Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Upon Watching the Thriller Video Again: An Over-Analysis

So today is Halloween, and invariably BET just aired the classic music video for Michael Jackson's Thriller. I probably haven't seen this video in close to a decade (or at least, I haven't given it any real thought in that amount of time), and several things became evident during my latest viewing.

First of all, one must blatantly disregard the King of Pop's recent...shall we with the law, or else the video takes on an even creepier atmosphere.

Secondly, the surface level elements really stand the test of time, as they say. The classic horror film elements still work - it's friggin' scary. Being attacked by the undead (choreographed-dancing aside) is a highly unpleasant scenario, and the makers of the video truly do good work in costuming and make-up. Michael's zombie look is frightening, no doubt. However, if I were to pick between which I'd rather come across in a dark alley, I'd opt for Zombie Mike over his current incarnation:

Oh, and the song just so happens to be awesome. Let's not forget that. Granted, it's essentially a musical version of a horror movie. Not really sure which came first - the song or the video. But there is no denying it's inherent awesomeness. And honestly, the best videos ever made feature a Jackson (well, specifically Michael or Janet) leading a troupe of similarly dressed dancers in a mind-blowing routine. As proof, I offer this clip (full version here):

And from his sister (strangely, almost as disturbing a video):

Now that we have that out of the way, let's get a closer inspection of the Thriller video and breakdown the plot:

1) Michael and Girlfriend are presumably on a date, driving through a forest when the car seemingly runs out of gas. Girlfriend inevitably assumes Michael has planned this in order for them to be all alone together (keeping in mind, audiences in 1983 still believed Jackson to be a warm-blooded, hetero American male). Michael and Girlfriend start off on foot through the woods. Michael stops Girlfriend mid-stride to ask her to "be my girl", offering up a ring. He proceeds to tell her he's "not like other guys" (stop snickering). The light of the full moon then appears, and transforms Michael into a rather cat-like werewolf, and he begins chasing Girlfriend through the wilderness. Just as Werewolf-Michael is about to strike helpless Girlfriend, enter Twist #1:

2) Cut to: Michael and Girlfriend presumably on a date, watching a movie called "Thriller" featuring Michael and Girlfriend in the scene described above. Girlfriend is clearly scared of the movie, gripping onto Michael while he munches away on his popcorn, entertained by the flick. Neither acknowledges that either a) the two of them were the stars of the film they are watching; or b) they look remarkably similar to the actors portraying Michael and Girlfriend in the film they are watching. Whether due to the content of the movie or the thought of Option B, Girlfriend is too frightened to watch any further and gets up to leave the theater, with a frustrated Michael following behind her.

3) Cue the music. The familiar electric bassline sets the pace for Michael and Girlfriend to walk through the eerie streets of Random Urban City, USA. Michael taunts Girlfriend through song as they walk, which she apparently enjoys.

4) The couple passes a cemetery, and suddenly Vincent Price is heard narrating some Edgar Allen Poe-like tale that wakes the dead. Grizzly ghouls from every tomb climb up from their six feet under slumber, and before long Michael and Girlfriend are surrounded by zombies circling in on them. Poor Girlfriend looks from undead face to undead face, and then enters Twist #2:

5) Michael is also a zombie. Girlfriend doesn't even scream at this realization, perhaps not that surprised, and Michael commences to lead the fellow zombies through the greatest dance routine caught on celluloid. About halfway through, Zombie Mike turns back into Michael to finish singing the last refrain of the song. We don't even see Girlfriend for a good two minutes and ten seconds.

6) We then catch up to Girlfriend running into the standard horror-film scary-house, where Michael (transformed back into Zombie Mike) and company chase after her, busting through the windows and walls and floorboards and doors to get at her. She screams again and again, and just as Zombie Mike reaches out to get her, she opens her eyes to discover Twist #3:

7) She's in a normal home - possibly Michael's - and Michael is asking her "What's the problem?" Oh nothing, I guess. Everything's fine. It must've just been a bad dream. Or was it?

8) Twist #4: The finale - as Michael and Girlfriend head out the door arm-in-arm, Michael turns back to the camera to reveal his scary eyes (which are not the Zombie Mike eyes, but rather the original Werewolf-Michael eyes), and the picture freezes on his face as we hear Vincent Price's maniacal laughter take us to the credits.

Now, I'd never given all these gimmicky twists much thought (and most likely you're not supposed to), but there's something about Twist #4 that grabbed my attention. As Twist #3 unfolds, I just assume that Girlfriend has wicked-crazy nightmares, or maybe she's schizophrenic. But why does Michael flash us his werewolf eyes? Why doesn't he reveal the Zombie Mike look instead?

So what the hell is really going on here? Looking to the lyrics only disturbs me for modern-day reasons ("This Is Thriller, Thriller Night / 'Cause I Can Thrill You More Than Any Ghost Would Dare To Try" - how prophetic). So here's what I can figure: Girlfriend did, in fact, dream up the whole zombie sequence in some sort of schizophrenic nightmare. There were never actually any zombies. However, the movie they were watching - Thriller - was actually a flashback to Michael's father and Girlfriend's aunt, who dated briefly. This explains the obvious similarities in appearances between the two pairs. Now if you recall, Werewolf-ism is hereditary (see: Teen Wolf), so 1983-Michael - as far as 1983-Girlfriend knows upon Twist #3 - is a normal human. The final Twist is to reveal that he has inherited his father's gift/curse, and after the credits roll and the audience goes away, he's going to murder/rape/eat 1983-Girlfriend, just as his father murdered/raped/ate the aunt in the 1950s.

So basically both the 1950s and 1980s were remarkably similar in two ways: 1) they were both repressed and conservative; and 2) totally fucked up.


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