[To get you into the spooky spirit, the Daily Dead team is spotlighting double features that we think would be fun to watch this Halloween season. Check here for more double feature recommendations and other Halloween 2017 coverage.]
There’s nothing quite like an outside threat to bring a family together, especially when that threat is of the undead variety. Siblings may not always get along, but when your sister’s soul is sought by a coven of witches, or when your mom is eyed as an eternal bride by a coffin-dwelling creep, it’s time to take those Sister Sledge lyrics to heart and become a family that can overcome anything—including wicked spells and sharp fangs. Set on respective fateful nights where the future of a homestead hangs in the balance and its up to siblings to save it, Mom’s Got a Date with a Vampire and Hocus Pocus are family-friendly films that make for a great double feature during the Halloween season.
Perhaps the less-known of the two films, Mom’s Got a Date with a Vampire will likely ring a nostalgic bell for those who grew up in what I consider to be the golden age of Disney Channel Original Movies: the mid 1990s to early 2000s. Growing up, my family didn’t have a lot of Disney movies on VHS, but we did have access to the Disney Channel on cable, and every few months, a new made-for-TV movie would premiere. These movies may have debuted on the small screen, but in my house, they were given the red carpet treatment. My sister and I would often make it a point to watch these new films on “opening night,” and I still have fond memories of watching movies like Brink!, Motocrossed, and Get a Clue for the first time.
Some of my favorite Disney Channel Original Movies were the ones that premiered every fall, and for several years, the network had a great run of horror-themed titles: Under Wraps, Halloweentown, Don’t Look Under the Bed, Phantom of the Megaplex, Halloweentown II: Kalabar’s Revenge, and even summer releases like Smart House (which can be considered a horror film depending on how you look at it). One of the films that still resonates with me the most is one that wears its Fright Night influences on its sleeve: the 2000 horror comedy Mom’s Got a Date with a Vampire, the first film in my curated family-friendly double feature.
Directed by Steve Boyum (a Disney Channel Original Movie veteran who also helmed great entries like Motocrossed, Stepsister from Planet Weird, and Johnny Tsunami), Mom’s Got a Date with a Vampire, like Fright Night, centers on a single-parent home. Only instead of only child Charley Brewster, we get teenage sister Chelsea (played by Jigsaw actress Laura Vandervoort), 13-year-old monster expert Adam Hansen (Matt O’Leary), and younger brother Taylor (Myles Jeffrey). The homestead is kept functioning by overworked single mom Lynette (Caroline Rhea from Sabrina the Teenage Witch), who has put a stake in her love life to focus on her career and family following a separation with her husband.
Looking to avoid a grounded evening at home, Adam and Chelsea concoct a plan to set their mom up for a date so they can sneak out for the night. After finding an add in the “personals” section of the newspaper (this is AOL days we’re talking about here, so it’s not as simple as going online and swiping right), they find someone named Dimitri (Charles Shaughnessy) who they think looks trustworthy enough to not kill their mom while they go out and have a nice time (great kids, right?). They set up a meet and greet at the local supermarket, Dimitri makes a nice impression, their mom is whisked off for an evening on the town, and the scheming siblings get their own nights of fun with friends. The only problem is that, as the title not so subtly suggests, their mom has a date with a freaking vampire, and one innocent date could turn into an eternity of crimson-stained love if the kiddos don’t do something before dawn.
And so begins a race against time to save one family’s future, and what a family it is. By the time the bloodsucker enters the story, the core cast have set up a believably flawed family unit that you want to root for. Lynette is sympathetically stressed out as a mom trying to do it all, and while older sister Chelsea and brother Adam don’t really get along and aren’t entirely innocent, neither one is an overly mean-spirited character, making their eventual acceptance of responsibility all the more intriguing when they realize just what they set their mom up for. And as the youngest member of the family, Myles Jeffrey is an absolute delight as the little Charley Brewster who cried “vampire.” The first to realize Dmitri’s true nature, Taylor’s fear is palpable yet funny, with the determined eight-year-old even going so far as to call vampire hunter Malachi Van Helsing (Robert Carradine, who was playing Lizzie McGuire’s dad at the time) for help. Seeing this imperfect family placed in peril always sucks me right into the story, and its festive backdrop makes for great viewing when pumpkin season approaches.
While it doesn’t take place on Halloween night, Mom’s Got a Date with a Vampire fully embodies the “anything can happen” vibe of All Hallows’ Eve. Kids ride their bikes through sleepy suburban streets at nighttime, the supermarket is decked out with festive cardboard décor, the fall carnival is in full swing, and the excitement surrounding a Headless Horseman rock concert is electrifying the town. This is the kind of movie where the kids try to pull a fast one on the babysitter, the type of story where it’s the children who know better than the adults (minus Carradine in a great performance as a surprisingly solemn vampire hunter), and it always makes me feel like a kid again, especially when viewed through a nostalgic autumnal lens.
Another movie that makes me want to hop on my bike and ride off into the night is Hocus Pocus, the second film in this family-centric double feature. This one is likely more familiar to the masses. Go up to any horror fan and say, “The Sanderson Sisters, a talking cat, and a candle lit by a virgin,” and many will know exactly what you’re talking about. Now a regular staple of Freeform’s (the network formerly known as ABC Family) 13 Nights of Halloween programming, Hocus Pocus is perhaps most revered for the stellar performances by Bette Midler, Kathy Najimy, and Sarah Jessica Parker as a trio of witches who return from the dead to suck the souls of children one fateful Halloween night, but it’s the relatable human characters that keep me coming back every year, particularly teenager Max (Omri Katz) and his little sister, Dani (Thora Birch).
Having just moved to the New England town of Salem from California, Max’s family is still settling into their new life when the big “31” on the calendar arrives. Feeling out of place in his historic new town (wearing a tie-dye T-shirt probably doesn’t help matters) and losing his shoes to local bullies Jay and Ernie… sorry, I meant to say, “Ice,” Max is having one bummer of a Halloween when he’s forced to take his sister trick-or-treating. In addition to the back and forth bickering between the siblings, these early scenes establish the genuine emotional connection between Max and Dani, as well as the sadness that permeates their family even before the Sanderson Sisters show up.
At one point Dani can’t take the negativity anymore and starts sobbing on a pile of hay, telling Max that this is their home now and they just need to accept it. While Hocus Pocus is a fun movie first and foremost, it’s all-too-real moments like these that give the film a genuine beating heart that the Sanderson Sisters will later try to corrupt when they look to drain Dani of her soul, and by extension, her life. Max’s quest to stop the Sanderson Sisters and save the souls of both his sister and the children of Salem mirrors Thackery Binx’s heartbreaking failed attempt to save his sister 300 years earlier, lending the film a sobering, sibling-centric emotional side that counteracts some of the film’s sillier (and delightful) moments (I’ve never been able to look at a vacuum cleaner the same way after seeing this film).
While the parental figures are less present in Hocus Pocus than in Mom’s Got a Date with a Vampire, the strong bonds of brother and sister are at the core of both films, as respective sets of siblings attempt to save their families from a charming yet deadly force. Although these are two different treats in the collection of fall-flavored flicks, Mom’s Got a Date with a Vampire and Hocus Pocus each share the same spooky spirit that you can embrace with your family—particularly your brothers or sisters—this Halloween season.
In case you missed it, check here to read our other special features that celebrate the Halloween season!