Almost nineteen years ago, the ideal fall-holiday animated film first opened: The Nightmare Before Christmas, directed by stop-motion master Henry Selick and produced by Tim Burton, possessor of one of the best-known imaginations of our time. Over a decade before that, in 1982, Burton wrote a poem of the same name, telling essentially the same story as would the film. Working at the time as an animator at Disney, he managed to catch his employer’s attention by turning these verses into concept art, storyboards, and character models for adaptation into a potential half-hour television special featuring Vincent Price. But the world, much less Disney, didn’t yet seem ready for the Burtonian sensibility, much less the particular note of jolly grimness struck by The Nightmare Before Christmas. Years would pass, both in terms of getting the project into the right hands and in terms of the painstaking production itself, before we could enjoy Jack Skellington’s accidental journey into Christmas Town and his well-meaning but ill-fated attempt to take that holiday for himself.
But when we got to enjoy it, boy, did we ever enjoy it: in its nearly two decades of existence, The Nightmare Christmas has, with its distinctive intricate dark-yet-light aesthetics, askew humor, and surprising intelligence, spawned a vast international subculture of enthusiasts. But you can still experience the core of everything the film is, and everything it has become in the zeitgeist, in Burton’s original poem. So why not also see it animated and read aloud by Christopher Lee, as you can in the video above? “It was late one fall in Halloween Land, and the air had quite a chill,” the horror veteran intones. “Against the moon a skeleton sat, alone upon a hill.” Nightmare Before Christmas fans know where this is going, but they’ll still want to hear the rest; though clearly the direct source of so much in their beloved movie, the poem looks on Skellington and his misadventures from a few angles they wouldn’t quite expect.