It’s hard to calculate the impact of Nightmare, except to note that most of the other films on this list would never have been made if it had failed. What was unique wasn’t so much the characters (clearly macabre creations from the mind of the Beetlejuice director) or the plot (which owes a clear debt to those old Rankin-Bass Christmas specials) but the physicality of this strange new world, created in Henry Selick’s San Francisco studio. We’d seen creatures like these before in Ray Harryhausen effects sequences — essentially, posable action figures built over wire-frame skeletons, but never comprising a whole movie, or capable of displaying so many different moving muscles or facial expressions.
Their movements weren’t seamless, but that stiff, strobing effect only served to make them seem more old-school spooky, a la Edward Gorey drawings. The story of Jack Skellington, the bored mayor of Halloweentown who misguidedly takes over Christmas, is a typical Burton fable about a misunderstood artist, but it’s clear that he and Selick were both hitting early creative peaks here.
Next Chicken Run