Michael Jackson's Thriller (1983)

Author: Brett H. & G., JT Jeans
Submitted by: Brett H.   Date : 2009-07-02 02:46

Directed by: John Landis
Written by: John Landis & Michael Jackson
Starring: Michael Jackson, Ola Ray & Vincent Price

Reviewed by: Brett H., Brett G. & J.T. Jeans

“And grizzy ghouls from every tomb are closing in to seal your doom.
And though you fight to stay alive, your body starts to shiver.
For no mere mortal can resist the evil of the thriller!”

Thriller night begins as they all seemed to in the eighties; with a car running out of gas. Two young lovers head out on foot, express their feelings for one another and Michael (MJ) gives his girl (Ola Ray) a ring. They blush and everything is as sweet as cherries. Then, from behind a cloud, the moon glows full and lights the night. But, this full moon brings a little more out of this cat – literally, as the boy transforms into a snarling feline creature and begins chasing the former love of his life through foggy woods! Calm down, folks, it’s only a movie. Ghouls rise and zombies jive in this masterpiece of the music video, the best there is, the best there was, and the best there ever will be; Michael Jackson’s Thriller!

Without a doubt, Thriller is no joke. From the opening scene until the credits roll, whether it’s your first or fortieth time watching the short film, you know that you’re witnessing a spectacular event. To be honest, it’s nearly unimaginable that someone would not enjoy something about the revolutionary music video that perfected all stereotypes of eighties horror while classing things up with the poetic and velvet-lined narration of Vincent Price that fits, well, like a white glove. Combining tantalizing undead dance choreography, rotting zombies, top notch Rick Baker FX and one of the catchiest pop songs of all time with the foggiest, spookiest sets the decade had to offer, Thriller ponies up more thrills and chills than many full length horror films.

For good or bad, eighties nostalgia has always been a huge deal with people from my generation, but John Landis and Michael Jackson came together to create a nostalgia trip that is at the same time completely timeless. And, it’s not the first time Michael Jackson would receive recognition for works in the horror genre, as a single from early in his career was the title track for the 1972 film, Ben and was nominated for an Oscar. The Palace Theatre in the short is plastered with old Vincent Price film posters and also has a nod or two to director, John Landis, further perfecting its tongue-in-cheek atmosphere. As much as the short is an ode to the eighties (actually, it could have arguably set the trend in terms of visual appeal constant with flicks of the era), perhaps the most refreshing scene is the one leading up to the zombie dance where Vincent Price narrates a rhyming ‘rap’ with a horrifying, yet giddy tone that only he can do. As the only music video that I know of that created such a stir that it got its own VHS release, there’s no denying that Jackson will thrill you more than any ghost would dare to try. Essential! (Brett H.)

Even though the video for Thriller first aired a week before I was born and despite the fact that I didn't gain regular access to MTV a decade later, it was something of an institution nevertheless. It's hard to believe (or remember, depending on how old you are), but there was indeed a time when Michael Jackson wasn't the butt of so many jokes. Instead, it was quite the opposite--every kid (including the Feldog himself) wanted to wear the "Beat It" jacket and moonwalk. In addition, everyone certainly had seen Thriller and knew the dance. However, for a young horror aficionado like myself, there was an added level of interest, what with all the walking corpses and werewolf effects that looked classy enough to appear in any real horror film.

In retrospect, it's kind of interesting to see how Thriller brought together different generations of horror, as the video was directed by John Landis with makeup effects by Rick Baker, both of whom were coming off of the mega hit American Werewolf in London the year before. About midway through, the familiar voice of Vincent Price delivers a monologue that should bring a smile to any horror fan's face. As grounded in the 80s as the video is (and will always be), it also has a sort of timeless quality that extends across these generations. I also enjoy how Thriller boils the genre down to one of its essential qualities: its ability to thrill and chill audiences, as evidenced by the packed theater in the video. And, in the end, this is one thing Jackson excelled at: no matter how you might feel about the man personally, he had an innate ability to thrill an audience that will never be seen again. Thriller epitomizes this, and though it runs at a scant (but perhaps appropriate) 13 minutes, it's one of the most important horror touchstones in our culture. Essential! (Brett G.)

Growing up, I was not a particularly big Michael Jackson fan. Of course I was familiar with his work -- I was born in the early 80s for God's sake, I would have had to be oblivious not to see that the rest of the world was infatuated with him. By the early 1990s, that mass adoration began to soften, and that just happened to be the period in my adolescent life where I was really beginning to discover myself in a musical sense. I moved more in the direction of instrumental music and soundtracks, but there was one Jackson song that struck my fancy; one song that was always in the back of my mind, ticking away patiently, waiting to be heard between marathon bouts of Joseph LoDuca and John Williams. That song is, of course, Thriller.

It's hard to think of a music video/short film that has had as great an affect on pop culture as Thriller. What we're presented with is an almost perfect blend of pop music and classic horror cliché. It works to great effect. What Landis and Jackson created is as much a parody as it is a love letter to the horror films of both the fifties and eighties.

As a budding young horror enthusiast, I was wildly amused by the marriage of pop music and horror. And to be perfectly honest, I think anyone who can't enjoy Thriller takes the genre far too seriously. I mean, what's not to like? You got a talented director, an immensely gifted performer, locations and sets that ooze atmosphere, a classic "scary" score by Elmer Bernstein, a 'rap' by Vincent Price, a vicious werecat, a horde of tightly choreographed zombies, and dance moves that have seeded themselves so deeply into the pop culture lexicon that you still occasionally see them performed in animated shows and films.

Over the last couple of years, I've come to appreciate Michael Jackson more as an artist, and it's entirely to do with the affect Thriller had on me as a child. It introduced me to the world of pop music whilst simultaneously tickling my horror fan sensibilities. The details of Jackson's personal life have never much interested me, but it's a well documented fact that his career has been a veritable minefield of ups and downs, and while people are bound to remember him for a variety of reasons, I will remember him not as the King of Pop, but as the man who delivered one of the finest music videos ever produced.

If you've not seen Thriller, you ought to be ashamed. It's
Essential! (J.T. Jeans)

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