I revisited the ’90s Halloween classic “Hocus Pocus” with my kids this year. We do our share of fast-forwarding through the creepier parts, but one part that’s surprisingly edifying is Max Dennison’s character. Played by Omri Katz, the character manages to transcend a bunch of movie tropes to be an interesting, even honorable representation of masculinity. As long as I’m watching this thing on repeat, we might as well overanalyze our improbable hero together.
1. He’s Kind of a Baller
Dennison is the new kid in town in “Hocus Pocus,” just moved to Salem, Massachusetts from Los Angeles in time for Halloween shenanigans. Here we have several choices for Max’s character. He could have been “angry, lonely new kid,” “super-cool California new kid,” or “put-upon, nerdy new kid.” He doesn’t fall easily into any of these categories.
His first appearance is as an outspoken skeptic of the locals’ affinity for witchy lore in his high-school classroom. Despite being outnumbered, he voices his opinion that all of it is nonsense, along with a very L.A. conspiracy theory about the candy companies creating Halloween, man. He is then schooled by Allison, the most popular girl in school, with an improbably successful burn: “It just so happens that Halloween is based on the ancient feast called ‘All Hallows Eve’ It’s the one night of the year where the spirits of the dead can return to Earth.”
That is only a mic drop in Salem. Don’t try it at home. The whole classroom applauds, but Max is undeterred. He walks over to Allison and delivers this line, which is cheesy, but also reflects a pretty quick wit and admirable confidence for a high-schooler: “Well, in case Jimi Hendrix shows up tonight, here’s my number.”
He makes a couple other decent moves throughout the night, during which he is engaged in fighting centuries-old, evil occult forces and saving his whole town, but also in wooing Allison. When they’re discussing visiting the Sanderson witches’ probably haunted, old house, he again uses his skepticism to make a move: “Come on, make a believer outta me.”
It must be said, his efforts are not without results. Allison is clearly interested, accidentally spends the night at his house, and he delivers one more witch-related line before they are interrupted in their first kiss by actual witches. I shouldn’t be surprised. Katz’ fictional pedigree is pretty great, as he played young John Ross Ewing in “Dallas.” You can’t be J.R. Ewing’s fake son and not have some of it rub off on you.
2. But Not Too Much of a Baller
He’s a virgin. This is not a secret. Once he has lit the black flame candle and summoned the long-dormant spirits of the Sanderson sisters, it is revealed that only a virgin can bring them back. Max is subsequently teased for this for the rest of the movie, over and over again, in front of his love interest. He seems vaguely annoyed by it, but not overly ashamed, and doesn’t let it dampen his efforts to earn the fair Allison’s heart. He is much more angered, once kicking trash cans in an alley, by his inability to protect his sister and Allison. More on that in a moment, but his reaction to those things is telling. His priorities are correct.
Max also falls victim to bullies who steal his shoes early in the movie, and is unable to defend his little sister, Dani, against them as they trick-or-treat. Much of the quest to destroy the Sanderson sisters can be seen as a quest by Max—and Binx, the 300-year-old colonial boy’s soul stuck in a black cat, natch—to redeem their inability to defend their little sisters against threats.
This brings us to my third reason.
3. He’s a Self-Sacrificing Protector
The movie puts Max in the role of protector, but as we learn from his early encounters with bullies, it’s not necessarily what he’s built for. Nonetheless, he accepts a duty to protect his sister, and to a lesser extent Allison, as they face ancient evil over a New England Halloween night.
He outsmarts the witches in their first encounter by confounding the Sandersons with modern amenities like Zippos and sprinklers. Later, it is Max who takes the microphone at the party at Town Hall to warn the entire town that 300-year-old witches have breached the divide between their world and ours and have come to suck the life force from their children. Think about that. That’s a pretty risky social move for the new kid in town, but Max does it because it’s the right thing to do. He is laughed off stage for his efforts.
In his role as protector, he also clearly values the input of Dani and Allison. His affectionate relationship with his smarty pants little sister speaks well of him, especially since she makes it her mission to say the word “virgin” as many times as possible in front of Allison and mock him for his crush on her. Dani’s sass and bravery serve them well, and Max knows it. A precocious Thora Birch has enough girl power in this role for several movies.
Allison is a full partner in decision-making, coming up with the idea to lock the witches in the kiln for instance, and the two of them fight as equals in a partnership that bodes well for the give-and-take of a real relationship. In the end, however, it is Max who sacrifices himself to save Dani, Allison, and all of humanity by drinking the Sanderson Sisters’ potion in his sister’s stead.
In a world uncertain of its male role models, somewhere between toxic masculinity and man buns, there is Max Dennison. Be a Max Dennison.