As Halloween arrives, thoughts of candy and costumes come to mind—not to mention scary movies and pumpkins. When it comes to the sounds of the 31st day of October, it is typically a somber “dun-dun-DUN!” sort of tune with doors creaking and screams. Music-wise, there are songs in our culture that give you a dark yet rhythmic Halloween vibe, like Nina Simone’s “I Put a Spell on You,” or “A Nightmare on My Street” by DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince. But the ultimate Halloween jam, hands down, has to be “Thriller” by the one and only Michael Jackson!
“Thriller” was the seventh and last track released off of Michael Jackson’s 1982 studio album Thriller, and became one of the most famous songs to date! The song is so deeply engrained in mainstream pop culture today that younger generations are familiar with the beat the lyrics, right down to the classic video where M.J. sports a red accented, black-trimmed leather jacket. Though the 14-minute video was released in December of 1983, “Thriller” resonated in such an eerie and original way that the song became a Halloween music staple.
Speaking of the video, if you haven’t watched it in its entirety and you’re over a certain age, #shameonyou. All jokes aside, the video is like a short film and shot in such a cinematic way that it’s no wonder the video soared back then and still today.
The song opens with, “It’s close to midnight and something evil’s lurking in the dark!” With those first few moments whenever you first heard the song you may have been wondering what the song would be about. Even the sounds on the track feature doors creaking and the monotoned/creepy voice of actor Vincent Price. Produced by legend Quincy Jones paired with Michael Jackson’s crooning and heightened eerie lyrics, “Thriller” made massive waves on radio stations and boom boxes globally. When the video was released it also made heads turn—well, zombie heads, anyway.
Inspired by 1950s horror films, director John Landis steered the “Thriller” video in a dark, playful, and gloomy way. It’s full of surprises and screams galore by actress Ola Ray, Jackson’s leading lady in the video. A movie within a movie as the 1950s Michael and Ola are on the big screen while the present day couple are in the theater watching, all are in for a scary ride. As the zombies emerged from the graves, suddenly Ola’s present day date is a zombie, too! The beloved King of Pop transformed into a zombie, then cut to a close-up of his new look and then, the classic “Thriller” dance routine!
No tricks here, but a treat and a fun fact is that Michael Jackson was one of the choreographers for the “Thriller,” video along with Michael Peters, a Tony Award-winning dancer and also a featured zombie in the video. No Michael Jackson video is complete without dancing, and “Thriller” definitely brought the flavor and unique style that is well known worldwide. Thanks to the Internet, anyone can learn the choreography in full, and it’s an energetic way to get your fitness on.
The disco/funk sounds of the song are so memorable and classic. Say what you want about the ultimate Halloween jam, ’cause it’s groovy, ’cause it’s catchy, “‘Cause this is thriller!”
Elishia Peterson is a blossoming freelance journalist based in Philadelphia. Her work has been featured on publications including Looklab, Crème Magazine, Cred, and Examiner covering budget fashion stories. In May 2013 she earned her Masters degree in Writing Studies which has pushed her to strive to be creative in her craft. She recently published a chapbook titled, “Black Roses: Five Women and Their Mental Breakthrough,” a collection of poetry. Follow her latest blog “Labels, Love, and Living” here.