Halloween is right around the corner, and you know what that means — it’s time to watch the 1993 Disney classic Hocus Pocus again! The wise-cracking, scene-stealing Sanderson Sisters put a spell on us, making the movie a fan favorite for nearly 30 years. But the houses, sets, and locations were pretty magical, too.
There were several memorable locations in Hocus Pocus: Max and Dani Dennison’s quirky old house on the water with a cool observation tower; Allison’s stately Colonial with black shutters; and the Sanderson Sisters’ spooky old cottage from the 1600s with a bubbling cauldron and a living book of spells.
To paraphrase Winifred, “Come, let’s fly!” We’re taking a look back at the houses where they filmed the movie and the sets they designed for it.
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“Hocus Pocus:” Filming Locations for a Halloween Classic
The Halloween classic Hocus Pocus starred Bette Midler, Kathy Najimy, and Sarah Jessica Parker as the Sanderson Sisters — Winifred, Mary, and Sarah — who were living in Salem during the witch trials.
They were hanged in 1693 for practicing witchcraft, but Winifred cast one last spell: “On Hallows Eve, if a virgin lights the black flame candle, the witches will be back!”
The spell works and they come back to life on a Halloween night 300 years later.
They’ll need to get their hands on the children of Salem if they want to extend their stay and live to see the dawn of another day in 1993. But local teens Max (Omri Katz) and Allison (Vinessa Shaw), along with Max’s spunky little sister Dani (Thora Birch), will do everything they can to thwart them.
Today it’s considered a cult classic. But Hocus Pocus struggled at the box office when it premiered and was considered a flop by Disney standards. (The fact that they released it in the middle of the summer probably didn’t help.)
“We had no expectations because we didn’t get very good notices and we didn’t do the business that anyone expected us to do,” Bette Midler, who played Winifred, said.
Years later, thanks to repeated television airings and its inclusion in Freeform’s annual “31 Nights of Halloween,” a new generation of kids grew up watching Hocus Pocus on TV. And now it’s become an annual tradition for many of them to watch it again.
(Note: It used to be “13 Nights of Halloween,” but that clearly wasn’t enough! See the full viewing schedule here, with 14 chances to catch Hocus Pocus on the channel this year.)
The Witches’ House in Salem
Readers often ask about this creepy old cottage where the witches lived in the movie and whether it’s real. The answer, as you can probably tell by the screenshot of it above, is no.
Set Decorator Rosemary Brandenburg says, “We built the interior and exterior of the gabled house, based on an amalgam of 17th Century New England domestic architecture such as the House of Seven Gables, onstage at Disney Studios.”
Brandenburg adds that the biggest obstacle in designing the sets was the budget:
(Production Designer) William Sandell and his skilled Art Department, including Art Director Nancy Patton with Set Designers Brad Ricker (a Marblehead MA native, and now a supervising Art Director) and Martha Johnston designed the gorgeous Witches’ House.
The Disney Execs asked for a show and tell. Bill et al created a fantastic model of the house—with the surrounding forest, water wheel, complete with removable roof and dressing inside—a miniature wonderland.
It turned out the meeting was actually a demand to reduce the cost of the Production Design.
“All we need is a few great actresses, snappy dialog, and black curtains,” said the Executive.
Somehow, our team prevailed, and the film remains a cult hit, partly because of the classic look surrounding and supporting those great performances.
When Winifred, Mary, and Sarah are resurrected 300 years later,
their house has been turned into The Sanderson Witch Museum:
Inside the Sanderson Witch Museum:
“This is the spell book of Winifred Sanderson. It was given to her by the Devil himself. It is bound in human skin and contains the recipes for her most powerful and evil spells,” Allison reads on the display in the museum.
“It’s just a bunch of hocus pocus,” Max says, in what could be called famous last words before lighting the black-flamed candle and bringing the witches back from the grave after 300 years.
“Time flies when you’re dead!”
“We’re home!” Winifred cries.
“I knew left this cauldron on,” Mary says.
The museum has the witches’ brooms and potions on display:
For many scenes Binx was portrayed by an animatronic cat, which was reportedly
used in “Sabrina the Teenage Witch” a few years later, as well.
Via SDSA: “While filming, real cats were used and then the brand new CGI technology, was incorporated to replace the real cats face with a computer generated face that speaks.”
We get a brief glimpse of the four-poster bed when Max is in the loft:
The original title of the movie was “Disney’s Halloween House,”
and the first script was reportedly “much darker and scarier.”
The story concept came from a bedtime story that film producer David Kirschner
told his kids after they saw a black cat cross their path.
“Come, we fly!”
