There’s a moment in everyone’s music education where one is able to recall the first time they experienced Michael Jackson‘s “Thriller.” For most, the single is synonymous with the short video Jackson created. For the first time, Jackson took what was seen as a bonus vanity for a song, and expanded it to show that different meanings, thematic elements, and short stories could be produced from a song and transferred into the medium of film. Jackson would follow this formula for other prestigious videos like “Bad”, and “Smooth Criminal”, but “Thriller” stood the test of time. It also rocketed Michael Jackson to a new level of fame as a superstar.
At the time it was the most expensive video of its kind, costing a half a million dollars. The funding for the budget happened when MTV and Showtime paid a whopping $250,000 each for a 25-minute The Making of Thriller film. The director of the video, the legendary Jonathan Landis, turned that dream into a documentary called The Making of Thriller.
For fans “Thriller” was the first time a video really stood on its own, and now it stands the test of time. The video world premiered “Thriller” 30 years ago on December 2, 1983. Although I wasn’t personally around for its premiere, years later its significance still held weight in my impressionable eyes. Michael Jackson’s legendary video, complete with monster make up, and zombie-like dance moves seemed like the most frightening and coolest things I had ever experienced.
The year was 1993 when I discovered Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” and by then Madonna was reigning supreme with her scantily clad videos, and Aerosmith and Tupac were both making their own iconic visuals. Still, Jackson’s “Thriller” still held a special kind of magic for me. Even though I was ten years late on the phenomenon, it was still relevant and brought a new perspective to how I personally viewed music videos. It was just as exciting as it’s been described by people of that time.
The video has impacted pop culture in a large way. From being featured in films throughout the decade to being the centerpiece of massive tributes, “Thriller” has found a way to transcend its time. With the impact of YouTube, multiple people have gotten together to recreate the excitement of “Thriller.” In particular a group of 1500 inmates in the Philippines had gathered to pay homage to the dance. The video was created in 2007 and now has over 53 million views.
A year before that an event which was titled “Thrill Toronto” staged a “Thriller” dance, featuring 62 dancers. At the time it made the Guinness Book of World Records. Eventually it turned into a global charity called “Thrill the World” which has shown zombie dance mobs in 17 countries. These countries participated in the 25th Anniversary for the “Thriller” video.
Possibly the most interesting thing about “Thriller” is what came before the film starts. Touching on Jackson’s Jehovah Witness upbringing, Jackson insisted that a title card opened the music video with: (“Due to my strong personal convictions, I wish to stress that this film in no way endorses a belief in the occult”).
Here’s a look at “Thriller” in its entirety.