Of all the holidays celebrated worldwide, no single day is loved by the Substream staff more than Halloween. With October’s arrival, the time has finally come to begin rolling out a slew of special features we have prepared in celebration of our favorite day.
31 Days Of Halloween is a recurring column that will run throughout the month of October. The goal of this series is to supply every Substream reader with a daily horror (or Halloween-themed) movie recommendation that is guaranteed to amplify your All Hallows’ Eve festivities. We’ll be watching every film the day it’s featured, and we hope you will follow along at home. Reader, beware, you’re in for a… spooky good time!
Day 23: The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
It’s been strongly established that I love Halloween, but like most other people, I’m also a big Christmas fan. I am in full spooky mode for all of October, but as soon as the calendar hits November 1, I pop in Michael Bublé’s Christmas and let the holiday cheer wash over me. The fact that we were gifted these two holidays so close to one another in the year is something that I will be eternally grateful for. Now that we’re approaching the end of October, it’s time to talk about the movie that perfectly bridges the gap between my two holiday loves. I am of course talking about The Nightmare Before Christmas.
You more than likely remember the story, but let’s refresh you in case you don’t. Jack Skellington (Chris Sarandon while speaking, Danny Elfman while singing) is the Pumpkin King, the main citizen of Halloween Town, a town that I would move to right now if I could. While he loves Halloween, he’s grown tired of the same thing every year, and yearns for something new to try. When he discovers doors leading to the other holidays, he finds himself enamored with Christmas Town. He decides that he’ll let “Sandy Claws” (Ed Ivory) take a break and do this new holiday himself, despite the pleadings of living rag doll Sally (Catherine O’Hara). Add in a heap of miscommunication and misunderstanding, the boisterously evil Oogie Boogie (Ken Page), and some songs, and chaos ensues.
What immediately sticks out watching the movie again is how fantastic it still looks. Tim Burton was on the end of a run that found him producing and/or directing Beetlejuice, the Michael Keaton Batman films, and Edward Scissorhands, so he had his aesthetic absolutely nailed down and perfected. Nightmare takes that dark, Gothic feel and uses the freedom of stop motion to put it into every inch of the characters and landscapes. There are so many unique background characters, it’s impossible to notice all of them in one sitting. My personal favorite is Behemoth, the hillbilly-type guy with the axe sticking out of his head. I will also never cease to be impressed by the amount of work that goes into stop motion animation: Shoot a still, move the figures just a hair, shoot another still, move the figures a little bit more—repeating over and over and over. The level of dedication and detail to make a movie like this is astounding. Director Henry Selick also does a phenomenal job shaping the story and moving it along briskly. At an hour and 15 minutes, the movie is a perfect length.
We can’t talk about The Nightmare Before Christmas without talking about the music either. Danny Elfman is one of the best composers working in Hollywood, and he really shines here. The eerie yet upbeat “This Is Halloween” will always be a staple of October, and slower songs like “Jack’s Lament” and “Sally’s Song” ooze with sadness and longing and are performed absolutely perfectly. “What’s This?” is a fanciful winter romp perfect to get you in the Christmas mood, and “Kidnap The Sandy Claws” races along with reckless abandon and manic energy. All that being said, my favorite might be the lurching, horn-fueled “Oogie Boogie’s Song.” Ken Page has such charisma in the performance that it’s impossible not to grin at how dastardly Oogie is.
And of course, there’s the lesson of The Nightmare Before Christmas: While there’s nothing wrong with celebrating another holiday or culture, trying to take it over without understanding the meaning and the roots behind it is insulting and ill-advised. This message strongly correlates with many cases of cultural appropriation still happening today, and is made even more interesting considering Burton’s recent, ugly remarks on casting in Hollywood.
All told, The Nightmare Before Christmas contains an important lesson while also being a fantastically whimsical look at the holiday season, full of memorable characters and great music. While Halloween is a little over a week away, you can safely watch The Nightmare Before Christmas for the next two months. We won’t hold it against you.