Greetings, fiends! I was skimming through today’s batch of articles on FEARnet (my full time day job) and read this fantastic retrospective by Gregory Burkart on Michael Jackson’s THRILLER. The long form music video/short film directed by John Landis actually premiered on MTV on this date, December 2nd 30 whole years ago! Whew! How many of you out there are old enough to remember that? How many of you youngans are scratching your heads?
It got me thinking – I’ve told the story of how my love of the horror genre began many, many times, both here on various posts on Icons Of Fright and I’ve given hints of it on my weekly GeekNation produced podcast Killer POV. As far back as I can remember, I always had a fascination and love of the old black and white Universal Monster movies, the Wolf Man and Creature being my personal faves. Somewhere around the age of 10, my older cousins pushed me to the point of no return by showing me the original NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET and I’ve always credited that film as being my full on gate-way drug to the horror genre. However, thinking back, I was 7 years old when THRILLER made it’s grand debut. Also, at the time Michael Jackson, “the king of pop,” was the biggest superstar on the planet. Everyone knew and loved him. So when his video for THRILLER premiered, it was a huge, huge event. And now I realize, it was the first horror related thing to truly fully fuel my obsession with the genre.
Not just because of the long form music video itself. Sure it’s fantastic. As a fan of the Wolf Man, my little mind was blown away by the transformation sequence in which Michael turns into a full-on Cat-like werewolf. And then there were the zombies! They terrified me! My grandparents lived right up the block from me and their backyard shared space with the local cemetery. Needless to say, anytime I stayed there by night, all I could think of was the ghoulish images from Michel Jackson’s THRILLER video and I could swear I heard the moans of those nasty undead creatures walking amongst the fog.
But what really, really made me fall in love with THRILLER? MTV would air quite frequently “The Making of THRILLER.” It was one of the first things I distinctly remember recording on a blank VHS tape and watching over and over again. It was my first full on introduction into the world of filmmaking. I never thought of videos or even movies in the context of something creative that people got together and made… until the making of THRILLER. It was the first time I’d seen a director at work. John Landis was hilarious, outgoing and reminded me of my brother (because they both wore glasses). Rick Baker explained in detail how he went about making Michael Jackson into a werewolf and I recall I started drawing sketches of the many stages you’d have to endure under make up for a full transformation. It even has a few tiny moments from AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON, which seeing glimpses of in this special had scarred me for life! I made several attempts over the course of the next few years that followed to watch that movie, but don’t think I fully made it through until around 12 or so.
And the zombies! I have vague memories of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD mixed in with my Universal Monster movie memories, but this was my first introduction into just how scary the living dead could be. And shortly after THRILLER, I braved RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD on HBO, which although was a comedy, terrified me at 7!
My point being, on the 30th anniversary of this monumental music video, which maintained the number 1 slot on every MTV top 100 video countdown for years and years (until Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” knocked it off in the early 90’s) it’s nice to look back specifically at the making of special and remind myself what made me fall in love not only with genre cinema, but filmmaking in general. I would like to share with you The Making of THRILLER…. But first, let’s watch that original video, shall we? Here we go!