The Sanderson Sisters were three witches who lived during the Witch Hunt Era in Salem, Massachusetts and were hanged on All Hallow's Eve of 1693. The three sisters are resurrected three hundred years later on Halloween night of 1993 by a skeptical teenager named Max who believed that the legend of the Sanderson Sisters was nothing but a bunch of "Hocus Pocus".
Winifred's two sisters Mary & Sarah Sanderson are not shown to have the same mental capacities or finesse as Winifred, but possess formidable skills in their own right. Mary possesses an unusually powerful and accurate sense of smell while Sarah, like Winifred, can bewitch people through singing. Winifred's singing ability bewitches adults while Sarah's bewitches children.
Winifred is first seen as an older woman living in Salem, Massachusetts in 1693 in a house with her two sisters. At some point earlier in her life, she'd had a lover named Billy whom she'd found cheating on her with her sister Sarah. For his punishment, she poisoned him and sewed his mouth shut. Also at some point in her life, she'd gone to Hell and received a powerful spell book from Satan himself, which was said to be protected by magic, and bound in human skin. This spell book is seen to be her most prized possession.
At the begining of the film, Winifred had her sister Sarah lure a local child named Emily Binx to their home so that they could feed her a potion that would allow them to consume her soul and regain their youth. Emily's brother Thackery attempts to save his sister, and fails, but as his punishment for calling the sisters "hags," is turned into an immortal cat who guards the Sanderson house for three centuries. The citizens of Salem mob the witches's home, and when asked where Thackery was, Winifred replied simply "cat's got my tongue." The townsfolk hang them, but not before Winifred and her sisters place a spell on themselves that would allow them to rise from the grave on All Hallows Eve when the moon was full and a virgin lit the Black Flame Candle.
Three hundred years later on Halloween night of 1993, a skeptical and disguntled teenaged Salem newcomer named Max Dennison lights the Black Flame Candle, and ressurrects the three sisters. Their resurrection spell only allowed them to return to an immortal existence for a single night unless they were able to consume the souls of children like they'd done to Emily Binx three hundred years earlier. Out of their element, the three qwarky sisters are painfully ignorant at what exists in the 20th century, believing things like the paved road infront of their house is a "black river," and that firemen are witch hunters who wear black robes, and use their axes to cut off witches' heads. The witches soon find themselves in 20th century Salem looking for children in their quest to gain immortality and eternal youth.
During his escape from the witches, Max had stolen Winifred's prized spell book. Winifred resurrects her deceased lover Billy Butcherson to chase Max, his girlfriend Allison, his sister Dani, and the immortal Thackery Binx and return the spell book to Winifred so that she could make the potion necessary to consume the souls of children. Meanwhile, Max, Allison, Dani, and Thackery attempt to warn all of Salem and stop the witches from killing all the children in Salem and gaining immortality.
During this time, Max and company attempt to interrupt the Halloween party at the Town Hall and warn everyone about the sisters. The townsfolk don't believe them, and the sisters bewitch the partiers by singing a song. Allison gets an idea to use a French Lesson cassette tape to lure the witches into the walk-in kiln at the high school. The plan works and they initiate the firing sequence. Believing that the sisters were dead, Max and company return to his house.
Unbeknownst to Max and company, the witches rematerialize and are unable to find them. Disgruntled, the witches return home to make the potion from memory. Unable to remember the ingredients, Winifred calls for her book to either return home or signal her so that she could find it. Out of curiosity, Allison peaks inside the book, and it sends up a flare that signals the witches to its whereabouts. The witches take back Winifred's book and steal Dani for her soul. Max and Allison go to the Sanderson house and trick the witches into believing that the sun is rising. They escape with Dani and hide in the cemetary. Winifred finds Max and company in the cemetary, but Winifred faces Max, and dies when she gets turned to stone because she set foot on hallowed ground, which was the cemetary.
All the spells cast by Winifred and her sisters break when they get turned to dust, even the immortality spell they'd put on Thackery Binx in 1693. Thackery Binx is able to die and join his sister Emily in the afterlife.
Winifred's magical powers consists of her ability to conjure lightning and discharge it from her hands. Not only can the lightning be used to electrocute people, but it can also be used as a form of kinesis. She, like most witches, is seen to have the ability to fly using a broom. Winifred is also seen to possess abnormal physical strength, being able to lift people up with little effort as seen in her final battle against Max and company. She also possesses knowledge of spells ranging from bewitching people to animating corpses.Her most prized possesion is her spell book it was given to her by Satan himself. Winifred is often seen to resent her less intelligent sisters, considering them "her curse", even though she requires their abilities in order to execute her plans of immortality and eternal youth.
Winifred is portrayed by stage and movie actress Bette Midler in the film, and was widely referenced for a scene where she performs her version of the song "I Put a Spell on You" by Creadence Clearwater Revival. Winifred uses this song to bewitch some partiers of 20th century Salem, possessing them to "dance until they die". The spell is broken upon Winifred dying later in the film.