The Nightmare Before Christmas has been my single favorite cinematic work since its release in 1993. Sure, the storyline is a tad thin, Tim Burton gets far too much credit for it and generations of pasty, melodramatic children proudly wear the visage of Jack Skellington whether or not they've actually seen the damn film, but what's not to love about a whole world of stop motion monsters with an innocent love of spreading harmless terror throughout the land of mortals? Working from design sketches by a then-talented Burton, still-talented animator Henry Selick crafted dozens of freaky creeps both classic and original, populating the beautifully grey and ghostly Halloween Town with monsters of virtually every conceivable category, most of which are given at least one line in the introductory musical number - the most pure and honest song ever written about the Halloween season:
A lot has been said (and illustrated in compromising situations) on the internet when it comes to Nightmare's focal characters, and you all know I'm not a "focal characters" kind of fan anyway, so while I do appreciate Jack, Sally and my true hero Oogie Boogie, I'd like to do a quick top ten of my favorite minor Halloween Town monsters. With this list, I've shared my uninteresting opinions on over a hundred monsters this season! Hooray!
#10: The Ghosts
While we catch glimpses of other, more minor ghosts here and there, Halloween Town is home to three especially prominent poltergeists who never speak, but sing a haunting chorus for several of the films musical numbers. Often overlooked as characters, their hand-drawn animation gives them a very fluid, ethereal quality over the stop motion characters that's very fun to watch - if you never have before (which is quite surprising if you're reading this at all) at least check out the video above for these guys.
Who doesn't want to love this lumbering, oafish corpse? With an axe lodged in his brain, Behemoth does little more than stare dumbly forward, though his one notably spoken word, "bunny," is one of the funniest moments in the film; an observation he does not reach without some careful pondering.
#8: The Cyclops
This little guy is Halloween Town's sole representative of what we might call a "goblin," and well suited to the role with his toothy overbite, spindly anatomy and huge, bulging yellow eyeball. Like Behemoth, he has only one real line in the film, but "JELLIED BRAINS!" is a pretty good one to have.
#7: The Hydes
These weirdos have little if anything to do with the story of Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde; they're just a trio of green skinned, bug eyed, smartly dressed creepazoids nested in one another's top hats...or are they just a trio? We never see the third Hyde take his hat off. There could very well be hundreds of these guys.
#6: The Gatekeeper
One of the film's most obscure creatures, this neat little guy can be spotted only briefly in one or two rather busy scenes, operating some sort of booth at the Halloween town gate. I guess his job is to keep out Oogie Boogie, the only monster cruel enough to be banished from a community of imps and cadavers. All we can see of his face is that huge, crow-like beak...he could be a bird under that coat, but just as easily some kind of reptile or nondescript, beaked gremlin.
#5: The Man Under the Stairs
The Man Under the Stairs has a fascinatingly outlandish anatomy, representing the sort of indistinct terror a child imagines might clutch at them from behind a dark staircase. His fingers are individual snakes, he scoots his legless body around on a wheeled platform and spiders cling to his long, greasy black hair. His face also looks a great deal like one of the "sandworms" from Beetlejuice, except for the hair.
#4: The Harlequin Demon
Another abstract whatsit, Harlequin demon makes a wonderful all-purpose monstrosity with his stripey cranial tentacles, feathers, scales and awesome 360 degree mouth. He's nothing we've ever seen before, yet Halloween oozes from his every pore. One look at this guy, and Halloween ought to invade your subconscious as quickly as the sight of pumpkins and witches. He also gets a great bit in the song Making Christmas, where he sings about his hat-making skills!
#3: The Clown (with the Tear-away face)
This guy gets one of the most memorable moments in the intro song and may be one of the most bizarre and unique concepts in the cast. Monstrous clowns are certainly nothing new, but this one can rip off his face to reveal an empty, black void, horrifically shifting from a shrill, comedic voice to a deep, demonic growling in the process. Just what the hell is this guy, other than some abstract unliving embodiment of coulrophobia?
#2: The Hangman Tree
Definitely the largest monster in the film, Hangman Tree is both a walking, haunted tree and the animate skeletons of several hanging victims, never speaking in the film but singing one of the intro's coolest moments. I've always had a soft spot for spooky-faced Halloween trees, and it's nice to see them treated as actual characters rather than just ambient scenery.
#1: The Melting Man
By far my favorite design in the movie, Melting Man, also known as Decomposing Guy or even Puddinghead, is an enigmatic and largely taciturn humanoid whose slick, brown flesh is constantly dripping and oozing like hot wax, somehow never ruining his fancy little white suit. His three fingered hands, giant yellow eyeballs and incredibly small stature (only about waist high to Jack, who's not much taller than a normal human) make him distinctly nonhuman in origin, and I like how incredibly sticky he seems to be. His endless dribbling had to make him one of the toughest characters to animate, and I applaude Selick's crew for having the patience to execute it so smoothly in his brief appearances.
I'd have gladly accepted that crumbling turtle as a Christmas gift.
COMMENT BELOW! Have you seen the Nightmare Before Christmas? If not, what's wrong with you?