Michael Jackson is well known for several successful music videos, but when he teamed up with Stephen King to make the film Ghosts, it turned out to be a dismal failure.
Soon after making the hit video Thriller, it was clear that Jackson was well into the horror genre, so he looked to the master of horror, Stephen King to make a full-length feature movie.
Most people won’t remember the 40-minute film made back in 1997. Despite the fact that it featured a range of top star talent, it tanked. However, looking back on the film, it is actually a historic gem, full of -state-of-the-art special effects, some ghoulish humor, and quite a few Michael Jackson-style dance moves.
Reportedly, Jackson got together with King in 1993 to discuss Ghosts, and the popular author is credited as co-writing the story along with Michael. Jackson initially wanted to make a music video to showcase his “Is it Scary” song, but production apparently got delayed due to allegations doing the rounds of the singer’s supposed inappropriate activities with minors.
According to an article by AV Club, by the time Michael Jackson and Stephen King got around to the movie again, the project had been expanded from being an elaborate music video — in line with Jackson’s other productions — and it became a short “horror” film instead.
The actual screenplay was reportedly written by Mick Garris, who had directed two previous Stephen King adaptations, Sleepwalkers and The Stand, so it should have been good. The special effects for the film were done by the late Stan Winston, who also became the director of the movie, and they are pretty darn impressive.
There is not much detail out there besides a 20-minute “making of” documentary, and according to Atlas Obscura, neither Garris nor Stephen King were available for comment when they attempted to contact them.
Michael Jackson himself had various roles in the film, which is set in a place called Normal Valley. He plays the part of a mysterious recluse known to the local residents as Maestro.
Right at the beginning of the short film we see a mob of angry locals led by the town mayor. They want to remove the recluse from the town, merely for being weird.
When they arrive at the house, they are confronted by Maestro, and the townspeople tell him they are “nice normal people, with nice normal kids, living in a nice normal town” and ask him to leave.
Jackson’s character says he only wants to scare them for fun and goes through a range of silly expressions, ending up pulling his face apart, as pictured above. He then conjures up a whole load of dancing zombies and other weird monsters, including a CGI skeleton. Of interest to note, reportedly Jackson played the part of the skeleton too.
Eventually, the Maestro first crumbles to dust, then turns into a huge demonic creature (pictured below), who somehow earns the residents’ trust with a series of magical actions and dance, ending with a twist similar to that of the music video Thriller.
Naturally, the film featured several of Michael Jackson’s songs, including “2 Bad,” “Is it Scary,” and “Ghosts,” which had all been released prior to the movie being made, but were extended for movie production purposes.
The special effects produced by Winston were state-of-the-art for the time, showing Michael Jackson morphing into his various strange and wonderful characters.
According to the “making of” documentary, Jackson made the movie to outdo Thriller, the music video that helped make him a superstar, but unfortunately it failed horribly. Once complete, Ghosts premiered together with another, equally unsuccessful, Stephen King adaptation of his book Thinner, so in effect, it was a double tank.
According to AV Club, the film was never formally reviewed and appears to have been forgotten almost instantly after it premiered. That article blames the failure of the movie on Jackson’s personal troubles at the time, which made it hard for him to market the production, along with the ridiculous nature of the film in general.
If in the right frame of mind, Ghosts is pretty amusing, and for a bit of fun and Michael Jackson history, the full film is included in the video below for those with the spare time.
For those with less time available, the music video for the song “Ghosts” is also included below, showing scenes from the film.
[Photo Michael Jackson by Alex Wong/Getty Images News – Stephen King by Jeremy O’Donnell/Getty Images Entertainment]