Thirty-one years ago today (Dec. 2), MTV aired the full 13-minute version of Michael Jackson‘s “Thriller” music video for the first time.
In 1984 the single peaked at No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 and at No. 3 on Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs. Following Jackson’s death in 2009, the song returned to Billboard’s tallies, climbing to No. 2 on Hot Digital Songs. The same year, the video was inducted into the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress — the first music video to ever receive this honor — for being “culturally, historically or aesthetically” significant.
“Thriller” is also the is the most-downloaded Halloween-themed hit of all-time, according to data from Nielsen SoundScan.
Today, on the anniversary of its premiere, we revisit the clip regarded as the most influential pop music video of all time.
The John Landis-directed video opens with a disclaimer stating that by creating the music video, Jackson in no way endorsed supernatural practices — which includes the belief that humans could ever transform into werewolves. Glad we got that out of the way! Fifteen seconds in, the tone is set with a spooky title card and the sound of wind rustling and heavy breathing in the background.
Our story begins in the ’50s. Everything is going swell for Jackson and his girl (the ring makes it official), but their happiness is cut short with the appearance of a full moon, when we learn Jackson is “not like other guys” — and we believe him when one heck of a transformation takes place. “Go away!!!”
But then, wait — it was all just a scary movie. Jackson is amused but his girlfriend is disturbed enough to walk out. “It’s only a movie,” says Jackson. “It’s not funny,” says girlfriend.
Note: Jackson is not at fault here, since clearly the movie wasn’t billed as a comedy.
At 4:13 in, “Thriller” (the song) begins with a shot of Thriller (the movie) starring Vincent Price on the billing of the theater.
This is where Jackson decides his girlfriend isn’t spooked enough and proceeds to fill her head with a real ghost story. “It’s close to midnight and something evil’s lurking in the dark…”
Fittingly, the couple walks past a graveyard, where things begin to liven up.
“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…”
Next they come face to face with these grisly ghouls and are surrounded by the walking dead. Well, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em, right? To his girlfriend’s horror, Jackson becomes a zombie, too.
And then ladies and gentleman, we have reached the climax of the video — the Thriller dance! At this point, I wish I didn’t immediately think of Jennifer Garner in 13 Going On 30.
As quickly as his second transformation began, Jackson returns back to his natural state, but at this point, he’s already proven his talent can shine through any amount of make-up (even the full-blown zombie kind).
As Jackson’s girlfriend flees the scene, she runs into an abandoned house and attempts to board herself up as walkers break through windows and rise up through the floor. Basically, your worst nightmare is coming true. And as the zombies reach out to eat you…
“What’s the problem?” says Jackson.
Thank goodness, it was all a dream. Or was it? Cue Vincent Price’s evil laugh.