It was thirty years ago today (I mean, you know, if you are reading this on November 30, 2012) that Michael Jackson's groundbreaking album "Thriller" was released. Funny thing about that famous title music video from the album. It had nothing to do with traditional concept of a movie thriller. It was a music video with all the elements of a horror movie. Maybe Michael Jackson should have named his album "Monster Horror Thriller Theater" instead. Horror movies can mix with thrillers to become a hyphenated hybrid sub-genre, but the video is clearly based not on the thriller type of horror movie, but the much more specific monster horror genre of the 1950s. If you want to get a feel for the kind of movies that may be viewed as real life inspirations for "Thriller" check out these examples.
I was a Teenage Werewolf
If there is any specific monster horror thriller movie to which Michael Jackson's "Thriller" seems to pay tribute, it is probably "I was a Teenage Werewolf." You've got the high school milieu, the young man who bears a horrifying secret about why he's not like other guys and dancing. Okay, he dancing in "I was a Teenage Werewolf" is so far away from the dancing in the video that it became a highlight of the riffing when MST3K took this Michael Landon movie. Still, it's an enjoyable bit of 1950s faux innocence regarding what teenagers were really doing back then when away from adult supervision.
Plan 9 from Outer Space
The other major monster that figures prominently in the Michael Jackson video is the zombie. The zombies are much more closely related to the post-Romero era in which nearly all zombies have been detached from their Haitian voodoo past. It is worth pointing out here that George Romero did not invent the idea of zombies being the dead brought back to life instead of a living human being under the control of a witch doctor. One of the earlier attempts to remove the voodoo from the zombie mystique was "Plan 9 From Outer Space." Bet you never thought you'd see the day when Ed Wood would be described as something of a visionary innovator, right? Okay, so Ed didn't invent the idea of zombies as the dead brought back to life, but he definitely prefigured Michael Jackson's musical version of this transformation of the zombie mythos.
Hot Rod Gang
The 1950s was a hot time for movies about hot rods, juvenile delinquents and rock and roll. While there are no hot rods in "Thriller" I guess we could go out on a limb and say that some of the zombies may be delinquents. Even more importantly, however, the whole layer of sexual ambiguity that gives "Thriller" a certain inescapable bit of kitsch is most definitely on hand in "Hot Rod Gang." The scene in which contemporary rock star Gene Vincent gives a performance in the studio for a TV show featuring two male dancers of the type usually played by women provides a moment every bit as unsettling sexually as when Michael's "Thriller" character admits he's not like other guys!
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