Michael Jackson's "Thriller", that about fourteen minute music video with the pop icon in red leather get-up, a werewolf, zombies, and a frightened young woman who looked eerily like one of my mother's closest friends at the time all managed to successfully scare the hell out of me. After watching it for the first time not too long after its release, I immediately became cautious before turning every dark corner and made sure my nightlight bulb was fresh. I even imagined I could watch it during the day time and the imagery would lose its effect. So I did. That was a joke.
|...because this image chills me to this very day.|
During this time, Michael was naturally establishing himself as arguably, the biggest entertainer ever. His Motown 25 performance was a repeat guest on the living room television screen when my mom's friends stopped by to see the VHS-dubbed copy, or just when the babysitter wasn't busy wearing out our copy of Krush Groove. I loved Michael because he was a chameleon. He consistently used his platform to make music an experience that would burn in your memory infinitely.
|Michael along with Jones (left) |
in the recording studio.
With an open mind and desire to see his art stretched in many forms, Michael secured the talents of director John Landis and creature creator legend Rick Baker. Michael had seen Landis and Baker's collaborative effort, An American Werewolf in London (1981) and wanted to simply, "become a monster". The approach to "Thriller" from the creator's standpoint wasn't extremely profound. It was a video created to entertain and show off in the most humbling of ways. Every element has been seen in film before. The uniqueness arguably is from the collaboration of the decision makers. Michael was intricate to the creative process and ultimately what you see was his vision, right down to the way he and choreographer Michael Peters imagined how zombies would move and contort their faces.
|Jackson in full makeup along with Landis (left)|
Michael talked fondly about working with Baker during this time, calling his professional studio "a museum of horror" with awe. He was clearly in good hands; Baker has been crafting characters and frightening neighborhood parents before he even made it to junior high school. His very long list of effects work in the entertainment industry dates back to Larry Cohen's 1972 comedy Bone.
|Application with Baker (right)|
On December 2, 1983, "Thriller" premiered on MTV, making the network "a new cultural force" by dissolving its highly critiqued discriminatory music rotation. "Thriller" was instrumental in propelling "The Making Of..." programming, VHS sales, and video rentals into a viable revenue-generating market for an ever growing mediated society. Essentially, the music video transformed the music video itself into big business.
Aside from its industry dent, "Thriller" has been a longstanding pop culture epidemic. The "zombie dance" itself has been taken on by millions, and as many of 13,597 at one time in one place in Mexico City in August 2009. All the way down to a dozen of my high school peers in a Halloween competition back in 1996. Whatever the case for interpreting quite a audio/visual convergence, "Thriller" went on to inspire college courses, dozens of YouTube, pop culture parodies and give millions an entertaining "boo".
And of course, went on to break all kinds of records in awards, Billboard charts, and many other accolades that led very easily to crowning Michael, the King of Pop. For horror fans, this was somewhat of a treat. Even if you're not crazy about the song, deep reverence belongs to the visual effects that went on to haunt many of us well into adulthood. As an adult, there's something eerily identifiable about this trembling confession:
Coming full circle, it's an essential declaration I hold with my own bit of fragility and simultaneously, strength. This painful process of transformation, becoming something terrifying powerful is such a beautifully open-ended metaphor that I feel it speaks to the human condition navigating life itself.
"Thriller" is a relic that'll always remind me of my horror roots.
*Additional information provided by the LA Times, Rolling Stone & The Guardian