As a huge Michael Jackson fan, I know that all of his videos are very detailed and tell a story. But the true leader of the pact has to be the iconic, nearly 14 minute long, short film- Thriller.
Michael Jackson’s Thriller- A Film Muse
Although I was not born until the 90’s, this video was always a big deal around Halloween, I grew up listening to Michael Jackson. And I try to make sure to watch and listen to Thriller every Halloween season. It just puts you in the spirit.
MJ’s message at the beginning-
Color theme is pretty instant upon the reveal of the title- black and red- just like his iconic leather jacket.
Michael Jackson’s Thriller is a music video for the Michael Jackson song “Thriller” released on December 2, 1983. It was directed by John Landis and written by Landis and Jackson. It was MTV’s first world premiere video. Voted as the most influential pop music video of all time, Thriller proved to have a profound effect on popular culture, and was named “a watershed moment for the [music] industry” for its unprecedented merging of filmmaking and music. Guinness World Records listed it in 2006 as the “most successful music video”, selling over nine million copies. In 2009, the video was inducted into the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress, the first music video to ever receive this honor, for being “culturally, historically or aesthetically” significant. The track was also listed at number one on “The Top 10 Halloween Songs” by Billboard.
Co-starring with Jackson was former Playboy centerfold Ola Ray. The video was choreographed by Michael Peters (who had worked with the singer on his prior hit “Beat It”), and Jackson. Jackson contacted Landis after seeing his film An American Werewolf in London; make-up artist Rick Baker and composer Elmer Bernstein (who composed incidental music for the video) were also brought from the film to work on the video. The video (like the song) contains a spoken word performance by horror film veteran Vincent Price. “Thriller” was the third and final video for the Thriller album. The red jacket that Jackson wore was designed by Landis’ wife Deborah Landis to make him appear more “virile”. – All info Via Wikipedia.
Summary [If you live under a rock and have never seen this masterpiece…Watch Before Reading the spoilers below!]
In the 1950s, Michael Jackson and a young woman (Ola Ray) run out of gas while driving in a wooded area. They walk into the forest and Michael asks her to be his girlfriend. She accepts. Jackson warns her that he is “not like other guys”, transforms into a werewolf, and attacks her. In a modern-day movie theater, Michael and his girlfriend are watching the previous scene as part of horror film, Thriller. She leaves early, disturbed by the violence. As they walk in the street, Michael teases her by performing the verses of “Thriller”. In a graveyard, undead rise from their graves as Vincent Price narrates. The couple are surrounded and Michael becomes a zombie. He and the zombies dance to “Thriller”. Michael and the zombies chase his girlfriend into an abandoned house. She screams and wakes up, realizing it was a nightmare. Michael embraces her, but turns to the camera and grins, revealing his werewolf eyes. – Via Wikipedia
This video has everything. It has great music (that chorus! how can you NOT sing along), a killer dance break, a cool concept with a movie within a movie, dancing zombies, a werewolf transformation, young love, and that Vincent Price epic cackle at the end that will always give me chills…I mean what more can you ask for?
I love how they got the 50’s charcters to dress the part- the poodle skirt/letterman jacket/ and him asking her to go steady by giving her his ring. Then we see the 80’s inspired fashion in the current timeline. I love the red and blue hues in Jackson and Ray’s wardrobe. Blue hues are often used in horror. They match the spooky night sky and rolling fog, as they walk through the dewy streets while he serenades her. That whole sequence is probably my favorite because it’s cute and playful like something you’d see in a romantic comedy, and then
shit gets real in a minute. Excuse the language. 😉 Jackson’s character is funny and a jokester, but when he turns, he turns! And instantly you feel like your worst nightmares are coming true…like your starring in a horror movie yourself.
It has all the markings of a horror film, the carefully placed “scary movie” suspense music/sound effects, creatures closing in creating that claustrophobic feeling (those closeup shots are so good- they make you feel like you are right there in the film). And let’s not forget the overly dramatic actress, screaming. Ah- a true ode to horror. It is mentioned in the wiki research that they had specific horror films they used as inspiration through the creation of the short film- naming films like Phantom of the Opera, Night of the Living Night, and I Was A Teenage Werewolf.
That toe touch!
I love how you have to suspend reality and just trust the storyline. There is a bit of a confusion, because we are basically watching a movie within a movie. The way that this is set up is brilliant. You get a mini intro, a fake out, then cue the song’s intro as we pan onto the theatre sign, as the story continues. That shot of the movie theatre was done with a crane, I saw in the behind the scenes. Epic!
So in the beginning we see a young couple walking through the woods and then the guy turns into a werewolf, but it ends up being a movie Michael and his girl are watching. Are we to believe that the whole rest of the short film is the real deal? When Michael turns into a zombie and busts a move, only to later chase his girlfriend into an old house and be revealed as his regular self again, telling her, “What’s the problem? Come on, I’ll take you home,” like everything is fine. Did you see that lighting change/setting change though? #MovieMagic Making us think that the movie scared the wits out of her and is making her think all of these creepy creatures are real and chasing her. But then we get that turn back of Michael revealing his werewolf eyes accompanied by Vincent Price’s Laugh and you see that suspending reality is a beautiful thing and you just watched a masterpiece.
I love that ending, even if it confuses me. Haha. I guess it wasn’t all in her head.
Don’t get me wrong, there are some cheesy moments here and there. But like I teach my kids in my film class, these graphics were groundbreaking for that time in film and video. We grow and we get better. And effects improve through the years, but you have to start somewhere. And this was an EPIC start! Paved the way.
This video is iconic and still to this day inspires other artists to push the boundaries of music television and storytelling.
Behind the Scenes of Michael’s Werewolf & Zombie transformations, etc.
For more BTS information watch the hour long Documentary-
The Making of Michael Jackson’s Thriller
LISTEN TO THE AUDIO
READ MORE INFO ABOUT THE THRILLER VIDEO
FYI Jackson did venture into horror again, in his 1996 musical short film- GHOSTS (running 39 minutes). This too was granted a documentary- The Making Of. Although I can’t find concrete info as to how it was released in the US, I remember watching this on tv with my family when I was a kid. I feel like it was a big Halloween special. It is so creepy, but so damn good. I can’t find the full version on YouTube but I linked a shorter version. This is a whole other Film Muse in the making, maybe next Halloween. 😀
I’ll never understand how he could make a dance break scary?
Hats off, Michael. May you rest in peace.
*I do not take credit for any images/gifs/music/lyrics/videos/BTS footage used.*