The Sanderson sisters. The black-flame candle. Thackery Binx. Hocus Pocus fans know it all — maybe a little too well. But long before the 1993 film was made, Mick Garris wrote the very first draft for the film, which was then titled Halloween House. “David Kirschner, who [was one of the writers of] An American Tail for Steven Spielberg, had this great idea about children in Salem, Massachusetts, coming up against the three Sanderson sisters, who were resurrected from the Salem of 1692, and he’d sold it to Disney.” With both Kirschner and Garris having worked with Spielberg — Garris was a writer for Amazing Stories — they put together an elaborate pitch for the director’s company, Amblin Entertainment. Spielberg was interested, if only for a brief moment.
“He loved it until he found out that Disney was already involved,” Garris says. “At that time, Disney and Amblin were very competitive in the family-film market, so neither of them wanted to be in business with the other. [But] it was very close to being a project with Steven Spielberg.”
With Spielberg out of the picture, Garris wrote the first draft for Disney’s Halloween House in the 1980s, crafting what he says was a much darker version of the story than what ended up on screen nearly eight years later. “What I had written originally was about 12-year-olds,” Garris says. “The kids being younger and in more jeopardy was certainly something more explicitly frightening.”
Multiple writers would become attached to the film over the years, and by the time Hocus Pocus arrived, the kids were 16 and the tone was more “broadly comedic,” according to Garris. That scene with Garry and Penny Marshall? That wasn’t in the first draft. But Billy Butcherson losing his head? That was.
—Reporting by Bill G. Grandberg