Festive Frights: This Is Halloween
We all know Halloween is a horror fan's biggest holiday, but Christmas is a close second. Welcome to our celebration of yuletide fueled terror, our 12 Days of Festive Frights.
I was born in the 80's but I am by no means an eighties baby. Coming into the world at the tail end of '88, I am a nineties kid through and through, a true blue millennial on the cusp of thirty. I would say that anyone around my age, with a breadth of five years on either margin, will know exactly what I mean when I bring up The Nightmare Before Christmas fatigue. Tim Burton and Henry Selick's dual holiday masterpiece dropped in 1993 but it wasn't until a decade later that it really came into it's own.
By coming into it's own, of course, I mean that it became the one of the most massively oversaturated films of all time because of a little store called Hot Topic. Most of you know what Hot Topic is but for those who don't, it's a mall staple that has always focused on all of the cult classic love affairs that tweens, teens and young adults have always been attached to. When I was ten years old, pre-high speed internet, the only place I could buy a retro video game shirt or DBZ button up was Hot Topic and now it regularly carries all sorts of nineties throwback gear and anything that is part of the cultural flash in a pan pop culture fervor. *Cough*Riverdale*Cough*.
If you were in high school in the 2000's, pretty much at all, you'll know exactly what I mean when I say that The Nightmare Before Christmas was everywhere. It went from being the movie that we all loved as kids to being on every tee shirt, baseball hat, backpack, keychain, etc. If you could wear it, Jack or Sally or Lock, Shock and Barrell's face was on it. Soon it became the adolescent cult classic of the nineties, fitting neatly in line behind The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth, but finding itself as the animated representation of the angsty Myspace generation. So it's understandable that a lot of people burnt out just a little bit.
Well, I'm here to tell you it's time to go back.
The Nightmare Before Christmas is a film that needs to, and deserves to be, celebrated and enjoyed. If Hot Topic fatigue has laid into you, or perhaps the even more severe Burton exhaustion, let's lay out why you need to really revisit the movie and remember why you fell in love with it in the first place. Let's kick things off with the fact that the duality of the holidays represented in the movie makes it something that can be viewed during either (or in my case) both circumstances. Very few films can truly apply to both of the holidays that horror fans love to revel in, especially at the level of depth that Nightmare excels in. Gremlins, Black Christmas, and the handful of yuletide terrors are all a blast and embrace that gift-wrapping season with open arms, but Nightmare is a movie that is smart enough to wrap both holidays unto themselves. They are intertwined in the DNA of the film, representing Halloween hand in hand with Christmas.
Next, let's remember why we all fell in love with it in the first place. It's a beautiful and intriguing gateway horror movie that also appeals to older generations and fans. As a child, the movie is dark and has some frightening moments (that clown with a tear-away face is no joke) but it has enough levity to make things interesting rather than terrifying. Sure, these creatures may look scary but they're singing, they're dancing, they're playing trumpet on the side of the street and the kids are playing games through town. It's a smart balance of humor and the macabre, a perfect example being the booming Oogie Boogie Man, a strange and scary entity that juxtaposes the scare factor with a penchant for Vegas style jazz lines. Plus, how damn cute is Zero?
What really drives this home though is former Oingo Boingo frontman Danny Elfman. The eighties lead singer turned composer creates one of the most well rounded and front to back memorable soundtracks, lending his own voice to our Pumpkin King Jack, with haunting or festive interludes in-between. The movie throws us into the world with the introductory "This Is Halloween," a clever intro song that introduces us to the world while giving us a peek what we are in store for, not to mention that we get an incredible show to go along with the tunes. "Jack's Lament" is a beautiful soliloquy that embraces the range of Elfmans voice to give depth to a literal skeleton of a man. "Kidnap the Sandy Claws" and "What's This" are festive romps that allow us blend genres by simply singing along.
Also, if it's just the simple fact that the name Burton is stamped all over this project, remember how little he actually had to do with the project. Yes, these characters were obviously designed by the German expressionist lover, but a slew of other incredibly creative and talented people were involved. The film was written by Caroline Thompson, who helped write other nineties classics such as Homeward Bound and fellow genre affair The Addams Family. While Burton created the loose framework of the story, the meat of it was adapted by Michael McDowell, the genius who wrote Beetlejuice. Even behind the camera, Burton was only listed as a producer, as Henry Selick was the man calling the shots. Selick is no slouch, going on to direct other stop-motion tour-de-force's Coraline and James and the Giant Peach, and working alongside other auteur Wes Anderson. We're talking about a truly stacked crew.
What this boils down to is just forcing yourself to watch the movie again. Truly watch it. Put your phone down, force down the instinctive urge to pass it over yet again, and go in again with wide eyes. I can promise you'll fall back in love. You'll see those little nods to horror of years past, enjoy the careful balance of scary and jolly, pick out the characters that you'll love. It's a story about wonder and damn it, don't we all just need that little bit of wonderful again?