Friday, May 20, 2011

The Moonlight Spotlight: Winifred Sanderson

Hello and welcome back to the Moonlight Spotlight, where we put little known fiends of fright-fests at center stage! Last time, we had a small appetizer, a creepy cartoon from deep inside Looney Tunes Laboratories. Today, we're hitting puberty, but we're not quite at the big leagues yet. And with puberty comes certain phases. This time, we're going through that witchy phase. There's just something that is unsettling about witches. It could be their evil cackle, obsession with the color black, or their tendency to turn harmless children into rats. Whatever the reason, they're terrifying to little kids. Especially when they're played by Bette Midler. Yes, dear fiends, we're looking at a wicked witch from the past, Winifred Sanderson of the Sanderson Sisters.

This was Bette Midler's reaction when she got the part.

Hocus Pocus is my first memory of scary witch characters (I only discovered Witch Hazel from Looney Tunes later, but we'll get to her at a later date). We had three sisters whose sole purpose was to kill little children and be young forever. And of the three sisters, Winnie is the one that has made the biggest impression on me. She was the most ruthless and menacing, always thinking on her feet and staying ahead of the heroes. She was cunning, maniacal, and she had a great singing voice. But did you ever pay any attention to her? What do you really know about her? Yes, she's evil, but besides that. I think she deserves a closer look.

Now, unlike Gossamer, this character actually has a back story and explanations given to her. It's been a while since I last saw this movie, but let me see if I remember the details. Winnie and her sisters were three witches during the time of the Salem Witch Trials. The trio was involved in the kidnappings of multiple children throughout the town, and the townsfolk were getting increasingly angry at them. They had good reason to be angry, too, as the witches were sucking the lives out of the children and using their life forces to power themselves and keep them young. The townsfolk retaliated, grabbing the sisters and hanging them. But not before they cast a spell that ensured their return the day a virgin lights a black candle. ...Huh, I just realized. This is sorta like a semi-kid friendly version of Freddy Krueger's back story.

These witches are pretty mean already. You don't get much lower on the evil chain than killing young children. But let's look at the resume of evil things the head of this trio has done according to the movie: multiple counts of kidnapping, multiple counts of murder, child to animal transmogrification, necromancy, selling of souls to a (never explained, but possibly demonic or satanic) being, multiple attempted murder by excess dancing, vehicular animal slaughter, mass hypnosis with attempts to kidnap, and finally, harassment of three minors plus a minor turned feline. 

 That is quite the list of evil accomplishments. But who is really to blame? The trio together? I don't believe so. Why? Simple. Let's look at the two sidekicks. Sarah Sanderson (played by Sarah Jessica Parker) is a ditz. She's constantly getting distracted by random objects or handsome men. The only time she does anything useful is when she sings. Mary Sanderson (played by the woman from Sister Act) is mostly clueless. Yes, she's observant, and she is able to get Winnie to calm down in times of high stress. But without a guide, she's lost in the wind.

Winnie is the only one with the brains and drive to get anything done. She gets angry easily, which only fuels her drive to get what she wants. She has the cunning to get through problems quickly and the eagerness to see it gets done right. She has the ruthlessness to pursue her goals at whatever the cost. She is one scary witch. Not to mention that book bound by human flesh with a living eye was just... disgusting.

That's why I think Winnie deserves the Moonlight Spotlight of the night. She's mean enough to get what she wants. And what she wants is to eat your life force. So, protect the children and don't let them listen to semi-bland, cheesy, almost provocative songs sung by Sarah Jessica Parker. And lock the doors. The witching hour is almost upon us...

1 comment:

  1. I find this film unusual for a Disney film, in with the exception of Dead Man's Chest (POTC 3), I can't recall a Child being killed onscreen, unless you want to count the child star in Tower of Terror being turned into a ghost because of a spell placed on the elevator in the Tower Hotel. The death isn't taken lightly, however as the girl (Emily Binx) is mourned by her brother Thackery, as well as the whole town. It is Emily's death that is specifically why the Sanderson sisters are hung, not the Salem Witch Trials. The Witch's are caught with the goods, and not simply unfairly accused by some attention seeking brats as was the case of the historical Salem trials. The death of Emily also made it clear what a threat these witches are, unlike films like the Haunted Mansion, where it's never really all that convincing that the Evers Kids are really at risk. The film also doesn't shy away from some folks actually being evil, and not simply misunderstood.
    The film actually makes it clear that the sisters are really in league with the devil, and even mistake a guy dressed in a costume for the actual prince of darkness. If it seems they are too easily duped, well possibly they are used to seeing Satan in his own domain, and possibly thought that his earthly appearance would not be as majestic as in his actual domain. Winnifred, being the smartest of the three, is also the first to realize they've been duped. Winifred also will tell Max (the unhappy California transplant whose family has recently moved to Salem) that she has been to Hell, and she loved it there.
    Mary Sanderson was played by the talented Kathy Najimy, who some may remember as the voice of Peggy Hill in the animated Fox TV series "King of the Hill". She actually has quite a following of her own, and has had HBO specials.
    The film also makes the point that not all witches are evil, and even accuses Allison of being a white witch. To me this will always be one of my favorite Disney Halloween films. Unfortunately, foe every "Hocus Pocus" or "Nightmare Before Christmas", all too often we get such fare as "Twitches", or "Haloweentown". Now if Disney would just release "Mr. Boogety" on DVD.