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Tim Burton is too scary

Illustration: Thayer Sindelar · The Sentry

Claymation is more frightening than fun

While there are a lot of ways to get spooky, like going to haunted houses, corn mazes, or performing a good old-fashioned seance in a graveyard, the best Halloween tradition involves cuddling up to watch a scary movie. And no one does scary like Tim Burton.

No one can deny that Burton’s resume is vastly impressive. From whimsical and visual stunning films, such as the Alice in Wonderland franchise, to award winners, such as Big Eyes, Burton has created something for everybody in his horror repertoire. 

His most recognizable films, however, fall into a category that’s somewhere between horror and just plain creepy. Claymation—a method of animation in which clay figures are filmed using stop-motion photography—is a visually horrifying style of filmmaking.

Burton has been the driving force in making Claymation style animation and has inspired several other directors, most notably Henry Selick, who directed the Burton-written classic The Nightmare Before Christmas and Coraline. Others include Gil Kenan, director of ParaNorman, and Christ Butler and Sam Fell, directors of Monster House. And while people marvel at the intricacies and art behind Claymation, in reality it’s just frightening. 

The biggest irony of all this is that these films are targeted at children and no way are these movies suitable for children. There was an entire song in The Nightmare Before Christmas about murdering Santa Clause sung by three sociopathic children. The movie also features a mayor with two faces, one joyful and happy, the other evil and angry—stretched into a demented and disfigured smile. And the Oogie Boogie Man? Single handedly the most horrifying bag person ever to be created for the screen.

The jerk of the characters’ movements, the pale, skeletal thinness of their limbs and their big eyes, followed by the repetitive dark coloring of each frame and distorted gray landscapes, is off-putting. But Claymation isn’t the jump scare kind of fear most commonly associated with horror movies. No, it’s the slight unease in the pit of the viewer’s belly when the opening credits fade out and the spooky clay characters make their appearance to sing a song or die or something.

Even so, some of Burton’s other notable Claymations, like Corpse Bride and Frankenweenie, both deal heavily with the concept of death. And while it’s great that children’s films can address such adult concepts and still make it relatable to kids, it’s still creepy as hell. Sorry, but kids who want to watch a child made of clay sew up his dead clay dog are future sociopaths.

So, while it’s true that the modern Halloween aesthetic wouldn’t be the same without Burton’s cult classic films, it doesn’t change the fact that they are some of the creepiest and most unsettling films ever made.

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