Now Playing! A Critic and the Castro Count Down to Holiday Time

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Still from 'The Nightmare Before Christmas,' 1993.

In the fall of 1993, while I was covering the New York Film Festival and crashing at my cousin’s tiny ground-floor studio apartment, I wrangled an invitation to a press junket. The movie in question had some buzz because a then-hip Tim Burton had written the seasonal story. But I was interested because, in a nondescript studio south of Market, a brilliant animator named Henry Selick had spent many, many months painstakingly directing the stop-motion feature, entitled The Nightmare Before Christmas.

I recollect absolutely nothing about the junket—I have the vaguest recollection of interviewing Selick, but it might have been in San Francisco, at another time—except the swag. A publicist gave me a colorful plastic Nightmare Before Christmas wristwatch, which I went slightly bonkers over. (Let’s just say I was relatively new to the game, and studio merch was a very big thrill.)

That evening, I proudly showed off the rare and precious timepiece to my cousin, exulting in an inevitably, incalculably valuable collectible. Indeed, I cradled the slender box and declared it a family heirloom heading straight to my toddling niece’s safe deposit box.

Minutes, perhaps seconds, later, my cousin exploded into laughter. A Burger King TV commercial was hawking Nightmare Before Christmas watches—the very same plastic thingy I’d been clutching to my breast—for $1.99 with the purchase of a kid’s meal.

Chuckle if you will, and my cousin still does, but I got the last laugh: That pristine, beautiful watch (which has resided in the top drawer of my armoire for lo, these many years) sells online for—ah, never mind.

The Nightmare Before Christmas, a twisted, sinister delight for children and grownups alike, screens Saturday, Dec. 21 at 3 and 7pm at the Castro in a big-screen bonanza of beloved Christmas movies. The mini-roundup wraps Sunday with three screenings of the recently restored Frank Capra gem, It’s a Wonderful Life. See ’em both with someone you’d give a watch to.