The 13-minute-long music video for Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” premiered on MTV on December 2, 1983, and frankly, music videos haven’t been the same since. This video is often cited as one of the reasons why the music video format is now being taken seriously by the entertainment industry. Why? The massive success of the “Thriller” video proved that the format was an invaluable marketing tool and an art form in its own right.

Taking into account some of the specifics, the video itself cost around $900,000 to make – an unheard of amount of money for music videos at the time. And on top of that, the plot of the video came to life largely because Jackson “wanted to turn into a monster, just for fun,” as director John Landis explained in a 2010 interview.

So what made this music video so monumental? Let’s find out. Unless, of course, you are afraid of some monsters…

Pre-production for “Thriller”.

Michael Jackson released “Thriller” as the fourth single on the album of the same name in 1982 through Epic Records. The album became Jackson’s first number one in the US Billboard Chart of LPs and Mainstream Cassettes (now Billboard 200), and featured other hits such as “Billie Jean” and “Beat It”. But with the release of new music – as inevitably happens – the album slipped from the number one position.

Walter Yetnikoff, a CBS Records executive at the time, recalls that Jackson was upset by his dethronement. Jackson was so consumed by the success of his music that Yetikoff remembers receiving calls from the star late into the evening and into the early hours of the morning. “Walter, the record is no longer No. 1,” Yetnikoff recalled Jackson saying. “What are we going to do about it?”

“We’ll go to sleep and deal with it tomorrow,” replied Yetnikoff.

“He enjoyed being in charge,” confirmed Larry Stessel, an Epic Records executive. “He enjoyed it. He didn’t like it when it was over.”

Thus, Frank DiLeo (head of promotion at Epic Records) came up with the idea of ​​making a video for “Thriller”. He told Jackson: “It’s simple – all you have to do is dance, sing and make it scary.”

With the wheels turning, Jackson hired Landis to direct the music video after seeing Landis’ 1981 film, An American Werewolf in London. Makeup artist Rick Baker was responsible for turning Jackson into a cat, and Landis’ wife Deborah Nadoolman designed the costumes, including Jackson’s iconic red jacket. (Side note: Nadoolman had previously worked on film Raiders of the Lost Ark.) Choreographer Michael Peters was hired again after he choreographed Jackson’s “Beat It” music video.

And, of course, the female lead in the music video is Ola Ray, a model and former Playboy Playmate.

Hair details and dance number.

The video itself has two lines. The opening scenes show Jackson and Ray engaged in a conversation set in the 1950s. In the scene, Jackson asks Ray to be his girlfriend, she accepts, and then Jackson confesses that he’s “not like other guys.” Spoiler alert: He’s a cat!

Then, returning to the 80s, viewers see Jackson and Ray again. This time, however, they are in the cinema watching the first scene play. Ray gets scared by the horror movie and leaves the theater. Jackson follows Ray and soon they are surrounded by zombies. You probably know the rest, and if not, you can check it out below.

Now, getting more granular, some props and stylistic choices were included as nods to popular horror films. Allusions to Wolf Man (1941), House of Wax (1953), The Mad Wizard (1954), Mask of the Red Death (1964), glow (1980), and several other horror films can be discovered on video.

Moreover, the dance number of the music video is quite legendary. In a 1999 interview with MTV, the singer explained the genesis of the dance number. “Usually, you know, it’s a performance of music. It was a delicate thing to work on because I remember my original approach was, ‘How do you make zombies and monsters jump without being comical?’ So I said, ‘We have to make the right kind of move so it doesn’t become something you laugh at.’ But it just has to take it to the next level,” Jackson said.

“So I got into a room with Michael Peters, and he and I together imagined how these zombies move by making faces in the mirror. I used to come to rehearsals sometimes with monster makeup and I loved doing that. So he and I collaborated and we both choreographed the piece and I thought it should start like this and go into this kind of jazzy step, you know. Such terrible things, not much ballet or whatever,” he concluded.

What happens to the negation at the beginning and at the end?

You’ve probably noticed the strange disclaimers that end the video.

At the outset: “Due to my strong personal convictions, I would like to point out that this film in no way endorses belief in the occult. Michael Jackson.”

At the end: “All characters and events in this film are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual events or persons living, dead, (or undead) is purely coincidental.”

These denials, especially the one at the beginning, were a result of Jackson’s beliefs at the time. During filming, Jackson was still a Jehovah’s Witness, as had been his mother. (He would later break with the Jehovah’s Witnesses in 1987.) So, in order to remain in good standing with the Witnesses, the disclaimer was Jackson’s attempt to assure them that he was not promoting “demonology.”

Terrible, huh?

Photo courtesy of Epic Records

By admin

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *