Aging Witches: Hocus Pocus Filming Sites

September 30, 2013 – I hate to break this to you, but I’ll try to make it clean: Hocus Pocus is 20 years old this year.

It came out on July 16, 1993, but I only remember it as ever-existing, always on some channel or other during this time of year in nonstop syndication. Each season, I ended up seeing the entire movie three times, just all out of order and in 20-minute sections and usually while I was doing something else...carving pumpkins, decorating, cutting the eyeballs from the faces of models in fashion catalogs.

In fact, I watched it straight through this year for the first time since I-have-no-idea-when just for the sake of this post. Apparently, it’s about three witch sisters hanged in Salem for their Satanic shenanigans who are then resurrected in modern times but must steal the essences of children to survive.

Yup, we watched it here.
Now, whether you think this is a great movie or not completely hinges on what you think of the performances of the three witches, but either way, this movie will get you right in the Halloween. I mean, witches, costume parties, a zombie and a talking black cat, graveyards, and Salem itself…all taking place on Halloween and all backed by the budget of Disney. In fact, the only thing I’ve never really been able to get over in it is Bette Midler’s mouth appliance/lipstick. Maybe also Kathy Najimy’s crooked lip-thing.

I obviously have a problem with mouths, so it might just be me.

It's not just me, right?
Also, let's not forget that the movie is a time-capsule reminder that in the 1990s,
if you wanted to come off as bad-ass, you had to nickname yourself some variation of  "Ice." 
Anyway, I found myself in Salem the other weekend with the knowledge that I was old enough to sympathize more with the witches than the kids in the movie. So, with the weight of so many Halloweens firmly depressing me, I thought I’d visit some of the filming sites. Actually, revisit in some cases, as I’ve been to most of them over the years.

The movie starts out in Ye Olde Salem during the Witch Trials. You’ve gotta kill the witches to get cursed by them, after all. To recreate a 1600s-era Salem, they used, well, a recreated 1600s-era Salem. Salem Pioneer Village 1630 is what it’s called, and it’s a reenactment village located in Salem’s Forest River Park, about a mile and a half from Essex Street.

The place was built in in 1930, but in recent years hasn’t really been used very much as an attraction. Seems like it would’ve been a big draw for a place like Salem, but what do I know about running a reenactment village. Still, even though it’s usually closed, you can see the old cabins through the fence well enough, especially on the side of the attraction that faces the harbor.

The main filming location in the movie was probably Max and Dani’s house, which is just a block or so away from Forest River Park and also right on the harbor. It’s at the end of Ocean Avenue and is really easy to find since it has that unique cupola on its roof and neighbors only on one side.

Still, it really needs a historical placard labeling it the “Hocus Pocus House.”

Of course, most of the characters in the movie were kids and it took place in October, so that means school. The school they went to was called Jacob Baily High School in the movie. In real life, it’s the old Phillips Elementary School building, which stopped being a school about a year before the movie filmed there.

This building is right on the south side of Salem Common. They also filmed the scene where Max tries to get Allison's phone number right in that part of the Common, as well.

Speaking of Allison, her house is a pretty prominent Salem site. It’s the Ropes Mansion, at 318 Essex Street. It was built in the early 18th century and is currently operated by the Peabody Essex Museum.

The house was the site of the rich people party. You know, the one where the guests were all dressed in powdered wigs, elegant hoop skirts, and gold-threaded breeches. The exteriors for the other party, the more down-to-earth, everybody-dress-as-a-monster-or-Madonna one where Bette sings I Put a Spell on You, took place at the Old Town Hall, right in Derby Square.

The last Hocus Pocus site that I’ve got here isn’t actually in Salem, but in neighboring Marblehead. It was here, at Old Burial Hill, that the daytime cemetery scenes were shot. The night shots were all filmed on a set.

Old Burial Hill is a great cemetery. Built in 1638, it’s one of the oldest graveyards in New England. Also unique is its geography. Set on a rocky hill so that the gravestones are at varying levels, it commands a great view of Marblehead and the harbor beyond.

If you have to battle a trio of witches, definitely do it in a cemetery like this.

And if you have to make a film about witches, do it in Salem.

Old Burial Hill is also the site
of the amazing Susanna Jayne headstone.
A gravestone prop from the nighttime cemetery set, now at the
Haunted Barn Movie Museum.
And while you're in Salem, you can see a life-sized Winifred Sanderson 
(Bette Midler) on display at Count Orlok's Nightmare Gallery.