Michael Jackson's "Thriller": MTV's Watershed Moment

The King of Pop's cinematic masterpiece in this week's (not so) Forgotten Videos
  • Michael Jackson in "Thriller"
June 22, 2011 -- 12:17 pm PDT

Welcome to Forgotten Videos. For some, these videos are forgotten, for others just filed away, and for others still, a totally brand-new discovery. Whichever category you fall into, each week we'll feature a video that's possibly been collecting dust when what it really deserves is a fresh look. Or vice-versa…. We're not here to judge, we just want to take you on a little trip down memory lane. Yep, you'll remember when hair was really that big, when drums were that up front in the mix, when video was young(er) and so were you.

Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson's "Thriller" proved to be not only a watershed moment for a then two-year-old MTV, but arguably the crowning jewel of the music video age. In direct contrast to the simplistic videos permeating MTV at the time, "Thriller" was in essence a short film, complete with a budget of more than a half-million dollars. The near 14-minute epic unlocked the unlimited possibilities of music video, while helping to cement the viability of the medium.

While Jackson was the main star of "Thriller" (in addition to his starring role, his credits included co-producer, co-writer and co-choreographer), he received many assists from an all-star team. The video was directed and co-produced by film veteran John Landis (Animal House, The Blues Brothers), and featured co-star model/actress Ola Ray and a cast of exquisitely costumed monsters, additional music from Elmer Bernstein and creepy narration from horror legend Vincent Price. (Credit is also due to the writer of the song, Rod Temperton, and producer Quincy Jones.)

The plot finds Jackson and his date, Ray, in a theater watching themselves on screen in Price's Thriller, a fictional '50s-style horror flick. As the gory camp climax nears, Ray becomes frightened and rushes out, with Jackson following. The couple leaves the theater and waltzes past a graveyard as the anticipation mounts. Midnight is close at hand as a gaggle of grizzly ghouls emerge from the fog. The couple is surrounded, and Jackson actually turns into one of them. But Jackson and his pals aren't your typical zombies, as they proceed to display the hottest moves this side of Flashdance. (You too can learn the "Thriller" dance.)

Of course, it all turns out to be a dream as Ray, surrounded by monsters, wakes up to a smiling Jackson, who politely offers to walk her home. But with Jackson flashing a devilish grin and werewolf eyes at the end, was it really a dream?

Though he sustained a four-decade career, Thriller proved to be Jackson's biggest milestone. With seven Top 10 hits, the album stayed at No. 1 for an unprecedented 37 weeks and has sold more than 29 million copies in the United States alone. Thriller netted Jackson seven of his eight GRAMMY Awards in 1983, with the title track winning for Best Pop Vocal Performance, Male. The documentary Making Michael Jackson's Thriller picked up Best Video Album honors the following year.

June 25 will mark the two-year anniversary of Jackson's death. In December 2009 the Library of Congress made "Thriller" the first music video addition to its National Film Registry, citing it as "the most famous music video of all time." Coupled with the official video nearing 90 million views on YouTube, it is further proof that the King of Pop's musical mark is far from forgotten. 

Do you know who the person is at the finale of the end credits of "Thriller"? Got any Forgotten Video recommendations? Leave us a comment.

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