‘Hocus Pocus’: The ‘I Put a Spell on You’ Scene Almost Didn’t Happen

Sometimes musical numbers can make or break a film. In the case of Kenny Ortega’s classic Halloween film, Hocus Pocus, a musical number definitely made the movie. The scene where the Sanderson sisters enter the Halloween ball and start singing a rendition of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ “I Put a Spell on You” is one of the most memorable moments of the film. But some were skeptical about the scene, which was written specifically with Bette Midler herself in mind. It almost wasn’t in the movie.

Bette Midler dressed as Winifred Sanderson from 'Hocus Pocus.'
Bette Midler | Rebecca Smeyne/Getty Images

The author of ‘Hocus Pocus’ didn’t want a musical number

Hocus Pocus was originally a book by David Kirschner. Seeing a black cat walk across his yard one night inspired Kirschner to write a children’s book about a boy who was turned into a cat 300 years ago.

Of course, it’s rare for a film to be completely faithful to the book it’s based on. Likewise, authors are rarely satisfied with the on-screen adaptions to their work, but Kirschner had a right to be angry when he saw Kenny Ortega’s first script. Ortega added something to Hocus Pocus that Kirschner never expected or wanted: a musical number. There was no musical number in Kirschner’s book.

Kirschner, who was also the film’s producer, was completely against the idea. “When I heard that they were going to do that, I was so concerned. I just thought, ‘You’re going to ruin the movie,'” Kirschner recalled to Bustle. “This is a movie that puts you on the edge of your seat and you’re going to stop it for this musical number?”

Looking back, Kirschner knows he was wrong about the scene. “And yet,” Kirschner continued, “I’m a billion percent wrong. I love seeing how wrong I was about it.”

RELATED: ‘Hocus Pocus’: 1 Sanderson Sister Almost Didn’t Join the Cast Because She Didn’t Want to Offend Real Witches

Kirschner can’t imagine ‘Hocus Pocus’ without ‘I Put a Spell on You’

Now, Kirschner can’t imagine Hocus Pocus without the Sanderson sisters’ rendition of “I Put a Spell on You.” The film never gets old for him, his children, and now his grandchildren. The young ones sing the song endlessly around the house.

“They’re always singing it,” Kirschner said. Kirschner is thankful for Ortega’s decision to add the musical number. He says Ortega “was the genius behind it.” It’s also thanks to Midler, who “does what she does so well. The girls [Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy] were so great, but that’s certainly Bette’s moment,” Kirschner said.

Well, the scene works so well because it was written with Midler specifically in mind.

RELATED: Will Bette Midler Sing in the ‘Hocus Pocus’ Sequel?

‘I Put a Spell on You’ was written with Bette Midler in mind

Another thing Kirschner got wrong was who should play Winifred Sanderson. He originally wanted Cloris Leachman to play the head witch because he loved her in another Halloween classic, Young Frankenstein. However, the studio wanted Midler.

When Midler signed on, the film became directly geared toward her. Why not utilize Midler’s other talents besides acting? Midler is one of the best singers, so why not use her singing talents too? So Marc Shaiman, who wrote Hairspray and worked with Midler on Beaches, wrote a musical number that would allow Midler to shine on stage. He based it around Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ “I Put a Spell on You” but gave it a Midler twist.

“It’s the kind of groove the opening song of a Bette Midler concert would be,” Shaiman explained. “It just fell naturally into that.” Shaiman also had Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy be Midler’s back-up singers, just like her real-life back-up singers, The Harlettes. “Since I had worked with Bette AND her back-up group The Harlettes so often, it was natural to give Kathy and SJP the ‘Harlette’ style back-up parts that they sing (and dance to) in the movie.”

Who knew so much went into making one of the most memorable scenes in Hocus Pocus? Midler makes the scene look like a piece of cake. If only securing the souls of all the children in Salem was as easy as singing a musical number.