Sally’s Piece: A Christmas Ode to the Queen of Halloween

Welcome to the Women in Horror column. Every Wednesday, we highlight the work of women in the horror genre.

The blue tinge of her pale skin reflects the moonlight. Her humanoid ragdoll appearance and inquisitive eyes are an illustration of thoughtful details developed into a memorable character. In all of Halloweentown, she is a shining aura illuminating the darkness. Sally – played by none other than the iconic, the enigmatic Catherine O’Hara – is one of the best animated movie creations to ever grace the Hollywood screen.

There is no doubting the pop culture impact of The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993.) It was… shall we say… a ‘cultural reset’. It was so in the most real sense. The film’s characters and stories were produced by Tim Burton and brought to life by Henry Selick in his directorial debut. It defined an era by catapulting the 2000’s emo-rock phase, reigniting the wonder and interest in stop-motion movies, and reinventing Disney’s theme parks, from Halloween to Christmas as we currently know them.

In the early 2000’s, many rock bands began to emerge into mainstream media. The likes of My Chemical Romance, Green Day, Blink 182, and Fall Out Boy defined a time in the lives of many millennials. They also set a pathway that many other bands would, soon after, take into the same light of recognition. At the same time, The Nightmare Before Christmas was released, initially in 1993 and then again for every year from 2006 to 2009. This perfect cocktail of complimenting aesthetics gave a boost to what we now think of when we hear Hot Topic. With its exclusive deal with Disney, Hot Topic carries a never ending, permanent stock of The Nightmare Before Christmas merchandise to this very day. At your local Spirit Halloween store, there’s always a reserved spot for Jack and Sally costumes and Lock, Shock, and Barrel masks. Disney parks have dedicated the fall and holiday seasons to this film. There have even been art galleries dedicated to the magnificence of this iconic story.

A movie still from the animated film Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) of character Sally smiling down at something.
Image courtesy of Touchstone and Walt Disney Pictures

Here at the Women in Horror column of Flip Screen, we honor all of the women of the horror genre. The Nightmare Before Christmas is an animated Halloween film with children’s nightmares inspiring its characters, thus making Sally a woman in horror. She literally lives in a world that thrives off of terror. But one could argue that The Nightmare Before Christmas is also a Christmas movie. It captures the whimsical nature and themes of the holiday so perfectly, so it makes sense. Christmas is just as much a part of this film as is Halloween, so what a perfect film to talk about in December’s piece of this column.

We all know the tale of Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King, and his existential holiday crisis. His search for new meaning in life comes with catchy tunes and beautiful design. It truly is a heart-warming tale for everyone to enjoy. But beyond that, the real heart of this story – the “rosebud” – is not Jack. No, the muse of this story is Sally. She lurks in the background in Jack’s world, but she stands front and center in ours. From Sally cosplay to collector’s figurines, this character has been deeply embedded into the very fabric of today’s culture, and she’s not going anywhere any time soon.
Sally is the dear friend of Jack, and the only one who isn’t a ‘yes man’ to his every whim. She is also the only one who understands Jack’s inner struggle throughout the film. Sally is the only force of logic throughout the film, and she’s widely ignored by everyone in her life. But we hear her. Her ballad, Sally’s Song, is a serene and sorrowful introduction to this intuitive character full of depth. Her longing for Jack is pushed aside by his own needs and her inability to express herself to him. Still, she remains the most thoughtful character of the film – consistently trying to help her friend and also save him from himself. In the end, her love is returned by Jack, and you as the audience can’t help but rejoice in her victory.

If her character design, personality and story aren’t enough to make you love her, there is also the fact that she is played by none other than Catherine O’Hara. Until recently, she was an unsung icon of Hollywood. Those in ‘the know’ – who spent their entire childhood forming their personality on liking movies like Beetlejuice (1988) – have always known of the superstar that is Catherine O’Hara. However, with her role as Moira Rose in the show Schitt’s Creek, many others are coming into the light. O’Hara sings the vocals of Sally’s Song herself. She is the very force that brings Sally to life. And it could have only been done by someone as brilliant as her.

For young children and adults alike, Sally is a beloved character. She is the kind that you grow up with adoring and cherishing deeply into adulthood. I mean we all have that obsession that follows us throughout our lives, like Hermione Granger or Twilight; it’s just something you never let go of. It becomes a part of who you are without you even realizing it. And then every year you spend two major holidays dedicating time to this character of a movie you watched when you were a kid. The Queen of Halloween who also rules Christmas – there will never be another like Sally.