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‘Hocus Pocus 2’: A Focused Review for All of You Trouble and Toilers; All the Fun, and None of the Spoilers

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It’s hard to believe it’s been almost 30 years since Hocus Pocus first put a spell on us. Now, the Sanderson Sisters are back, better than ever, with some new characters to face off against in the heavily awaited Hocus Pocus 2.

Directed by Anne Fletcher, Hocus Pocus 2 focuses on the origin of witches, exploring how the Sanderson Sisters became witches in the first place and the coming of an age of new witches. Simultaneously, the film follows the Sanderson Sisters on a quest for revenge, a vendetta that predates the first film’s events. With an overarching theme of the power and importance of sisterhood and friendship, the film pays homage to the source material while simultaneously honoring more modern ideals, all while offering stunning sights and memorable moments.

The Return of the Sanderson Sisters

Admittedly, when the sequel was first announced, I was concerned. It’s difficult for sequels to capture the magic of the original. Even more complicated when it’s been almost three decades since Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy graced the silver screen as the Sanderson Sisters, but wow, did these ladies pick right up where they left off.

Their performances haven’t aged a day, as everything that made them fantastic as individuals and a unit is present in the sequel. There are several callbacks to the favorite moments of the original film, but there also exists a new plethora of quotable moments and fresh comedic takes. It has laugh-out-loud humor and enough drama and suspense to keep you entranced between laughs.

Shades of Gray

If you haven’t watched a film in the last decade, you may have missed the new trend that gives villains depth and shows that some evil exists in a large, gray, subjective area. Maleficent was the first iconic Disney villain to receive this treatment, where a look from her perspective shows that perhaps she’s not so evil.

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Is it any surprise that the witches who have become beloved icons to so many would also receive this same treatment? While it may be disconcerting to some to see the previously child soul-stealing witches depicted in a relatable light, I felt it was refreshing and kept up with modern storytelling.

Diversity, Finally

In keeping with the times, Hocus Pocus 2 also brings us a diverse cast of actresses and actors. Having a cast member with an ethnicity other than white is a virtue that was heavily lacking in the first film. As one of my fellow Horror Press contributors Jenika McCrayer, explained, Black witches exist, yet amongst the faces of famous witches, the faces of Black females are lacking considerably.

Enter Whitney Peak, whose character is introduced with a crystal in her hand and plans for a birthday ritual. Peak did a phenomenal job playing the role of the protagonist Becca, as did her co-star Belissa Escobedo in her part as Izzy. Representation is of the utmost importance, and the fact that two of our leading ladies are Black and Latina, respectively, takes us a step in the right direction.

Hocus Pocus 2 Spells and Magickal Practice

In the spirit of keeping with the times, while rhyming spells and making potions out of dead men’s toes has been the typical representation of witchcraft in the past and is still present here, this film presented modern depictions of magickal practice too. Crystals, manifestations, burning candles, and smudging with herbs demonstrate true-to-life witchcraft techniques in the movie.

Here Lies William Butcherson

If I had to make one complaint, the appearance of Billy Butcherson felt more like the zombie version of Pirates of The Caribbean’s Captain Jack Sparrow. The gravel in his voice, his accent, hand gestures, and the way he walks beg the question: Are zombie legs and sea legs one and the same?

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It was still entertaining to see Doug Jones reprise his infamous role, and I’d rather have Captain Jack Butcherson than no appearance at all. If familiarity with another famous Disney icon is the worst this film has to offer, it’s still pretty damn fantastic.

Setting the Stage

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention this film’s incredible effects. It is refreshing to see the black flame candle spark to life in stunning resolution and the green eye of the infamous witch’s book sparkling with realism.

It is not just the rejuvenation of old effects where this film sees technical greatness. The shot of the large Hunter’s Moon glowing in the backdrop, paired with a fantastic moment where Winifred Sanderson’s eyes light up a dazzling shade of purple, creates a breathtaking atmosphere.

Hocus Pocus 2’s Glorious Moment

I particularly enjoyed one moment when Mary surprises and corners our two protagonists in a store. She delivers a sense of refined poise, cunning, and strength that was missing in the first film. While it only lasted a fleeting moment, it made Mary feel sinister in a way I had never felt before. It gave her character depth and control, and is welcome to return should the role ever be reprised again.

Even though nearly thirty years have passed, Hocus Pocus 2 managed to pick up where the first film left off. With its humor, drama, and iconic performances, all while representing modern ideals, this film honors the original while also supplying us with a new, fun Halloween film that will undoubtedly grace family TV screens every October for the next thirty years.

