Abracadabra celebrates Halloween in a lively way, but its sequel can’t keep up…
Some films need to be seen to understand their appeal, preferably at the right age or in the perfect company. Abracadabra is one of those films: for many people, the raucous, sometimes subtly scary witch comedy is the best Halloween movie!
Although it was a flop in theaters in the early 1990s, many film fans feel the same way I do – whether they discovered the film as children, in their early teens, or thanks to enthusiastic fans. That’s how a flop became a cult classic, which Disney celebrates with theme park shows, lots of fan articles and a streaming sequel on Disney+, which unfortunately isn’t that good.
ABRACADABRA: ONE VIRGIN AND THREE EVIL AND FUNNY WITCHES
Since his family moved from Los Angeles to quiet Salem, Max (Omri Katz) has been in trouble. His relationship with his younger sister, Dani (Thora Birch), is strained and the local obsession with horror myths is getting to him. Only his secret crush, Allison (Vinessa Shaw), can provoke in him even a half-hearted enthusiasm for all this nonsense.
The fact that the local legend about the deadly Sanderson sisters is true and that Max should therefore urgently reconsider his attitude is demonstrated very clearly on Halloween night:
Because when Max lights a black-flame candle while still a virgin, he carelessly completes a ritual that leads to the return of the nasty witches Winifred (Bette Midler), Mary (Kathy Najimy) and Sarah Sanderson (Sarah Jessica Parker). Now it’s up to Max, Dani and Allison, and their supernatural companions in the form of talking cat Thackery and friendly zombie Billy Butcherson (Doug Jones) to stop the trio…
Abracadabra is not a harsh, dark rebellion against Disney conventions, nor does it want to be. The timeless and eternal vibe is part of its appeal! And yet, the film is simply different. As if Disney had dressed up and had enough courage under his Halloween disguise to get carried away. What other Disney movie would have a drinking game?
In Abracadabra, the witches’ fun goes hand in hand with an enormous density of frivolities and casual ambiguities, while the magic trio’s agitation and spell fluctuate in different tones: when the sisters lure the children into their hiding place, they suck the life out of them. a baby or use their powers, it brings out old-fashioned horror.
And it is reinforced by things like the magic candle twisted in the fat of a dead person or the magic book bound in human skin. And then there’s the fantastically disgusting makeup that turns The Shape of Water’s lead actor, Doug Jones, into a zombie!
Cinematographer Hiro Narita (Rocketeer) wraps it all in strong, autumnal earth tones, over which atmospheric, theatrical shadows are occasionally cast. Director Kenny Ortega, who choreographed the dance scenes in Dirty Dancing and was later responsible for the High School Musical trilogy, lets these elements grow into jokes, slapstick, and raucous laughter. And Ortega lives his nature as a director, musically supported by composer John Debney: although it is not a musical, the film is largely staged in a rhythmic and lively way!
The Chaos sisters, played with passion by Midler, Najimy and Parker, keep pace. They act as if they have to fill the stage of a niche theater with just their personality. And they fight among themselves as if they were the Three Stooges: this country attitude that Ortega imposes on Neil Cuthbert and Mick Garris’ script is the magic recipe behind Abracadabra.
The film is raucous, strange and unconventional and proud of what it does with a good dash of irony without becoming a farce. Abracadabra 2 tries to do this, but it remains a weak mimicry.
The first Abracadabra lets its flag fly freely in the wind – and this weird flag is the banner of Halloween festivities: in the film there is celebration and flirting and excessive exaggeration in flashy costumes – with a lot of joy in it. There are macabre jokes and the film is about laughing at yourself.
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