"Thriller" is a song by Michael Jackson recorded in 1982 but not released as a single until 1984, that people often listen to around the time of Halloween. Along with "Monster Mash", it is often considered one of the most prominent songs played during this holiday. The song uses synths, basslines, and sound effects like creaking doors and footsteps, thunder claps, haunting wind and howling dogs help to add a spooky atmosphere for the song. It also features a voice over done by Vincent Price, a famous actor known for his work in horror films.
The song, video, and dance have all become considered iconic of the 1980s in general, and are heavily associated with Halloween in various parts of the United States. The dance featured in the song's famous music video is also arguably the most common dance performed during Halloween parties.
A highly popular, 14-minute music video was created by John Landis, most notable for having directed An American Werewolf in London. First premiering on December 2, 1983, the video led to the song being released as a single shortly thereafter on January 23, 1984.
Like many of Michael Jackson's music videos of the time, it was created as a short film instead of a simple music video, and the footage expands well beyond the song's actual running time. In the film, Michael Jackson is driving his date (played by Ola Ray) out on a night drive in the 1950s when his car runs out of gas. She does not believe him and thinks that he has an ulterior motive, only for the two to end up trying to walk back to town, where he asks if she'll be his girlfriend. When she accepts he tries to warn her about his terrible secret, but before he can reveal it to her the full moon emerges and Michael transforms into a werecat bent on killing his girlfriend. She tries to flee but trips after he leaps out in front of her and the werecat closes in on her.
At this point it is revealed that Michael and Ola are actually in the 1980s just on a date at the Palace Theater, watching a film in the theater called "Vincent Price's Thriller". She expresses fear and he blows her off when she asks to leave, leading to her fleeing the theater and him giving chase. As they walk out, he begins to tease her, telling her that "it's close to midnight, and something evil's lurking in the dark". However while she begins to open up, they pass an old cemetery which zombies suddenly begin to emerge from, as Vincent Price's voice over is heard to state, "Darkness falls across the land: The midnight hour is close at hand! Creatures crawl in search of blood to terrorize y'all's neighborhood. And whosoever shall be found without the soul for getting down must stand and face the hounds of hell and rot inside a corpse's shell. The foulest stench is in the air, the funk of 40,000 years and grisly ghouls from every tomb are closing in to seal your doom! And though you fight to stay alive, your body starts to shiver - for no mere mortal can resist the evil of THE THRILLER!" The two find themselves surrounded by the undead and with no way to escape the monsters Michael is quickly turned into their leader, much to Ola's sheer terror. At this point he leads the zombie horde on a dancing pursuit of Ola, chasing her into a spooky, condemned house. Although she tries to barricade them out she fails, and they break in and close in on her.
She shrieks as they reach out for her, only for her to be shaken awake by a normal Michael again. Although confused for a moment she is relieved to see everything is alright, and he offers to take her home, which she readily accepts. As Michael wraps his arm around her shoulder and they begin to walk out, he turns to the camera, revealing his werecat eyes while Vincent Price laughs.
In 2009 it was added to the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress, the first music video ever selected.
- Michael Jackson's outfit during the 1980s scenes has become iconic and has been featured in lots of media over the decades, including a background zombie in Return of the Living Dead Part 2 and an outfit Peter Griffin wears in an episode Family Guy during a flashback to the 1980s. The song was also converted into a Bollywood rendition using an Indian singer, although the two songs have little to actually do with each other.
- The song's music video is referenced in the music video for "Heads Will Roll" by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, which involves a murderous werewolf, which Thriller's monster is often confused for.
- The song and its dance have also featured in many other media, including but certainly not limited to 13 Going On 30.
- Jackson's zombie face during the reveal of his transformation is occasionally used as an Internet meme.
Behind the scenes
- Although Michael Jackson is intended to be a werecat (transformations into cats have featured in other music videos by the artist, such as in "Black Or White"), it is very often confused with a werewolf. The fact that it howls during the chase scene helps to confuse many viewers.