating] Gilbert Grape and [This] Boy's Life. I love that I got a chance to meet him and he came in to see me."

Omri Katz eventually landed the role, with Ortega saying, "I was ever so grateful that we found Omri and [he] is beautiful in the film."

10. The infamous bullies Ernie a.k.a. "Ice" (Larry Bagby) and Jay (Jelinek) were just as close off-camera as they were when they were stirring up trouble on-screen.

"I was 15, so for the first month of so, my mom had to come with me. He turned 18 while we were filming, so we convinced by mom to let him sign as my guardian," Jelinek revealed.

Yep, Ice was Jay's legal guardian during filming."We were two kids with too much per diem having a lot of fun," Jelinek added, noting Hocus Pocus was his first audition ever. Tubular!

11. For Bagby, having to shave "ICE" in the back of his head wasn't exactly the easiest hairstyle to have at the time.

"I went to church with my mom and dad and I had to wear a hat backwards mostly to cover it," he recalled. "But then you go to church, you can't wear a hat! Everyone was like, 'Oh, what's happening with that Bagby kid? Has he gone off the deep end?! he must be in one of those new gangs or something!'"

12. While they referred to the Sanderson Sisters as "ugly chicks" in one of their scenes with the trio, both Bagby and Jelinek were in awe of Sarah Jessica Parker while filming, with Jelinek revealing Bagby had a "major crush" on her. "Still do!" Bagby added.

"The fact that she was Ferris Bueller's girlfriend! That blew my mind," Jelinek said, referring to SJP's now-husband Matthew Broderick. "I just remember how cool she was. She had that hippie chic thing going on."

13. The scenes with Winifred, Mary and Sarah flying on broomsticks were basically real, as Katz said he was amazed by "how [the crew] operated to get the witches to fly. There was no CGI! There were four dudes moving them!"

And Jones revealed that one Sanderson sister really took to the experience.

"The one person who really loved it was Sarah Jessica Parker," he said. "I had no idea what went on there, how she was strapped in that made it so comfy and happy for her. But she loved flying, whereas most people don't."

14. That scene where William "Billy" Butcherson, Winifred's dead ex who stepped out with Sarah, cuts his mouth open to finally speak only to have moths fly out? Those were real insects in Jones' mouth. And it was a difficult task to get it right pre-CGI advancing to what it is today.

"That took some work because if they get moist they don't fly. Mouths are nothing but saliva, so we had to protect them from the moisture of my mouth," Jones, known for his performance in the Oscar-winning movie The Shape of Water, explained. "So we put a dental dam in there and a latex sheath and they put the moths in with tweezers and we had to do it at the last minute when the cameras were rolling so I could cut the stitches open, cough out the dust and moths and they would fly."

15. Jones' audition process to play Billy was pretty unusual: He was brought into a dance studio with Ortega, a celebrated choreographer, who wanted to see what Jones was physically capable of. 

"He said, 'You're going to wake up in that position there and walk over to here after 300 years, go!' So I just had to come up with an act on my own on the spot," Jones detailed. "He loved everything I did. He laughed hysterically. And by the time I got home I had the part!"

16. While Billy's mummified hair and make-up looked like it would take a long time, Jones said he was surprised by how quick the process was.

"They had it down to one prosthetic piece they they glued on pretty quickly," he said. "They just had to glue it on and touch it up, so they got it down to an hour and a half. For prosthetic, that's nothing! Beauty make-up takes longer. I got off easy on that one." 

17. Katz's next role after playing Grateful Dead fan Max Dennison was a Deadhead...but IRL, as he revelead he spent “three or four years” after filming following the band on tour. As for the nickname bullies Ice and Jay gave Max, “That was my Grateful Dead lot name: Hollywood," Katz told E! News. "Everybody used to say, 'What's up, Hollywood?!'"

And no, he didn't hold onto Max's tie-dye shirt from the movie to wear. "I was making my own, man," he said. 

18. The young trio from the film—Katz, Shaw and Birch—have remained close throughout the years, especially after reuniting for the 20th Anniversary at the Walt Disney Studio Lot in 2013.

"It was like, 'Oh wait, we love each other, why aren't we hanging out?!'" Shaw said. "[We] went out for dinner one Halloween, it was perfect. We're still connected after that." 

19. The bullies were nearly cut from the film, but ultimately made the final version when the producers saw how early audiences responded to Ice and Jay.

"At one point they had cut our characters out completely, and it didn't test as well, Kenny had told us that," Bagby explained. "He said, 'There was something about you guys, or maybe the bullies being put up in cages and the kids could relate to those bullies.' I guess a bit of a comic relief to what some of the scary stuff was."

20. Throughout the shoot, Bagby captured a lot of his own footage on his personal camera. But one of the stars wasn't thrilled to be documented during a break from filming. 

"The big thing I remember from those scenes with the cages was the day that Larry brought his camcorder and Bette Midler was near her cauldron," Jelinek said, "and Larry broke it out and started filming and she saw him and got upset. Pre-TMZ moment where she spotted you. It wasn't cool."

Bagby added, "It wasn't pleasant. You don't want Bette looking at you."

21. Despite his paparazzi moment with Midler, Bagby did say the legendary star's singing put everyone at ease on set.

"I'm reminded of a story I heard from Thora about one of her greatest memories when they were doing the flying things, that in between takes Bette just started singing 'Wind Beneath My Wings,' and she said it was so soothing," he said. "I'm sure it wasn't fun being up on those things all day long. They did all their own flying, it was before technology had the ability to do that."

22. While Birch and Shepherd were the two youngest actors on the cast, they never became friends.

"OK I'll say this, I've never said this… I was intimidated, I was intimidated by her because she was so confident and experienced," Shepherd admitted. "She'd walk into the makeup room like, 'I don't need anyone doing my makeup. I can do my makeup myself, thank you.' So I was intimidated by her, but I really, really liked her. I was kind of in awe of her." 

23. Jelinek revealed he actually auditioned for a different part before producers switched things up.

"We went in for the first audition and they originally had me auditioning for Max," he shared, "and then I came in with my long, surfer hair and they were like, 'Why don't you read for this character, Jay?'"

24. While the cast mostly stuck to the script, Jones did reveal one line he changed while filming a scene.

"The original script had me cutting my mouth open, coughing out all the dust and moths and looking at Bette Midler and saying, 'B--ch!' That's all it was," he detailed. "And I felt like, hmmm, a Disney kids film. This is where I need to prove to the kids I'm on their team, I'm a good guy. I‘d like this moment to play out a little differently if I could. So I suggested what I say in the movie: 'Wench! Trollop! You buck-toothed, mop-riding firefly from hell!'"

25. Despite being a movie all about Halloween, Hocus Pocus was initially released in July 1993. And it didn't exactly scare up big box office numbers at the time.

"Of course, I was disappointed when it didn't come out of the gate stronger, but I mean it was released in July, And I was still young and coming into the industry as a director, and was like, well, maybe somebody knows something that I don't know," Ortega said. "But no, we made a Halloween movie! There's nothing bigger that screens during this holiday than Hocus Pocus!"

Hocus Pocus and Hocus Pocus 2 are streaming on Disney+.

—additional reporting by Kate Rosen

(Originally published on Sunday, Oct. 18, 2020 at 12:00 a.m. PT)

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