Michael Jackson Gives us a Chiller Thriller

Thriller - Full Video

Thriller has become a staple of Halloween mixes and horror movie parodies alike, but there was a time when it was new… and everyone lost their minds when they saw it. Michael Jackson broke pretty much all the music industry records with his Thriller album, releasing hit-after-hit. The song “Thriller,” an homage to very old school horror flicks, would be the seventh and final single from the album. (For those counting at home, that means more than half the songs on the album were released as singles.)

Michael Jackson tapped director John Landis, then known for his film “An American Werewolf in London,” to film the requisite video. MJ had already established himself in the video vanguard both creatively and as the artist credited with forcing MTV to play black artists in prime time. (Contrary to legend, Michael wasn’t the first – but he was the first to actually get noticed.)

Jackson and Landis concocted an elaborate, 14-minute opus that followed the singer and Ola Ray on a date to a classic horror flick. Ola is terrified, but Michael soothes her with song as they skip arm and arm home. Then… the horror! The horror! Michael embraces it… in the form of a now legendary zombie dance that will be recreated across America this weekend. It concludes with Vincent Price camping it up in a vocal cameo that also appears on the long-form single.

The video debuted on MTV December 2, 1983 to much fanfare. This is back when you HAD to be in front of the TV to see something (or hope your VCR worked), and people showed up. Repeat viewings were publicly announced, to the point the MTV VJs would specify if it was the regular music video or the whole epic thing. The single didn’t drop until more than a month later on January 23, 1984.

While quaint by todays’ standards, the video was an astounding achievement for its time, earning six MTV Music Video Awards and taking home three gold moon men. It also became the first music video ever added to the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress in 2009.

While the song and video faded into Generation X’s nostalgia, the dance lives on and can be seen in countless YouTube videos. Most notably, the CPDRC Dancing Inmates from a high security penitentiary in Cebu, the Philippines performed the entire Thriller dance for YouTube.

Cue the Vincent Price laugh.

CPDRC Dancing Inmates perform Thriller

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