It’s Monday, October 28, and that means it’s time for one last foray into Halloween-appropriate music videos. The month seems to have just flown by. We’ve had some videos inspired by Halloween itself, some inspired by spooky concepts, and one inspired by a movie series. For the last Monday Music Video of Halloween 2013, it’s time for a video that’s a short film in and of itself.
Chances are, you all knew it was coming. Here’s Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”.
“Thriller” comes off of the Michael Jackson album of the same title, where it’s a six-minute track. The video is a little more than twice that in length. It was conceived as a short film by Jackson, who wanted to make a video to put Thriller back on top of the album charts. He recruited John Landis to direct the video, and the two set about writing a short story around the song. Michael Jackson escorts his date (Ola Ray) home from a scary movie, all the while teasing her about being scared by it by singing the lyrics to “Thriller”. Just the verses — the song is remixed for the video, so the chorus is left out until the very end. The movie, incidentally, is billed as a Vincent Price film, and posters for real Price films — including House of Wax and The Mad Magician — line the theatre lobby. Appropriate, since Vincent Price provides the “rap” in the song, which is more of a dramatic speech. The theatre lobby also contains a poster for John Landis’s own comedic horror film, Schlock.
That Jackson and Landis viewed Michael Jackson’s Thriller — the video’s official title — as a short film and not just a mere music video is apparent at every stage. The story may be simplistic — at 13 minutes, minus dancing interludes, how could it not be? — but it does tell a story. The makeup effects, both for the werewolf and the zombies, are as good as any major film production from the era. And just to show how serious they were about it being a film, not only did they give it film-style credits at the end, they even released it theatrically in Los Angeles in front of the 1983 re-release of Fantasia in hope of gaining an Academy Award nomination for short subject. That hope did not come to fruition, but it would be about the only area in which the video’s aspirations fell short.
The video did, as intended, put the album Thriller back at #1, along with the single. The video itself had its fair share of accolades. At the Grammys, it won both Best Video: Long Form, and Best Video Album. At the inaugural MTV Video Music Awards in 1984, it was nominated for six categories, and won three, including Best Choreography, Best Overall Performance, and the Viewer’s Choice Award (its other nominations were for Best Male Performance, Best Concept Video, and Video of the Year). It has topped both MTV and VH1’s lists of the greatest videos of all time, as well as MTV’s list of the greatest videos of the 1980s. And, finally getting that justification of its status as a short film, it was inducted into the Library of Congress’s National Film Registry in 2009. It was the first — and so far only — music video to receive that honor.
It’s also had a pretty long run in pop culture. It gets spoofed or paid homage to frequently in various comedic horror works, including a video pastiche by Dreamworks’ Shrek. And of course, it’s a staple at Halloween parties, haunted houses, and — naturally — Halloween commercial advertising (I think Party City’s been using it for ten years running…) It remains one of Michael Jackson’s best known songs, as well as one of the best known macabre songs and videos.
Even when you bury it, you can’t keep a good song down….