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Watch Hocus Pocus 2, now streaming exclusively on Disney+.

A writer by both passion and profession: Tiffany Taylor is a mother of three with a lifelong interest in all things strange or mysterious. Her love for the written word blossomed from her love of horror at a young age because scary stories played an integral role in her childhood. Today, when she isn’t reading, writing, or watching scary movies, Tiffany enjoys cooking, stargazing, and listening to music.

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Christmas Horror Parody ‘The Mean One’ Successfully Converts Christmas Classic ‘The Grinch’ into a Scary Story

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If Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch was too tame a Christmas-hating monster for your tastes, never fear; The Mean One is here.

How ‘The Mean One’ Wins as a Christmas Horror Movie

This comedy-horror slasher, directed by Steven LaMorte, tells the story of Cindy You-Know-Who (Krystle Martin) returning to her hometown of Newville – where her mother had been viciously murdered in front of her twenty years prior. The sheriff did not take the young girl’s claims that a monster had killed her mother seriously, so the murder remained unsolved. Cindy’s return to town shows a Newville that is wholly undecorated for Christmas, and as a string of murders begins to occur, Cindy knows her mother’s killer has returned.

With the appearance of the Mean One himself and a good balance of campiness and horror, all spread out amongst an intriguing storyline; The Mean One is a fun Christmas horror movie that subverts a beloved childhood classic and makes it its own.

The Horror-Parody Version of The Grinch

One thing the film did exceedingly well was its presentation of The Mean One. The makeup effects were stellar in creating a monster who is at the crossroads of a terrifying cryptid and a holiday icon. From his dirty Santa coat to his black snarl, he checked all the boxes for how a Christmas-hating monster should look.

Of course, to talk about the monster is also to talk about the man behind the mask, David Howard Thornton. After establishing himself as a horror icon in his role of Art the Clown in the Terrifier films, it was fun to see him transcend another role as a horror villain. With another horror flick under his belt, David Howard Thornton is one to keep an eye on. So far, every character he has been behind has been creepy and entertaining, perfectly matching the film’s tone.

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The Approach to Campy Horror

A horror film with rhyming couplets interspersed throughout could never be completely serious, and The Mean One succeeds because it doesn’t try to be. However, the film is not without its creepy moments that would be well-placed in any modern-day horror movie. Like any good scary movie, there are dramatic reveals, emotional turmoil, and suspense building.

It also injects a sense of fear into the holiday itself as it makes the idea of celebrating Christmas a dangerous thing. It’s a delicate balance to create something that is not very serious but simultaneously creepy, and the film does just that.

The Mean One Tells a Story That You Already Know in a Different Way

When making a horror film based on a traditional Christmas story, the added challenge is changing it enough to fit into the horror genre but not so much that it becomes unrecognizable. The Mean One was clearly up to the challenge as it was able to interweave a story that mimicked the traditional Dr. Seuss style of storytelling, with plotlines of a typical scary movie, while still paying homage to the source material. The integration into horror was so smooth that it felt like it should’ve been a scary story all along.

The idea of presenting the recognizable holiday monster as a cryptid is a genius move and calls to question why the Whos down in Whoville never inquired about the existence of the creature who descended from Mount Crumpit to steal their Christmas away in Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas.

It was not only the Mean One that saw some subversion of Christmas lore. A white-haired bearded man with a red cap who seems to watch over the beginning events of the film (and is aptly named “Doc” Zeus) integrated a little bit of a real-life Santa into the storyline.

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Make no mistake; this film is not a high-budget, major Hollywood production. The blood spray effects are campy to the nth degree, and the movie is not without its flaws. But what it does well, it does very well. The Mean One’s appearance is gritty, fun, and familiar; the storyline is immediately immersive – altogether, it is an entertaining watch.

It delivers everything the premise promises: a presentation of a fun Christmas flick that we all know, but this time for horror fans.

See The Mean One for yourself in theaters on December 9th!

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RUN RUN RUDOLPH, KILLER ROBOT SANTA’S IN TOWN: ‘Christmas Bloody Christmas’ Review

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Seasons screamings, everyone!

I have another wonderful treat for you all, hot out the Shudder ovens. If you’re like me, that means your holiday evenings as a horror fan might be feeling a little bit empty in terms of festivity, and Christmas Bloody Christmas is here to make that right. I’m cheery about the film from the jump. Que raro!

