If you watched "Dallas" back in the day, Omri Katz may already have been on your radar by the time he scored lead roles in two mildly-received 1993 flicks, Matinee and Hocus Pocus. But as an "Eerie, Indiana" devotee, I'd been riding the Omri Katz train since 1991, when the inspired but short-lived NBC series -- a sort of "X-Files meets Encyclopedia Brown" serial starring a then-15-year-old Katz as Marshall Teller, paranormal investigator -- debuted in its first and only season.
That meant that even after "Eerie, Indiana" met its premature end, I remained on the hunt for as much Omri Katz as I could find: reruns of "Eerie, Indiana," that one episode of "The Torkelsons" in which he took Dorothy Jane out on her first nighttime date... even the terrible, godawful-even-with-nostalgia-goggles-on, made-for-TV movie Adventures in Dinosaur City. That movie, a live-action adventure about three kids stuck in an alternate universe with wisecracking dinosaurs and cavemen, was almost completely, indefensibly bad -- yet I watched it many more times than I'd care to admit. And I did it all for Omri Katz.
Thank goodness, then, for 1993. That was the year Katz nabbed a role in Joe Dante's Cold War comedy Matinee as Stan (oh, to have been Kellie Martin) and, a few months later, the lead in Disney's live-action Halloween comedy Hocus Pocus. While I quite enjoyed Matinee and its tale of paranoia, coming of age, and butt-tingling in 1960s Florida, Hocus Pocus was the Katz vehicle I watched more frequently and the one I'd argue most established Katz's potential as a teen idol type. (It was also Kenny Ortega's directorial follow-up to Newsies, possibly the biggest crush-inducing flick of my 1990s.)
Katz played Max, a teenage transplant from Los Angeles who learns about the local legend of the Sanderson witches while trying to mack on a beautiful classmate named Allison (Vinessa Shaw). Scoffing at the supernatural "hocus pocus" celebrated by everyone in Salem, Massachusetts, smart alecky Max lights the candle that allows the three witches to come back to life; as a result, he then spends his entire Halloween night trying to protect his little sister (Thora Birch) and win Allison's affections while running from Bette Midler, Kathy Najimy, and Sarah Jessica Parker at their screechiest, dopiest, and dumbest, respectively.
Max Dennison was, like just about every character Omri Katz ever played, a cute boy-next-door type with floppy '90s hair and a cheeky edge. The kind of kid who might believe a little too much in his own intrinsic coolness (see: Max's "California, laid-back, tie-dyed" way of giving out the digits). In truth, I'm not sure that Katz's wide-eyed, slightly snarky appeal would have really worked if he'd played other character types, but since Hocus Pocus was his last feature film role, there's no way of knowing. (One thing's for sure: if Omri Katz was still in his teens today, he'd make the shortlist of potential Peter Parkers.)
But despite his cool guy posturing, Max really was just a teenage virgin desperately jonesing to be Vinessa Shaw's new boyfriend. One of Hocus Pocus's running gags is that the magic candle had to be lit by a virgin -- and that virgin was Max. Even a random stranger teases him for it, it's SO embarrassing! But the joke was really on us; though little Thora Birch taunts him ("Kiss me, I'm Allison!") and his lips come dangerously close to Shaw's before the witches ruin the moment, Katz's Max never does get to plant one on his crush. (Fine by me. Shaw got Jonathan Brandis in Ladybugs -- wasn't that enough?) Max was too busy making sure his little sis didn't get eaten by Bette Midler, which only added to the "aww" factor.
Don't get me wrong; looking back now, I can see that Hocus Pocus has its flaws. Cheese oozes from every scene, Midler runs out of scenery to chew with those frightening buck teeth, and the obvious sound stage sets are only slightly less believable than the talking cat. (Side note: Sean Murray, the also-cute kid who played the ghostly Thackery Binx, grew up to co-star in "NCIS" and earned this fan tribute video on YouTube.)
What still makes it watchable is Omri Katz. (Also, watching a pre-Carrie Bradshaw Sarah Jessica Parker ditz it up as the slutty Sanderson sister.) After making Hocus Pocus, he popped up on "The John Larroquette Show," reprised his role of John Ross Ewing III in a 1996 "Dallas" reunion tele-film, and was credited with a guest spot on "Freaks and Geeks," but has otherwise stayed out of the spotlight, save for this mostly unwatchable short film on YouTube. Will the world ever see Omri Katz crack wise again? I hope so. Get the "Eerie, Indiana" reunion movie rumor mill going, stat!