Twenty years ago, the world met the Sanderson sisters. These bewitching women first graced the screen in 1993 as they wreaked havoc on Salem and tried to steal the souls of children so they could live forever. Last weekend, D23 brought some of the film’s cast, crew, props, and biggest fans together to celebrate the twentieth anniversary.
Before a screening of the movie in the main theater on the Walt Disney Studios lot, guests saw a panel featuring Kathy Najimy (Mary Sanderson), David Kirschner (producer and creator), Thora Birch (Dani), Doug Jones (Billy Butcherson), Vinessa Shaw (Allison), Omri Katz (Max), John Debney (composer), Tony Gardner (make-up and special effects), and William Sandell (production designer). It was the largest reunion in the film’s history. The panel discussed everything from behind-the-scenes filming stories to director Kenny Ortega to what happens on Twitter when Halloween time rolls around.
“I get about 100 tweets a day about Hocus Pocus once it gets to be September,” said Najimy. Jones added that he loves getting fan tweets around Halloween time and had a special message for the ladies: “Thank you for telling me that I was your first on-screen crush. I didn’t expect it as a zombie, but thank you.”
As the conversation continued, the group reminisced about some of their favorite stories from their days filming, including a visit to Salem that just happened to fall on the 300th anniversary of the witch trials. The filmmakers wanted the cast to get a sense of the location’s history and how it played into the film. “Kenny actually took us to the Salem museum where they had a commemorative thing about the hangings,” said Birch. She also revealed a fun fact from filming: “Bette had two people running around behind her with little dictionaries of old curse words.”
Jones told the story of the infamous scene in which his character cuts the stitches on his lips and finally gets to speak. “Those were real moths,” he said, recounting the tale of trying to hold them in his stitched up mouth before he cut the stitches each take and released them. “It was all very technical,” said Jones. “The problem is that moths have to stay very dry or they won’t fly.” While his castmates and the crowd laughed, he also revealed that there was an on-set moth trainer who had to place the moths on his tongue and then catch them after every take.
As is par for the course with a story about spells and spooks and sinister sisters, there was also much talk about how the look of the film came together. There were spooky books (with eyes that moved) and creepy cauldrons and brooms for flying.
Sandell said it was a labor of love to put together and that “It’s still my favorite set I think of all the stuff I’ve done.” That seemed to be the sentiment most shared between cast, crew, and fans. The cast talked about filming and what a wonderful time they each had. Shaw brought up the three slightly more seasoned actresses in the film and just how great they were to all the kids. Birch said she loved seeing how everything evolved from the first script to the actual scene filming. Of the whole process she said, “When you’re having fun it doesn’t really feel like work.”
Birch summed it up best by saying, “Out of all the work we’ve all done, this is the one people always bring up.” Shaw agreed, referencing a time she was filming another movie in a real family’s house when the mother stopped her in the hallway to tell her that Hocus Pocus meant a great deal to her relationship with her daughter. Najimy even revealed that she and her nephew and her aunt all watch the film together every year on August 15. “It’s an event,” she said.
It’s a little bit after August 15, but you can watch Hocus Pocus and relive the magic and majesty of the Sanderson sisters this weekend on ABC Family. It’s airing Saturday at 10p|9c and Sunday at 9p|8c. You can also see more photos from the event at D23.com.