Christmas Bloody Christmas follows what happens when an attempt to turn surplus military technology (a.k.a. killer robots) into friendly department store Santa animatronics backfires; our jolly old Saint Nick ends up painting the town redder than a candy cane’s stripes, terrorizing coworkers Tori (Riley Dandy) and Robbie (Sam Delich) amid their budding romance. Is the premise kind of dumb? Yes, but if you’ve been reading my reviews, you know dumb fun horror is my wheelhouse just as much as the highbrow stuff is. And just because something is silly doesn’t mean it can’t be well made.

Writer and director Joe Begos is getting my second shoutout of the year for his work. I thought the foul-mouthed dialogue of this movie sounded familiar, and that’s because he headed another Channel 83 venture I recommended for October, the 2019 vampires-on-drugs film Bliss. There are many similarities between the two directorially, though this is much more oriented for fun than the psychological nightmare Bliss was. Where Bliss was a dark game of Vampire: The Masquerade, Christmas Bloody Christmas is your classic slasher during the holiday season.

We’ve also left the Panos Kosmatos-esque territory of Bliss’s cinematography, which might be due to the influence of cinematographer Brian Sowell who previously made the film Beyond the Gates, another fun little low-budget horror flick I remember enjoying. Neon wasteland cinematography that is replete with a color palette tuned for blacklight posters and Christmas lights in every single shot, and every scene outside being caked in fake snow and decorations help the aesthetic this movie is going for feel fully realized.

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Composer Steve Moore who worked on both Mayhem and The Guest, two of my favorite action horror films, provides an impeccable score for this film of heavy synth rock with homage to some of the band’s name dropped in the film by our leads. And Josh Russell, who did makeup work for The Night House and a little horror remake you may have heard of called Hellraiser (2022), rounds out that group. The crew on this one is practically a perfect assortment of horror movie production irregulars.

Delich and Dandy have pretty good on-screen chemistry as dirtbag crustpunks who need several mouthfuls of soap scrubbed onto those tongues. Dandy in particular is a veteran of fun, romantic holiday movies, and it’s nice to see she can extend her range beyond being a forgettable Hallmark protagonist whose outfit stepped out of a JCPenney catalog. She makes for an enjoyable final girl for this.

The duo talk like their dialogue is on loan from the Hellbillies of a Rob Zombie film, but they’re believable as coworkers in a long-term “will-they-wont-they” relationship. Their exchanges are genuinely funny at points, even if they stay a bit longer than welcome. These don’t veer into trying to impress you with the character’s pretentiousness about music; they’re just two friends drunk and high on Christmas eve, talking about their flailing romantic lives and which of their bands has the best Christmas song.

Beyond characters, the meat of the film is Silent Night Deadly Night by way of The Terminator in its premise. And in its execution, it feels like a lower-grade SNDN film for how cartoonishly violent and mean the kills can get, and I mean that in the best way. A single axe swing chops a guy in half like it’s a board of wood at a kid’s karate class, several people get thrown around like ragdolls through objects, and there are plenty of fake heads and bodies getting demolished for the gore hounds in the audience. Even the robot gets severely jacked up with sparks flying and explosions.  The special effects are hammy, and I love it more for that.

But as much as I like it, this one isn’t flawless. I feel like our dear Santa could have had a stronger design, maybe with a solid mask, and played with more robotic physicality beyond what we get in the third act. The camera work can sometimes be distracting in its attempts to convey high tension, ending up feeling fidgety instead.

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And to be quite honest, I’m very torn on the films ending. While it’s very entertaining and we get to see the full depth of the crazy animatronic Santa we’ve been waiting for all film which I love, it also drags in a way that is funny for some and might be a bit grating for others. Ultimately some editing flaws are exacerbated by the film being an exceptionally tight 86 minutes (we’re talking stocking stuffed to the brim tight), so it could serve well to have a director’s cut.

BOTTOMLINE: Christmas Bloody Christmas is an over-the-top, grindhouse-y spectacular that gives you exactly what’s in the title. It isn’t your standard holiday horror fare where there’s usually more about the film to laugh at than laugh with, but it definitely isn’t humorless. It’s a solid little film that looks like it could make a reliable staple in the rotation of dumb fun holiday horror for many Christmases to come. You know, assuming you don’t get killed by a robotic Santa Claus before then.

Watch Christmas Bloody Christmas starting 12/9 on Shudder!

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