If you’re a child of the '80s and ’90s, the passage of time has probably eroded the memory of the Disney Channel 1993 original movie Hocus Pocus down to a nugget of glimmering nostalgia. Likely, you recall the movie in flashes of scenes and concepts: the Sanderson Sisters’ defining physical characteristics, like Bette Midler’s buck teeth; a talking black cat named Thackery Binx; a town being put into mass hypnosis after listening to "I Put a Spell on You."
It's no surprise you remember Hocus Pocus fondly — the movie is a relic from the period in which you still went trick-or-treating on Halloween, and Disney Channel aired a zany new original movie every evening (looking at you, Smart House). What you probably don’t remember, from within this warm fog of youth and cozy memories, are the movie’s specifics. Namely, Hocus Pocus’ weird, stubborn fixation on virginity. Yep, you heard that right. The Disney Channel, a network known for its relatively squeaky-clean content (especially when compared to the far racier Nickelodeon of the ‘90s), once frequently aired a movie whose plot hinges on the virginity of a 15-year-old boy.
Max Denison (Omri Katz), the floppy-haired protagonist of Hocus Pocus, has two primary personality traits. First, he’s a recent transplant to Massachusetts from California, which explains his tie-dye attire on his first day in school — Max is groovy, dude. Second, he’s a virgin, a trait that becomes incredibly important when he encounters the black flame candle in the Sanderson Sisters’ house-turned-museum.
“Legend says that on a full moon, it will raise the spirits of the dead when lit by a virgin on Halloween night,” Max says, running his fingers over the red and white candle. If Max had any intention of hiding his virginity from his crush, Allison (Vinessa Shaw), it’s all over for him once he lights the candle and the room suddenly transforms into a neon-green, enchanted hellscape. “A virgin lit the candle!” Max’s 8-year-old sister, Dani (Thora Birch), exclaims, before the witches arrive.
From that utterance on, Max’s virginity is a regular topic of conversation — and ridicule — in the movie. For an 8-year-old, Dani is surprisingly vocal about proclaiming the status of her brother’s sex life to strangers. When the trio encounters a police officer (who, unbeknownst to them, is just a civilian in a cop halloween costume), Dani announces that her brother, the virgin, has unleashed a curse on the town. The man amusedly asks Max whether the virgin allegations are true. Exasperated by having to confirm the activity (or lack thereof) of his sex life on multiple occasions by this point in the evening, Max responds, “Look, I'll get it tattooed on my forehead, okay?”
To a certain degree, the movie understands that its emphasis on virginity is pretty ridiculous. In the final scene, Thackery Binx — now liberated from his cat-cage — walks into the afterlife with his younger sister, Emily, whom the Sanderson sisters had killed back in their 17th century heyday. Thackery apologizes for the delay. “I had to wait 300 years for a virgin to light a candle,” he says. After Thackery states it so plainly, the movie’s whole premise becomes laughable in its specificity.
And that, my friends, is the problem. Max’s virginity is transformed from a normal aspect of his young adult life into a punchline. Based on how it's positioned in the movie, we’re supposed to think it’s downright hilarious that this strapping teenage boy turned out to be a virgin. After all, the other characters whom Max encounters think it’s a total riot. Given the amount of ridicule Max receives, the clear — but unstated — takeaway from Hocus Pocus is that a guy like Max should not be a virgin by this point. He's too handsome and charming to be a virgin. This status is "below" him.
Hocus Pocus subtly insinuates that a person's virginity — specifically, a boy's virginity — should be a source of shame. At the start of the movie, Allison declines to light the candle, implying that she's not a virgin. Frankly, if she were the one to have lit the candle unleashing the Sanderson Sisters, I doubt any jokes would be made at her expense. We live in a culture in which girls' virginity is still fetishized and praised in certain segments of the population, with promise rings and purity balls. Allison's decision to remain a virgin would be lauded, not ridiculed. Max's virginity, on the other hand, is seen as something he was too sexually incompetent to offload.
That said, Max handles the whole situation in an admirably chill way, befitting a cool California dude. He's open about his virginity, and never once tries to stop Dani from blabbering. Hocus Pocus may derive humor from the toxic masculinity-drenched assumption that good-looking teenage boys shouldn't be virgins — but Max himself isn't bogged down by this toxic thinking. Instead, it just seems like he's embarrassed by the constant topic of conversation. And frankly, who can blame him? The kid's 15. Adults shouldn't be grilling 15-year-olds about their sex lives, and neither should movies made by adults.
Revisiting any beloved childhood movie as an adult is frequently a bewildering experience. Suddenly, all of the jokes that flew straight over your head as a kid (and maybe elicited a chuckle from your dad), are uncovered. As an adult, I'm officially in on the joke of Hocus Pocus. I just don't find it funny.