Christmas movies are a dime a dozen. Home Alone. Miracle on 34th Street. A Christmas Story. The strikingly morbid It’s a Wonderful Life. I could go on and on, flaunting my film knowledge for days, but no matter how many cheery tales of kindness I pull out of my hat, it’s Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas that falls into my memory bank. Not a single Christmas since 1993 has passed that I haven’t taken a trip into Halloween Town with Jack Skellington and his crew of Hallow’s Eve misfits- so what better to add to our growing list of bloody Christmas goodies than a trip back in time to this classic genre-hopping flick. On the fifth day of Christmas, Bloody-Disgusting gave to me – “The Nightmare Before Christmas.”
Day 1: Creepy Christmas Traditions
Day 2: Christmas Characters Gone Wrong
Day 3: Horrifying Holiday Decorations
Day 4: Twisted Yuletide Tales
Day 5: The Nightmare Before Christmas
Day 6: Creepy Christmas Movies
Day 7: Terrifying Toys
Day 8: Top 10 Potential Holiday Weapons
Day 9: Horror’s New Year’s Resolutions
Day 10: Top Picks for the New Year
Day 11: Ghosts of Christmas
Day 12: Happy Horror Holidays
With coveted lines like “I’m sick of the scaring, the terror, the fright. I’m tired of being something that goes bump in the night.” And, the everlasting “‘Twas the nightmare before Christmas, and all through the house, not a creature was peaceful. Not even a mouse. The stockings all hung by the chimney with care, when opened that morning would cause quite a scare!”
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With Disney behind the project, a development deal was inked in 1990 and production began in early 1991. A stop motion fantasy film, The Nightmare Before Christmas had become more than just words on paper- it was slowly working its way into becoming a Christmas classic.
The Nightmare Before Christmas throws us smack in the middle of Halloween Town, a Pleasantville of sorts for demons, zombies, witches, killer clowns, and other frightening, deformed, and otherwise distasteful creatures. Every year, just in time for October 31st, the Pumpkin King himself, a charming rack of bones by the name of Jack Skellington, leads the townspeople in celebration of murder, mayhem and horror. But he’s become bored- and disheartened. Then, one day, while wandering through the spooky forest just outside of town, he discovers a portal into Christmas Town. Falling into the world of snow, lights and cheer, he falls in love with the look and feel of Christmas and decides that he, not Santa, will, from now on, deliver Christmas to the world. His obsession with Christmas falls upon Halloween Town like a virus- everyone has a job, and he even goes so far as to send a group of juveniles to kidnap Santa. While the rest of the town falls into Jack’s plan, Sally, the local mad scientist’s female Frakenstein, not only starts to have romantic feelings for the Pumpkin King, but fears his plan, knowing that it can only lead to disaster. And she’s right- despite her efforts to stop Jack, he embarks on Christmas Eve in a coffin sleigh with skeletal reindeer on a journey to deliver presents and spread the holiday’s message. Instead of babies and blocks, children discover shrunken heads and monstrous dolls waiting for them under the tree. Terror replaces joy and soon the world is in a frenzy- which leads to Jack being shot out of the sky, and presumed dead by the citizens of Halloween Town. But he isn’t dead- instead he survives with a newfound spirit of Halloween, and returns to his beloved home.
But things aren’t as good as he had hoped- Sally, after attempting to free Santa, has been kidnapped by Oogie, the gambling addicted boogeyman. Jack does, however, save the day; Santa is sent on his merry way, and in return, Santa gives Jack the gift of snowfall. It all ends with a kiss- shared by Sally and Jack under the light of the moon in a quaint cemetery.
The Nightmare Before Christmas is easily one of the most romantic, well-thought modern fairytales of our time. It hops from Halloween to Christmas with ease, and yet the message never skips a beat- be happy with what you have, not with what you don’t.
It’s not so much the movie that fascinates me as it is the world that surrounds it. The Nightmare Before Christmas pops up twice a year- October and December- and can easily grasp either holiday. Fans of the film have been known to use the movie’s theme for both Halloween and Christmas. Retailers have taken hold of this idea and have introduced not only gothic décor, but also ornaments, wreaths and even Christmas stockings. I’ve even seen it translate into everyday life- with Jack’s precious mug plastered on everything from throw blankets, to license plate covers, to collective figurines.
The biggest trend I’ve seen with the film, more so now as an adult than I ever did as a child, is the fascination with having The Nightmare Before Christmas transformed into body art. There are thousands who have plastered their bodies with images of Jack, Sally and Halloween Town, forever cementing their devotion to this cinematic masterpiece.
With the critical success of The Nightmare Before Christmas, Tim Burton and his team, including musical genius Danny Elfman, went on to make other equally fascinating films, including 2005’s The Corpse Bride. Another stop animation film, it tells a tale of requited love and redemption through the eyes of a living dead bride and her forced fiancé.
Disney actually introduced plans to make a sequel to The Nightmare Before Christmas in 2001, only using computers instead of stop animation. Burton convinced Disney to drop the idea because the film’s message had become pure- one that sequels, prequels, and any other installments may have ruined. In fact, many see this as the martyr of all Christmas tales- one that should never be retold, re-imagined and re-distributed. The only exception is the release of the film in 3D, which took it to another level beyond the original filmmaker’s expectations.
The Nightmare Before Christmas has it all: The quintessential tale of an unhappy man who tries to find happiness, but eventually returns to where he started. There’s love, adventure, chaos- it’s what a movie should be. Throw in some skulls, some voodoo, and a bit of fright, and by golly, it’s basically a smart horror movie. Who said all frightening tales have to be raunchy and full of gore?
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