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Hocus Pocus, Focus: Lessons For Penn State Students From The Sanderson Sisters

Spooky season is upon us, folks. It’s that time of the year again, and the Halloween spirit haunts Nittany Nation this year with a renewed sense of scary. With in-person events in full swing, it’s time to get hype for Haunted Valley!

Whether you planned your costume months ago or just hit McLanahan’s for that bowl of fun-size, the time has come to celebrate the scariest season with our favorite Halloween film. Enter “Hocus Pocus,” the 1993 cult classic directed by Kenny Ortega. Created by the same national treasure who gifted our generation the entire High School Musical franchise, this film is the ultimate Halloween flick to get you in the spooky spirit.

Set in Salem, Massachusetts in the 90s, Hocus Pocus presents the story of the Sanderson Sisters, a villainous trio brought back to life from their hanging deaths for the murders of Thackery and Emily Binx in the 1600s. Three hundred years later, Max Dennison, the teenage protagonist of the film, lights a cursed candle to accidentally bring these deadly witches back to life for only Halloween night. Faced with death as the sun comes up on November 1, Winifred, Mary, and Sarah Sanderson prey on children’s souls to renew their eternal life. It’s up to Max and his friends to defeat these evil sisters before they claim another child.

In their disastrous attempt to have their ideal Halloween night, our villainous trio can teach us all a bit more about college life than we ever imagined. There’s no doubt that Penn State students can relate to the quest for an awesome night on the town, and our Sanderson Sisters serve as the perfect example of what not to do on the road for Halloweekend fulfilled. In bopping to “I Put a Spell on You” or being treated to Winifred’s yellowed snaggle tooth for the entire hour and 36 minutes, we can celebrate the season and take away some useful lessons, too.

Needing some relief from a soul-sucking week? Consider some witchy lessons the average college student should remember far beyond Halloween night. Get hype for Halloweekend, but remember: It’s all just a bunch of hocus pocus!

Travel In A Group

When alive again for the first time in 300 years, the Sanderson Sisters are on the hunt for new life through their famous witchy tactics. From riding public transportation for the first time to discovering an American high school, they quickly find out that much has changed in Salem since their hanging deaths in the 1600s.

Through toil and trouble, and perhaps a cauldron to bubble, these sisters know to stick together through the crazy night, avoiding strangers with a “safety in numbers” mentality. It’s greatly comparable to a night out in State College, as it’s always best to stick with the tribe and get your friends home safely. You might say three’s a crowd, but at 2 a.m. on Halloweekend, it’s a spell for protection.

Keep Your Head On Straight

In the aftermath of midterm season, students are bound to feel overwhelmed right now. Feeling weary and wanting to let off steam on Thirsty Thursday is nothing but natural, yet too much empty-headed behavior will leave you more dazed and confused than you were waking up for your 8 a.m. class. A bold example of the saying “heads will roll” enters Billy, the beloved zombie dug up from the grave.

In the infamous fight scene between the sisters and our protagonists, we see Billy Butcherson the Zombie get decapitated right before our eyes. In a fate that probably made you queasy as a child, this rolling head serves as a symbolic reminder to think straight this semester.  Keep that head clear and attached, as many are bound to roll this Halloweekend, or perhaps in the Pollock Testing Center Monday morning. Remember, Billy’s head smacks that cemetery ground pretty hard, and it took at least a few scenes (or semesters) to find it again.

Lock Up The Broom

Fresh from the grave, the Sanderson Sisters excitedly board their brooms and take off into the Halloween night. Upon arrival at their destination, they leap gloriously from the flight and throw their brooms against the nearest fence. Casual and confident, these ladies don’t predict the moment of panic later when it is discovered that the brooms have been stolen. An obvious lesson presents itself here, folks.

Trade your broom for a bike this October, but don’t be like these witches and end up stranded. In the 1600s, bike locks were simply not invented yet, evidenced by our sisters forfeiting the goods to costumed kids in the neighborhood. Learn from the loss and utilize the security systems of the 21st century. Salem may be hours from State College, but the curse of hoofing it across campus is never far. If only our villainous trio had the Bloop to return them home.

