“After three centuries, three witch sisters are resurrected in Salem, Massachusetts.”
The above plot description was taken from IMDb’s entry for Hocus Pocus, the beloved Disney film from 1993, but I wouldn’t fault you if you initially thought it was the plot description for a far different film: Rob Zombie’s hugely divisive The Lords of Salem, released in 2013. Then again, maybe the two movies aren’t so different after all.
I’ve had an interesting relationship with The Lords of Salem over the years. I initially saw the film when it hit theaters, and I honestly didn’t know what to make of it back then. But after subsequent viewings, along with a trip to the filming locations back in 2014, I’ve kinda fallen in love with Zombie’s wacky arthouse horror experiment.
More than anything, The Lords of Salem is a love letter to the vibe of Salem, a town with an intangible but very much palpable mood that looms over it. The atmosphere of the town, and its unsavory history, was captured wonderfully by Zombie’s most unsettling film to date, which spills the past of Salem directly into the present for a nightmarish tale of witches reborn to take their revenge on the town that wronged them. Lords gave us Zombie at his most visionary, and damn is it aurally unsettling and visually pleasing.
But upon revisiting The Lords of Salem last night (my fourth viewing of the film since 2013), I was struck by something I had never realized before. As I half-jokingly tweeted late last night, “I’ve been hit with the realization that [The Lords of Salem is] secretly a super dark reboot of Hocus Pocus.”
Upon revisiting The Lords of Salem, I’ve been hit with the realization that it’s secretly a super dark reboot of Hocus Pocus. 🤯 pic.twitter.com/Nhg4NOopKQ
— John Squires (@FreddyInSpace) February 9, 2018
Of course, it’s safe to say that Zombie’s intention was most definitely *not* to remake Hocus Pocus with The Lords of Salem, but if you use a little imagination, it’s somewhat fascinating to watch it as a 20-years-later sequel, albeit a much less family-friendly one, to the Disney film. And the connections between the two are striking right off the bat.
Like Hocus Pocus, the story of The Lords of Salem begins with a group of witches being killed in Salem, Massachusetts, but not before they cast a supernatural spell over the town. In Hocus Pocus, the witches cast a spell that will allow them to be resurrected in the future. In Lords of Salem, the witches cast a spell that, well, will resurrect them in the future. In both films, those witches from a bygone era do indeed return to Salem in the present day, where they’re free to continue their terribly evil deeds.
(Mind you, Lords of Salem adds an additional clause to the devilish contract that will see a female descendant of the witches’ murderer impregnated with the spawn of Satan, but that’s where the whole “darker reboot” thing comes into play – then again, let’s not forget that the aim of the witches in Hocus Pocus was to… suck the souls of children?!)
Not only does the original coven of executed Salem witches return in The Lords of Salem – led by Meg Foster’s Margaret Morgan, easily one of the scariest witches ever put on film – but so too does the film introduce us to a new trio of witches that we soon learn are in bed with Morgan’s coven. And wouldn’t ya know it, they’re three sisters!
Dee Wallace, Patricia Quinn and Judy Geeson play Sonny, Megan and Lacy, the modern day witches who have tasked themselves with making sure that Margaret Morgan’s plan for the rebirth of the Devil himself is carried out within the body of ill-fated radio DJ/cursed descendant Heidi LaRoc (Sheri Moon Zombie). It doesn’t require all that much imagination, if you’re willing to have a little fun, to imagine Sonny, Megan and Lacy as Mary, Winifred and Sarah, the Sanderson sisters from Hocus Pocus.
And it doesn’t hurt that the three Lords of Salem characters, for the most part, look like their Disney counterparts, right down to Winnie and Megan sharing a hairstyle!
Both Lords of Salem and Hocus Pocus pitch perfectly capture the eerie spirit of Halloween – and of the town that is essentially, as best as I can describe it, “Halloween Mecca” – and there’s no doubt enough similarities between the two that they can be, at the very least, paired up for a nice little double feature. My advice? Watch Hocus Pocus first. Afterwards, pop in Zombie’s Lords of Salem and pretend that the three witches in the latter film are a sort of “alternate universe” version of the Sanderson sisters.
Hey, we’re probably never getting Hocus Pocus 2. But at least we have Lords of Salem.