|Michael Jackson's Thriller|
"Michael Jackson's Thriller" title card.
|Directed by||John Landis|
|Produced by||George Folsey Jr.|
|Written by||John Landis
|Distributed by||Epic Records
|Release date(s)||December 2, 1983|
9 million units
Often referred to as the greatest music video ever, Thriller proved to have a profound effect on popular culture, and was named "a watershed moment for the [music] industry" for its unprecedented merging of filmmaking and music. Guinness World Records listed it in 2006 as the "most successful music video", selling over 9 million units. In 2009, the video was inducted into the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress, the first music video to ever receive this honor, for being “culturally, historically or aesthetically” significant and will be preserved for all time.
Co-starring with Jackson was former Playboy centerfold Ola Ray. The video was choreographed by Michael Peters (who had worked with the singer on his prior hit "Beat It"), and Michael Jackson. The video also contains incidental music by film music composer Elmer Bernstein, who had previously worked with Landis on An American Werewolf in London. The video (like the song) contains a spoken word performance by horror film veteran Vincent Price. Rick Baker assisted in prosthetics and makeup for the production. The red jacket that Jackson wore was designed by John Landis' wife Deborah Landis to make him appear more "virile".
Jackson, who at the time was a Jehovah's Witness, added a disclaimer to the start of the video, saying:
|“||Due to my strong personal convictions, I wish to stress that this film in no way endorses a belief in the occult.||”|
In a 1950s setting, a teenaged Michael and his female date (Ola Ray) run out of gas in a dark, wooded area. They walk off into the forest, and Michael asks her if she would like to go steady. She accepts and he gives her a ring. He warns her, however, that he is "different". A full moon appears, and Michael begins convulsing in agony – transforming into a horrifying cat-like werewolf. His date screams and runs away, but the werewolf catches up, knocking her down and begins lunging at her with his claws.
The scene then cuts to a movie theater where Michael and his date, along with a repulsed audience, are actually watching the scene unfold in a fictional Vincent Price movie titled "Thriller". Michael's date leaves the theater as Michael hands his popcorn to a stranger, catches up to her, and assures her that "It's only a movie". Some debate follows as to whether or not she was scared by the movie: she denies it, but Michael disagrees. They then walk down a foggy road as Michael teases her by singing the verses of "Thriller". They pass a nearby graveyard, in which the undead begin to rise out of their graves as Vincent Price performs his rap.
The zombies corner the two main characters threateningly, and suddenly, Michael becomes a zombie himself. The zombies then break into an elaborate song and dance number, followed by the main chorus of "Thriller" (during which Michael was reverted back to human form), frightening his date to the point where she runs for cover.
Michael (who was somehow turned back into a zombie) and his fellow corpses back the frightened girl into the corner of a nearby abandoned house. Michael then reaches for his date's throat as she lets out a bloodcurdling scream, only to awake and realize it was all a dream. Michael then offers to take her home, and she happily obliges. As they walk out of the house, Michael eerily looks at the camera, thus revealing his yellow cat-like werewolf eyes, as Vincent Price offers one last haunting laugh.
During the closing credits, a reprised scene of the zombies dancing is shown. At the end of the closing credits, a disclaimer appears, saying that "Any actual events or characters living, dead, (or undead) is purely coincidential": John Landis' An American Werewolf in London likewise offered this disclaimer. After this, the zombies then dance back into their graves, ending with one of them giving the audience a terrifying grimace as the scene fades to black.
In December 2009, it was selected for the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress along with 24 other films. It was the first ever music video to be selected. The Registry titled Thriller as “the most famous music video of all time”. The co-ordinator of the National Film Preservation Board, who decides upon candidates for inclusion in the National Film Registry, Steve Legett, said “The time is right” for Thriller to be included, because of the death of Jackson that year.
|1985||Best Video, Long Form||Winner||"Thriller"|
|1984||Best Video Album||Winner||Making Michael Jackson's Thriller|
|1999||100 Greatest Music Videos Ever Made||Winner|
|1984||Best Overall Performance in a Video||Winner|
|1984||Best Choreography (Michael Peters)||Winner|
Released in tandem with the video was an hour-long documentary providing candid glimpses behind the scenes of the production. Called Making Michael Jackson's Thriller, it, too, was shown heavily on MTV for a time and was the top-selling home-video release of all time at one point, with over 9 million copies sold. The VHS also included video clips from the songs Can You Feel It and Billie Jean, and audio clips from songs like Off the Wall.
MTV paid $250,000 for the exclusive rights to show the documentary; Showtime paid $300,000 for pay-cable rights; and Vestron Video reportedly plunked down an additional $500,000 to market the cassette, in "a profit participation."
The music video was filmed at the Palace Theatre in downtown Los Angeles, 701 Union Pacific Avenue in East Los Angeles and in the Angeleno Heights neighborhood at 1345 Carroll Avenue. Brief parts in the video show Estherwood as the setting at the Masters School in Dobbs Ferry, NY.
In an interview that aired December 11, 1999, for MTV's 100 Greatest Videos Ever Made, Jackson spoke about the making of the video:
My idea was to make this short film with conversation ... in the beginning - I like having a beginning and a middle and an ending, which would follow a story. I'm very much involved in complete making and creating of the piece. It has to be, you know, my soul. Usually, you know, it's an interpretation of the music.
It was a delicate thing to work on because I remember my original approach was, 'How do you make zombies and monsters dance without it being comical?' So I said, 'We have to do just the right kind of movement so it doesn't become something that you laugh at.' But it just has to take it to another level. So I got in a room with [choreographer] Michael Peters, and he and I together kind of imagined how these zombies move by making faces in the mirror. I used to come to rehearsal sometimes with monster makeup on, and I loved doing that. So he and I collaborated and we both choreographed the piece and I thought it should start like that kind of thing and go into this jazzy kind of step, you know. Kind of gruesome things like that, not too much ballet or whatever.
In 2009, Jackson sold the rights of "Thriller" to the Nederlander Organization, to stage a Broadway musical based on the video.
Ola Ray has also complained in the past about difficulties collecting royalties. At first, Ray blamed Jackson, but then apologized to him in 1997. However, Ray eventually sued Jackson on May 6, 2009 in a dispute to obtain uncollected royalties. Jackson died suddenly less than two months later on June 25.