It’s October, which means it’s time to watch “Hocus Pocus” ... for the 20th time.
Halloween is prime movie-rewatching time with classics like “The Nightmare Before Christmas” and “Scream” to choose from.
This also makes it a sweet, mushy time for your brain -- and not just because you’re cozying up for cuffing season.
Rewatching movies is a comforting act that can make you feel more stable and smile remembering the past, according to a 2012 study by Cristel Antonia Russell and Sidney J. Levy.
What the researchers call “Repeated Hedonic Experiences” we call “making our S.O. groan by insisting we watch ‘Hocus Pocus’ for the third time this month.”
It’s basically an easy form of self-care.
When you watch a movie again, you feel like you have some amount of control over what’s going on, the study says.
They mean this somewhat literally -- if you know one part is boring, you can fast-forward through it -- and also emotionally. As Derek Thompson explained in The Atlantic:
One of the nice things about old movies is that they can't surprise us. We know how they end, and we know how we'll feel when they end… We'll get exactly the emotional payoff we're looking for — no surprises.
When I watch “Hocus Pocus,” I know it’ll end with me feeling a little sad for the witches and mildly confused over my attraction for a cat, but otherwise pleased and content with the story neatly wrapped up.
This is such a calming effect, researchers call it “experiential control” that provides “emotional regulation.”
Pamela Rutledge, a psychologist, confirmed this to Men’s Health, saying:
Watching the same movie reaffirms that there is order in the world. Our primitive brains are hardwired to keep us safe, so the unknown future can cause anxiety. Knowing a film's outcome creates a sense of safety and therefore comfort on a primal level.
I know “Hocus Pocus” will end well for all the kids and oblivious parents, so there’s no real fear factor. I can watch it in complete confidence and just enjoy it as a form of pure, stress-free entertainment.
Since we’re talking about watching “Hocus Pocus,” which is ostensibly a children’s movie, it’s appropriate to talk about why kids watch movies again and again and again.
It’s for sort of the same control reason as adults who repeat entertainment, Lisa Belkin wrote in the New York Times:
Children like repetition. It offers reassurance that the world is a predictable place, as well as the confidence of mastering one corner of that world.
I have great memories of drinking hot chocolate (or, since becoming an adult, a hot toddy) and delighting over “Hocus Pocus” pretty much every October.
These good thoughts about watching a movie over and over again -- assuming you actually like the movie and aren’t being forced by a needy S.O. to watch it yet again -- are a self-perpetuating cycle.
Watching “Hocus Pocus” makes me think of watching it as a 5-year-old, which makes me happy, on top of being happy just to see Sarah Jessica Parker’s giddy, hysterical witch.
Thompson at the Atlantic cited a study by psychologist Clay Routledge where:
[S]ubjects exposed to popular songs and and lyrics from their younger days were more likely to report feeling 'loved' and that 'life is worth living.'
And you know what? Hearing “I Put A Spell On You” does make me feel “loved” and that “life is worth living.”
So go ahead and watch “Hocus Pocus” (or “Scream,” or “Nightmare Before Christmas,” or whatever else you like seeing again and again), and if anyone complains about it, tell that person you just really need Bette Midler to remind you why life is worth living.