Michael Jackson's 'Thriller' Video Was A Music (and Horror) Phenomenon
The video was revolutionary in its time but also made some uncomfortable.
The video thrilled a generation of young MTV fans. Almost 15 minutes of pure werewolf, zombie, terrifying fun in Michael Jackson's "Thriller" video marked one of the first major music videos. It was released on December 2nd in 1983 and was directed by John Landis. Since then, it has been viewed more than 149 million times on YouTube. Though the video was popular when it came out, and probably brought on a spike in red leather sales, it wasn’t without controversy.
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The opening title card starts it all. "Due to my strong personal convictions, I wish to stress that this film in no way endorses a belief in the occult" was placed early in the video as a nod to Jackson's Jehovah's Witness faith. But it also acknowledges that the video plays with something a little deeper -- and a little scarier -- than it might seem at the surface.
The whole message of the video, which has Michael Jackson become both a werewolf and a zombie before the eyes of his terrified girlfriend, is about growing up. "In adolescence, youngsters begin to grow hair in unexpected places and parts of their anatomy swell and grow," said director John Landis. "Everyone experiences these physical transformations in their bodies and new, unfamiliar, sexual thoughts in their minds. No wonder we readily accept the concept of a literal metamorphosis."
A scary one, to be sure.
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The video had a $300,000 budget, which was huge at that time and a "making of" video accompanied it that aired on Showtime. Landis directed the video precisely because of his work in horror, particularly his An American Werewolf in London. "I want to turn into a monster," Jackson told Landis. "Can I do that?" Jehovah’s Witnesses insisted that the “Thriller” endorsed Satanism.
The video played before Fantasia in a movie theater in order to potentially qualify for an Oscar. A lot of parents were furious as the video definitely became a "first" horror movie for a generation of American kids. Staying up late, watching the Thriller making video and then the 13 minute terror-fest helped a lot of parents lose sleep and a lot of children become permanently afraid of blood capsules in the cheek and manhole covers.
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