The Nightmare Before Christmas is a holiday classic. But which holiday? The stop-motion musical conceived by Tim Burton and brought to life by Henry Selick has baffled genre fans for years, because no one is sure what genre it is. Is it best-suited to leaven Halloween slasher-movie marathons? Or is it better for bringing a dash of the macabre to the sugary glint of Christmas?
This weekend Colorado’s oldest horror film festival, the Telluride Horror Show, featured The Nightmare Before Christmas director Henry Selick for a screening of the film followed by a Q&A. The last question, asked by a little girl, wasted no time: “Is this a Christmas movie or a Halloween movie?”
Selick settled the matter: “It’s a Halloween movie.”
“[Henry Selick] acknowledged that a lot of people liked the Christmas Town stuff waaaaay better than the Halloween Town (“They love Santa and say he’s all-powerful,” he said), but he had to tell the truth: this is a movie about Halloween, and the people of Halloween, and how they react to something like Christmas.”
I agree! Here are three reasons why he’s right.
1.) It’s all about the characters.
Look no further than the characters for this answer. They are of the Halloween world, thrown in to Christmas, but you could substitute Christmas for any other holiday and get the same result. New Year’s? Reconciliation and new beginnings. Easter? Reconciliation and new beginnings. 4th of July? There’s probably a lot of reconciliation for shooting fireworks and new beginnings in an emergency room.
Nightmare Before Christmas is ultimately about Halloween characters in a Halloween world trying something new for a change.
2.) “This Is Halloween” > “Making Christmas”
Just look at how fans treat Nightmare Before Christmas. The film’s soundtrack populates Halloween party playlists everywhere, but good luck playing it at your next ugly sweater bash.
3.) It was released on October 23, 1993.
Doesn’t get any more clear. Of course you’re free to watch The Nightmare Before Christmas on Christmas, alongside such other offbeat Christmas-ish classics like Die Hard and Life of Brian. The pro-Christmas camp has sound arguments. But you could also watch it on Valentine’s Day or St. Patrick’s Day or next Tuesday. Just don’t forget what kind of film the movie’s own director intended to make.