Allison’s Georgian Colonial in Salem
Director Kenny Ortega shot parts of the movie on location in the historic New England town of Salem, Massachusetts.
For the exterior of Allison’s house they used the Ropes Mansion at 318 Essex Street (see how it looks today on Google Streetview).
It’s located in the McIntire Historic District of town and operated by the Peabody Essex Museum.
According to their website for it, “The house was built in 1727 in the Georgian style and renovated in 1894 in the Colonial Revival style by the firm Stone, Carpenter & Wilson. It was home to three generations of the Ropes family.”
The building is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
A reader named Adele, who lives in Salem, tells me, “The interiors look nothing like that and were one of the sets created.”
I just learned from a reader named Ryan that the interior of Allison’s house wasn’t a set after all. They filmed inside what is known as “The Crank House” in Altadena, California.
You can see the house in other movies, as well, including Catch Me If You Can, Scream 2, and Matilda, which I featured here.
This is what the entry hall looked like in Matilda when it was used as Miss Trunchbull’s house (below):
Hocus Pocus Set Decorator Brandenburg says, “We vowed we wouldn’t use any store-bought Halloween decorations. So we made EVERYTHING from scratch. From carved pumpkins, to scarecrows, witches, ghosts, you name it. It was a blast. There was a layered quality to Hocus Pocus that I continue to strive for in my work.”
She adds that her most visceral memory of the sets was the pervasive smell of rotting pumpkins!
“Hocus Pocus” Scenes Filmed at the Warner Bros. Ranch
When Dani and Allison are running through a park beside a fountain, it’s the same
one where the opening credits of the “Friends” was filmed at Warner Bros Studios in Burbank:
After they lock the witches in the high school kiln and run outside, you can see
Clark Griswold’s house from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation:
Here’s how the same house looked a few years earlier in Christmas Vacation:
And get this — the house later appeared in the 1999 film American Beauty,
in which Thora Birch (Dani in Hocus Pocus) appeared, as well:
The house from the classic sitcom “Bewitched” is right down the street from this one:
The “Hocus Pocus” High School
In the movie, it’s called Jacob Bailey High.
In real life, the building was formerly Phillips Elementary School on South Washington Square in Salem. It was no longer being used at the time of filming, so it was easy for them to shoot scenes there.
Today it’s an apartment complex.
The Pioneer Village in “Hocus Pocus”
For the opening scenes in 1600s Salem, they filmed at the Pioneer Village in Salem (310 West Avenue).
Per the village museum’s website:
Built in 1930 to mark the tercentennial of Massachusetts, Pioneer Village is America’s first living history museum.
The village sits on three acres of land and contains various examples of colonial architecture: dugouts, wigwams, thatched roof cottages, and the Governor’s Faire House. Culinary and medicinal gardens and a blacksmith shop further interpret early 17th-century colonial life.
Max and Dani’s House in “Hocus Pocus”
The house that Max and Dani’s family lived in is at 4 Ocean Avenue in Salem, Massachusetts.
On Google Streetview you can see how close it is to the water.
Max’s bedroom was a set because it had to explode in the end.
An overhead view of Max’s room from the tower:
Note the oil painting of the house on the wall:
According to Realtor.com, the Dennison’s house from the movie
was built in 1870 and is worth about $500,000 today.
The “Hocus Pocus” page on Wikipedia reports:
In October 2019, a sequel was announced to be in development as a Disney+ exclusive film, with a screenplay written by Jen D’Angelo.
Shortly after the report, Midler, Parker, and Najimy all confirmed their interest in reprising their roles.
In March 2020, Adam Shankman signed on to direct.
The Book Hocus Pocus & the All-New Sequel:
The novel covers both the story from the movie and what happens 25 years later when Max and Allison’s daughter Poppy has her own run-in with the Sanderson Sisters.
There are FUNKO Pop! figures for true Hocus Pocus fans, too:
For more information about Hocus Pocus:
- Interview with Set Decorator Rosemary Brandenburg
- A Short History of Hocus Pocus
- Where Was Hocus Pocus Filmed?
- Movie Trivia
- Stars of Hocus Pocus Reuniting for Charity on Oct. 30
Bette Milder has said this is her favorite movie and loves that it has become a cult classic:
“All of us are just stunned. Kathy, Sarah Jessica and I have talked about it. We are totally thrilled to death. Because when it came out, it laid a tiny little bit of an egg, so we didn’t expect much. And now look at it! October is HOCUS POCUS MONTH!”
Visit my Movie Houses page to see more Halloween faves I’ve featured,
like the sets from Beetlejuice, The Addams Family, and Jumanji.