The evil of... the thriller.
"Michael Jackson's Thriller" is a longform music video directed by John Landis for the Title Track of Michael Jackson's 1982 album Thriller. One of the earliest music videos to blur the line between Hollywood cinema and typical pop music clips, it premiered on MTV on December 2, 1983.
The video came about simply as a way to boost the Thriller album, which was nearly a year out from its original release in November 1982 and slipping down the charts, back up to number one. And it worked — though not necessarily because of the song itself, which hadn't actually been released as a single until well after the video premiered. What set this song apart — and planted it permanently in the global lexicon of planet Earth — was its music video.
The video had a full runtime of 13 minutes and 42 seconds. The Framing Device was a young man (played by Michael) taking his girlfriend (played by Ola Ray) to see a monster movie — the couple in that film were also played by Jackson and Ray. While walking home from the film, they are suddenly surrounded by zombies.
This music video helped seal the Thriller album's place in history, and helped it become the biggest-selling album of all time. But while today it is pretty much universally loved, it was not without controversy at the time; both Landis and Ray would end up suing Michael in separate disputes over royalties. Both were settled; Ray's dispute was settled after Michael's death, having been brought only two months prior.
Multiple sources have hailed Michael Jackson's Thriller as the turning point for the music video medium, turning it into, as director Brian Grant has said, a "proper industry." Nina Blackwood, MTV VJ and executive, noted how music videos began to become more sophisticated––for better or for worse.
While the video did not win the overall Video of the Year award at the inaugural MTV Video Music Awards, it did take home three Moonmen, including the Viewer's Choice award, and Best Choreography. A making-of documentary would win the Grammy for Best Video Album at the 27th Grammy Awards.
Not long after Jackson's death in 2009, fans all over the world paid their respects by re-enacting the dance sequences from the video. At the end of that year, Thriller was added to the National Film Registry. It is currently the only music video to be preserved by the United States Library of Congress.
- Rod Temperton - songwriting
- Quincy Jones - producer
It's close to midnight, and something evil's troping in the dark:
- Against My Religion: The video begins with a carefully-worded intertitle from Michael Jackson, emphasizing that he doesn't really approve of zombies and monsters just because they're in his music video. This statement, ghostwritten by John Landis and inserted at the last minute, was a panicked effort to appease the Jehovah's Witnesses, of whom Jackson was a member at the time. (Jehovah's Witnesses believe the deceased will rise again after the second coming of Christ, and some take offense at trivial depictions of undead people.) Jackson waited until after the video was finished to get approval from his elders, who threatened to excommunicate him after screening an advance copy. He immediately called up his record company in panic, begging them to cancel the video's premiere and burn the negatives. After calming down, he settled for Landis' opening disclaimer instead.
- Body Horror: Though not particularly bloody or gory, the zombies still have limbs falling off and black bile oozing from their mouths.
- Creator Cameo: The bearded zombie emerging from his crypt is played by Rick Baker, legendary Hollywood makeup artist and lead monster designer for this film.
- Creator In-Joke: Landis usually inserts a reference to a nonexistent film, See You Next Wednesday, into each of his works. Here, the title is spoken during the monster movie as Michael follows his date out of the theater.
- Credits Gag: Like in An American Werewolf in London, Landis puts the disclaimer "This Is a Work of Fiction — any resemblance to actual persons living, dead, or undead..."
- Crystal-Ball Scheduling: Michael and his girlfriend just happen to be watching a movie about a man who turns into a supernatural being and terrorizes his lover.
- The Dead Can Dance: The dance moves performed by the zombies have become such a trademark, that they have been repeatedly saluted––and relentlessly parodied––ever since.
- The Dead Have Eyes: Most of the zombies do have eyes, including Zombie Michael.
- Dead Weight: There's at least one obese, bald zombie among the horde.
- Department of Redundancy Department: The monster movie that Michael and his girlfriend are watching in this music video, Michael Jackson's Thriller, is itself entitled... Thriller. (starring Vincent Price!)
- Everything's Deader with Zombies: Things start off with Werecat Michael, and then a bunch of zombies turn up.
- Evil Laugh: Vincent Price's malevolent cackling kicks off the end credits.
- Face-Revealing Turn: At the end of the video Michael turns his head to the camera to show his werecat-like eyes.
- Iconic Outfit: Michael's red leather jacket and matching jeans are instantly recognisable.
