Monday, March 10, 2008


With Michael Jackson's 1983 album THRILLER being such a runaway success, it's only fitting that the accompanying music video would be a spectacle on an equally grand scale. A thirteen-minute mini-blockbuster film directed by John Landis with Rick Baker makeup, THRILLER used the relatively new medium of the music video and became a pop culture phenomenon in its own right; it remains the only video to not only spawn a feature-length making-of documentary but its own hardcore knock-off as well (1984's DRILLER--substituting zombies gangbanging porn princess Taija Rae for its finale).

Unlike most videos, which are usually just a vehicle for the track and exists as a visual compliment, "Thriller" the song nearly gets overshadowed by Landis's presentation, taking up roughly a third of the running time (I also found it strange that Landis had Jackson perform the bulk of the lyrics in a static tracking shot) before being tied to the video's storyline in its iconic zombie-dance climax. (I know a lot of horror fans took umbrage at Landis for using the living dead in such a fashion, but I thought it was more an homage to the great fright classics rather than a mockery.) Ultimately, the video concedes to its source material, as its throughline allows some pretty big plot holes. Some of them are interesting, like Jackson in a theater watching himself in the film-within-a-film (an easy segue, or a comment on Jackson's ascension to superstardom?). But as someone who enjoys horror/zombie films, I can't help but be disappointed by the ending, in which Jackson's date is beseiged by the undead--a well-executed sequence that would've been the highlight of an ordinary film--only to be cut short by Jackson's sudden return to normalcy. (Note: the only thing more annoying than an it-was-all-a-dream ending is an it-was-all-a-dream ending in which no one was dreaming.)

Sadly, parts of THRILLER have not aged well, most notably the prologue which shows a young Jackson (before he became a version of the living dead himself) on a romantic evening with a woman. Given the recent allegations of Jackson's love life, it's easy to get a cheap laugh out of this sequence, but the real discomfort comes when he confesses, "I'm not like the other guys. I'm different." Whether or not the werecat he then transforms into stands as some type of metaphor, I have no idea.

Still, THRILLER has its moments, from a "Beat It"-inspired zombie crawling from a manhole to Vincent Price as the Rap (it's too bad he couldn't have found his way on the set). Though the scariest part for me remains that the album (easily the most-played record my third-grade year) is twenty-five years old.

(Since Jackson disabled the embedding of his videos on YouTube, I've included the Indian version which is far, far more entertaining.)

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