Not only did they make Michael Jackson dolls in 1984, they also made other outfits sold separately. Here, appropiately for Halloween, is the Thriller outfit on the original card. If you’re new to reading the blog, then perhaps you’re not aware of my true Michael Jackson fandom. I have a badge. I even wrote a letter to Michael Jackson once and addressed it to his mother, thinking she would more likely to give to him rather than some ditzy fan club president.
In honor of Michael Jackson’s This Is It being released at midnight, I thought I’d muse a bit on Michael Jackson’s other Halloween songs. There is of course, Thriller, which goes beyond Halloween—it’s a novelty song, but it’s really a rock and roll song, a horror film, a video defining a generation, and the biggest selling album of all time. Yes, The Biggest Selling Album of All Time. Screw that Eagles Greatest Hits compilation. It’s on my shit list for even daring to challenge Michael’s achievement–although my favorite Onion headline after Michael’s death was “Joe Walsh Executed To Keep ‘Eagles Greatest Hits’ Sales Ahead Of ‘Thriller’”
With Thriller, Michael knew he had a handle on a sort of “ghoul pop”, and throughout the years, he tried to score another hit from it again and again. This is a theme of Michael’s discography—when he had a hit, he had a HIT—and he wasn’t ashamed to try and strike gold from it twice. For instance, Smooth Criminal, Dangerous, and Blood on the Dancefloor were all cut from the same cloth, and Man in the Mirror, Heal the World, and Earth Song were all about saving children and monkeys—and that ain’t a Bubbles joke. Heal the World really was inspired by the plight of the chimps.
So I wanted to look at the other ghoulish songs in Michael’s catalogue–‘Ghosts’ and ‘Is It Scary’ (Blood on the Dancefloor, 1997), and ‘Threatened’ (Invincible, 2001). This is my qualified expert review of those songs. Remember, I have a badge. And a Thriller doll outfit.
‘Ghosts’ was given the full blown Michael Jackson hoopla treatment. It was accompanied by the longest music video ever made–clocking in at 40 minutes. It was a film directed by special effects guru Stan Winston (Terminator, Jurassic Park, Aliens). It was even screened at the Cannes Film Festival. The only problem was that it was ignored by most of the world.
It’s easy to see why the project flopped. Take a look at the last 4 minutes of the film–(followed by the credits with behind the scenes footage. The project was even had its own Making Of documentary.)
It’s worth it to take a look for just the sheer shock value of seeing Michael Jackson dressed as a 300lb old man in glasses.
The characters are cartoonish and the kiddie jokes make the whole thing look more like it belonged on the Disney Channel than at special screenings before Stephen King’s Thinner in theaters. Audiences laughed and booed through it, and even then they still had to sit through Thinner, the poor bastards.
Part of the problem was Michael misread the culture. The video for Thriller wowed us when we were kids, but we had all grown up, and Michael didn’t grow up with us. Michael Jackson was trying too hard to be Michael Jackson.
And in the credits of the video plays the song is ‘Is It Scary’, a song originally intended for the Addams Family Values soundtrack. Like most of Michael’s deals and endorsements after his issues in 1993, this deal too was scrapped, referred to as “contractual difficulties”.
Then the movie even went so far to include a little dig at Michael:
When I saw this in the theater, knowing full well that Michael’s song was supposed to be in the movie, I was ticked. And you know what, that movie sucked worse than Thinner, Jurassic Park 2, and that movie where Robin Williams plays a 12 year old boy COMBINED. Addams Family Values was added to my shit list, along with the Eagles, Latoya Jackson, and that dog in Moonwalker that runs off into the woods and causes everyone all kinds of problems.
Here is the shorter video just for the song Ghosts, featuring a mash-up of clips from the longer film.
Does this video have a moonwalking skeleton? YES.
Does this video have Michael Jackson dancing in a fat suit? YES.
Does this video have Michael Jackson taking his face off? YES.
Does it have new choreographed dance moves with zombies? YES.
Does the song have a great hook? YES.
It’s like Michael knew the formula, but it didn’t work, and it must have been so frustrating when audiences ignored it. I think people will come to re-evaluate some of his work, and even I have been re-evaluating it. As a fan, I was into everything he did–but I was also 18 by this time. Everything I once loved now seemed cheesy. I couldn’t be wowed. I was too cynical.
But what I can see now is that if you showed this to a kid, they would totally dig it. That’s what he wanted. He loved seeing kids’ faces in awe. And let’s face it, he loved putting that special effects make-up on. I’m totally on board now. It has a moonwalking skeleton. Did I mention that?
Then, closing the Invincible album, there is the song ‘Threatened’. This is fan-made video, and I think they did a pretty neat job.
Another page out of the Thriller play book, this song features the Twilight Zone’s Rod Serling in Vincent Price’s place. It’s not the greatest Michael Jackson song–but at the same time, the entire Invincible album is the album Justin Timberlake wished he recorded.
What’s more interesting about this song is that it now formally closes Michael Jackson’s final album. It’s like The End on Abbey Road. The final line is Rod Serling saying “What you’ve just witnessed could be the end of a particularly terrifying nightmare. It isn’t. It’s the beginning.” I think the horror fan in Michael might have accepted that as a final coda.
We are going to go see This Is It and eat dinner at the Cheesecake Factory in celebration of MJ’s life. Cheesecake Factory just feels right to remember Michael. I’ll let you know what I think. Mine is the only review you can trust, the review of a qualified expert. With a badge.
Update: See the comments section for a few other honorable mentions that go beyond the solo MJ catalog:
Somebody’s Watching Me – Rockwell
Torture – The Jacksons
The Boogie Man – The Jackson 5