- In Case You Forgot Who Wrote It: Originally billed as "Michael Jackson's Thriller", though because of its popularity it's now commonly known as just "Thriller".
- Incongruously-Dressed Zombie: Zombie Michael, who wears a cut-up, ruined version of "regular" Michael's red leather jacket.
- Lyrics/Video Mismatch: Upon close examination of the lyrics to "Thriller," it's essentially a love song. Justified, since the song's was originally supposed to be a love song called "Starlight", before getting re-written.
- Michael Jackson's Thriller Parody: Naturally, the Trope Namer and Trope Codifier.
- Mid-Vid Skit: One of the earliest known examples of this trope, and taken to an extreme in this video. Compared to the album version of "Thriller," the song here is reshuffled, abridged and interrupted several times in service of this video's plot line.
- Music Video Overshadowing: The lyrics depict a guy teasing his girl about how she's afraid of the horror movies they watch together. The video uses this as a starting point, and then extrapolates things quite a bit further.
- Mythology Gag: In the middle of the chorus, the scene cuts briefly to a separate quartet of zombies dancing on their own. One of them is attempting to do the Robot.
- Nested Story Reveal: This music video is comprised of several stories within a story. Or is it?
- Nightmare Fetishist: Michael seems to be the only person in the theater who's totally unfazed by the monster movie.
- No Name Given: Ola Ray's character is never named, either during the video or in the credits.
- The Not-Remix: The song was completely re-edited for this video: the verses are spliced together in a row, followed by Vincent Price's soliloquy, then the instrumental dance scene, then the full chorus. A reprise of the chorus ends the video. (The bridge goes completely unused.)
- Or Was It a Dream?: At the end of the story, a seemingly normal Michael turns back to the camera, revealing the yellow eyes of his werecat form.
- Our Werebeasts Are Different: Michael turns into a werecat.
- Our Zombies Are Different: These zombies can dance.
- Pass the Popcorn: Michael cheerfully munches on popcorn as his girlfriend and the rest of the theatre are cowering in terror at the monster movie.
- Period Piece: The opening sequence is a pastiche of old 1950s monster movies, most obviously 1957's I Was a Teenage Werewolf.
- Pop-Cultural Osmosis: It's safe to say that this music video is much more famous than the song it's based on.
- Proscenium Reveal: The opening sequence is revealed to be a film-within-a-film.
- Recursive Reality: Michael and his girlfriend are watching a monster movie starring... themselves.
- Resist the Beast: In the opening monster movie, Michael tries to warn his girlfriend about how he's "different," but is interrupted by his gruesome transformation into a werecat.
- Rise from Your Grave: Happens as Michael and his girlfriend skip hand-in-hand past a Creepy Cemetery.
- Shapeshifting Lover: Step forward, Michael Jackson.
- Show Within a Show: The monster movie within the music video. And on top of that, that turned out to be All Just a Dream... wasn't it?
- Special Guest: Vincent Price recites a spooktastic soliloquy (referred to in the credits as a "rap") as the undead begin to stir.
- Werecat Michael breaks a small tree in half with a single backhanded strike.
- A zombie opens its tomb lid, made of solid marble, from the inside, with one hand.
- Zombie Michael busts down a locked door with his bare hands.
- A zombie punches his way into a room, up through the floorboards.
- Surreal Music Video: Enough said.
- Transformation Horror: Michael's Painful Transformation into a werecat, depicted with excruciating detail.
- Talky Bookends: One of the earliest examples in a music video.
- This Is a Work of Fiction: The video ends with the disclaimer "All characters and events in this film are fictitious. Any similarities to actual events or persons living, dead, (or undead) is purely coincidental."
- Twist Ending: Three of them, arguably. The werecat transformation in the beginning is actually a movie, Michael's girlfriend being attacked by zombies was All Just a Dream, and in the end Michael is revealed to still have cat eyes.
- Vertigo Effect: Michael's girlfriend's reaction shot, when she first sees him in zombie form.
- A Wild Rapper Appears!: Vincent Price providing the "Thriller Rap" as per the song, although the video moves the rap into the middle part instead of the end, as Price's hammy narrative plays while the dead rise from the nearby cemetery and sewers.
- Zombie Apocalypse: For Michael and his girlfriend, at least.
- Zombie Gait: Lampshaded. The zombies shamble around like your typical living dead... until the big dance number. The trope resumes the moment the dancing stops.