Potions Cause More Trouble Than Good

The beloved spellbook and devious mind of Winifred Sanderson cook up countless potions in our favorite Halloween film.  From the eternal life curse to children’s elixir of death, potions are the first step in losing one’s soul to the sisters. With dead man’s toes on the ingredient list, there’s no doubt that Winifred Sanderson’s medieval jungle juice is far worse than anything seen in State College.

Still, the theme of potions for punishment rings true for Sunday mornings at Penn State. The deaths of Emily Binx and children in Salem in Hocus Pocus serve as the ultimate reminder that nighttime liquids often bring daylight consequences far scarier than Halloween. If we take away anything from this, perhaps we can remember to not overindulge in even the most delicious potions.

You Should Dance…Just Not Until You Die

With their kids, Max and Dani, out trick-or-treating, Jenny and Dave Dennison dress up and hit the town’s Halloween party for adults. Dressed like Madonna and Dad-cula, these parents fall victim to a curse set by none other than Winifred Sanderson herself. Cursed by the dedication of Winifred to dance until they die, the Dennison’s are stuck in a neighborhood Conga line for all eternity. Terrifying, we know.

Planning on dancing till you drop this Halloweekend? A similar fate might await you if lured to frat row after midnight. A night out in State College is just as alluring as Winifred’s spell itself, but partying until daylight leaves no possibility of Max, Dani, or Alison coming to save you. Getting the life sucked out of you via The Macarena is no way to leave this world, so avoid the lure of dancing till you die and get home at a reasonable hour this Halloweekend.

Don’t Go Digging Up Old Flames

When attempting the task of achieving eternal life, Winifred Sanderson looks no further than a Salem cemetery. Here lies our beloved Billy Butcherson once again, yet this time we discover a dreadful truth…He’s the former lover of none other than Winifred herself. With his mouth stitched shut for talking back to this witch, Billy the Zombie is dug up from the grave and enlisted by the sisters to help catch a child but ultimately ends up switching sides to support our heroes instead.

The lesson here? Leave the old lovers in the past, and, at the very least, don’t go digging up old relationships this spooky season. The ghosts of past loves may haunt this Halloweekend, but it’s more than likely that these relationships passed away for good reason, people. Leave the shovel at home and don’t break ground this season, as digging up these old romances might leave you betrayed after midnight. Perhaps it really is better to let the dead and buried rest on this one.

Be Confident & Don’t Witch Out

In a scene instantly recognizable by any Hocus Pocus fan, Winifred is briefly devastated by a young trick-or-treater calling her ugly within moments of reincarnation. Dressed magnificently in a floor-length, grass-green gown, our main Sanderson Sister is the ultimate figure of Halloween confidence. In tone brutal enough to make even the devil (or in this case, Garry Marshall) cry, her true witchy ways emerge. Haters gonna hate, folks, yet we wish Winifred would have known this before going full devil on her sisters for the rest of the film.  

While this reaction is no compliment to her outlandish appearance, a true witch-out is never a good look for anyone. Stay classy, Penn State, and avoid witching out your peers this Halloween night. Dress up, be true to yourself, and have a great night. We go hard for Halloweekend, folks, and confidence is always the best accessory.


Looking to learn some more? Gather the roommates around the tiny TV, pop your corn in that dorm room microwave, and laugh along with our Sanderson sisters this season. Stay spooky, Penn State, and Happy Halloween!

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About the Author

Lizzie Palmieri

Lizzie Palmieri is a current sophomore with an undecided major from Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Ask her about Disney World, Diet Pepsi or dancing on the Jumbotron at Beaver Stadium. When not causing general trouble, Lizzie enjoys playing golf, performing in theatre, and being the CEO of reorganizing the fridge. Her favorite thing to do is hang with her sassy sidekick, 17-year-old Italian Greyhound, Macaroni. Follow her on Twitter @lizziepalmieri if your deepest desire is bestie vibes only.

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