Scott Hastie

My Favourite Horror Film: Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas

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Halloween is a time for sweets, shocks and scares. A time when the ghastly ghosts and ghouls come out to play and horror fills the air. During this time of year, trickers and treaters alike roam the lands either in search of a spine-chilling scare or just sweet, mouth-wateringly delicious candy. For some, Halloween is a time for sitting down and watching theme appropriate films to either satisfy your ghoulish needs or just to drown out the dressed up children asking for candy, I also spend my Halloween like this. There is nothing better, after all, than sitting indoors, devilish decor all around, radio blasting hauntingly good music and the TV portraying a demonic scene of some hellish, un-human creature to get you into the mood for a devil-may-care Halloween.

I’ve seen countless Halloween films over the years, and not a single one ever came close to the feeling of immense joy I got when viewing Tim Burton’s ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’. This Disney associated stop-motion animation was the highlight of my childhood; I would huddle up in the pitch blackness of my room with only the light of the television to accompany me as i sat pleasantly humming along to ‘This is Halloween, everybody make a scene, Trick or treat till the neighbours gonna die of fright’ (I guarantee you just read that in the songs tune, I know I did).

In 1982, writer Tim Burton, who was working as an animator at Walt Disney Feature Animations at the time, began writing a poem titled, you guessed it, ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’. Over the course of almost ten years, Burton regularly returned to ‘Nightmare’ adding to it often. In 1990, Burton and Walt Disney struck a production deal to produce the film adaptation of his poem. Although Disney produced the film with Burton, the film was released under the banner ‘Touchstone Pictures’ as Disney believed the film would be “Too dark, and scary for kids.” This, however, was not the case and after the films critical and commercial success, Disney reconsidered and the film was reissued by Walt Disney Pictures.

The film centres around Jack Skellington, the proclaimed ‘Pumpkin King’. After possibly the most memorable, absolutely classic toe-tapping opening sequence of all time, ‘This Is Halloween’, the film sees Jack wallowing away in self-pity as he realises that Halloween is the same every year and believes that it could be drastically improved. After wandering out of the village of ‘Halloween Town’ despondent, Jack ventures into the glum, gloomy woods to subject himself to the melancholy of the woodlands. After deviating from the trail, Jack uncovers the seven holiday doors, each representing a different holiday. Jack promptly becomes infatuated with the Christmas holiday door and hastily ventures to this unknown world. Becoming instantly obsessed with the idea of Christmas, Jack decides to kidnap Santa Clause and tweak the traditional Christmas traits to suit the needs of Halloween. From here-on-out, Jack goes from trying to save Halloween, to devastating Christmas inadvertently.

Danny Elfman, the voice of Jacks singing voice, created the score for the film to give it that creepy, dark vibe it desired, and it compliments the film impeccably. From the eerie sounds of the woodlands to the equally as creepy opening song, it combines well into the blend of general Halloween themes and the overall atmosphere of the film to give it that devilish touch of holiday horror. Elfman delivers an outstanding vocal performance in sung scenes. This film clearly brings out the best in his voice as you can feel the power go into his performance especially in his final scenes with Sally, his love interest:

[Singing]

Jack Skellington: My dearest friend, if you don’t mind… I’d like to join you by your side. Where we can gaze into the stars…

Jack + Sally: And sit together, now and forever. For it is plain, as anyone can see. We’re simply meant to be.

Elfman and Catherine O’Hara (The voice of Sally) combine their voices harmoniously to create a mellifluous sound that is guaranteed to send a chill down your spine. Both actors portray their characters sufficiently well with an immense amount of emotion going into their voices as if they actually were expressing their feelings to one another through song. This scene along with the rest of the films musical status is expressed wonderfully by all the actors, in particular Danny Elfman and Jack’s regular un-sung voice, Chris Sarandon, both portraying Jack as emotional and full of life. But it’s not just the superb voice acting that makes this film stand out above the rest, it is its stunning, spine-chilling visuals that create a dark, twisted fantasy that comes alive. So much so that I often view the landscape and become psychologically freaked out with its twisted grimy look and feel, as spirals consume the areas and create confusing states in my mind. I cannot imagine living a world that devoid of human life and being tied down and restricted by their tiny world, when you think about it, the world of ‘Nightmare’ is essentially just the one village and a vast wasteland of nothingness, the world is so minute and empty which the idea of is so horrifyingly eerie. To me, the more you view this as a living, breathing world and all its inhabitants as real, the scarier the concept becomes and that is what i love about this short hour-long film. Not only is the landscape beautifully terrifying, but the character animation and design is persistent as well. From the simplistic but efficiently scary Jack, a slender figure dressed in black and white with a stitch-like mouth to the nightmarish monstrous sack of maggots (Quite literally) named Oogie Boogie. Every character in this film, from Halloween Town to Christmas Town, has a horrifyingly brilliant  art style of a dark horror film. The fact that this film is made from figurines and animations makes the film seem even more hellish and nightmare worthy, as in the real world, we do not see things like this, the creatures are straight out of somebody’s twisted idea of a Halloween world… and it is possibly the most influential part, to me at least, about Halloween.

The film isn’t just a success in my eyes, clearly the public agrees with me as the film earned $8,212,477 in its opening weekend and $75,082,668 in its lifetime. It was also the number one ranked film in the second and third week of its release in October 1993. This cult classic is well deserving of its beloved status as it still manages entertain me and many others year after year even after 22 years since its initial release, and even after these 22 years it shows no sign of letting up and losing its influence to Halloween and its beloved holiday. In fact, this film has been re-issued time upon time for years as consumers love it, year in year out.

So, as Halloween once again comes within our skeletal grasp, it is time once more to shut yourselves indoors, drown out the screaming children wanting candy and enjoy the psychological bliss that is ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’.

Happy Halloween to all, and to all a good fright.

Words by Callum-James Parkin

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