Update: This is a self-guided walking tour that I put together after our trip to Salem in October 2013, which just happened to be the 20th anniversary of Hocus Pocus. You can read more about our trip The Witch City and Historical Town. We are not running a tour (although I would love to spend all of October in Salem talking to people about film!). If you’d like to take a tour of Salem, there are many great guides out there. You can also check out my post on the Canadian town where Gilmore Girls was first filmed and the house built for Practical Magic. Happy Hauntings!
Hocus Pocus is one of my all-time favourite Halloween films. It was the right mix of funny and scary when I was a kid and I can still appreciate it to this day. From the outstanding costumes to the beautiful locations and spectacular sets – it really is a great film to watch this time of year. It’s hard to believe that 2013 marked its 20th anniversary!
Starring Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Nijimy, Hocus Pocus tells the story of the Sanderson sisters – three witches with a taste for children who are hanged during the Salem witch trials. After 300 years, the witches are accidentally resurrected on Halloween night by Max, a teenager who wasn’t feeling the Halloween spirit until now. It’s up to Max, his sister Dani, his high school crush Allison, a friendly zombie and an immortal cat named Binx to put an end to the witches’ reign of terror once and for all.
The “Hocus Pocus” Self-Guided Walking Tour
Max & Dani’s House – 4 Ocean Avenue
You can’t do a Hocus Pocus tour and not go see Max and Dani’s house. Built in the 1870’s, this house has become a tourist attraction of its own since the release of the film. We weren’t the only ones on the street that day taking pictures.
I think that every kid who grew up in the 90’s wanted their own lookout tower like Max.
The stairs were in his room, leading up to the tower. Perfect place to be a sulky teenager full of angst. Nice tie-dye t-shirt too.
Later in the film, after seemingly destroying the witches in their high school’s kiln, Max and Allison open the Sanderson sister’s creepy spell book in his room. Before you know it, a beam of light shoots into the night sky, lighting a beacon for the witches to come and find them.
The tower was destroyed as the witches fly off into the night with Dani.
A painting of the house can be seen in the background of this scene with Max and Dani’s parents.
I always wonder where props like that end up!
Allison’s House – 318 Essex Street
The exterior scenes of Allison’s house were filmed at the Ropes Mansion. Built in the 1720’s, this Georgian Colonial mansion is rumored to be haunted. It’s now owned by the Peabody Essex Museum and open to the public.
In the film, the house was decorated for Halloween with pumpkins, hay bales and candles.
We didn’t go into the house when we were there, so I’m not sure if it was used for the interior shows of Allison’s parents’ party. Often the interior shots of films are done on a sound stage made to look like the house.
Old Town Hall – 32 Derby Square
Used as the exterior location of the party that Max and Dani’s parents went to, Old Town Hall dates back to 1816 and is the oldest surviving municipal building in Salem. The hall currently houses the Salem Museum. and productions of the plays Cry Innocent and History Alive.
During the end credits, all the parents in town can be seen leaving the building, exhausted after dancing all night under Winifred’s spell.
Thackery’s Village – Forest River Park
The opening village scenes from 1693 were recreated in the Salem Pioneer Village in Forest River Park, just one block away from Max and Dani’s house.
The village was built in the 1930s as a set for a play series in the park, but after the interest in it continued, the city reopened it that year as a museum. It was the first living history museum in the United States and gave visitors a look into the lives of early settlers.
In the opening credits, you can see Thackery Binx (not yet turned into a black cat) walking through the village looking for his sister.
He and his friend go running out of the village into the woods, looking for his sister who they find at the Sanderson sisters’ cottage, which was built on a Hollywood sound stage. (More on that below)
There were a couple more locations in town that we missed while we were there, but are worth checking out if you visit Salem.
John Bailey High School – Phillips Elementary School, Salem Commons
A year before filming began, Phillips Elementary School shut down, making it the perfect location for the fictional John Bailey High School.
This is where we’re first introduced to Max and Allison, and where they later try to burn the witches in the art room’s kiln.
The park across the street, Salem Commons, was used for the scene where Allison pretends to give Max her phone number.
Daytime Cemetery Scenes – Old Burial Hill, Marblehead
Old Burial Hill, in neighboring Marblehead was used for the day time exterior scenes. Nighttime scenes such as the resurrection of Billy Butcherson, the friendly zombie, were done on set.
Old Burial Hill is one of the oldest cemeteries in America, founded in 1638 and contains many historic Puritan graves including the remains of a victim of the 1692 Salem Witch Trials.
The Sanderson Sisters Witch Cottage (Sound Stage)
The scenes in the Sanderson Sisters Cottage were filmed on a sound stage in Burbank, California:
If you haven’t seen Hocus Pocus in a while, it’s worth a revisit. Perfect for this spooky time of year! I also recommend a trip to Salem – it’s a great town rich in American history, ghost stories and great people. I hope we can go back there again soon!