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Making Michael Jackson’s Thriller

Making Michael Jackson’s Thriller

By Patrick Samuel • July 9th, 2012
Static Mass Rating: 5/5
Vestron Video International

Original release: December 3rd, 1986
Certificate (UK): 15
Running time: 58 minutes

Director: Jerry Kramer

Cast: Michael Jackson, John Landis, Rick Baker, Kelly Kimble

The Making Of Thriller

When Michael Jackson released Thriller back in 1983 as a 13 minute 43 seconds music video and short film, it changed things forever. Whether you were a music artist, dancer, video director, horror movie fan or just about anyone else, nothing would ever be the same again.

The video was an effort to boost album sales as it had begun to slip down the charts from the number 1 spot, but before production even began, it became apparent that this was going to be unlike any video before it. In what turned out to be a stroke of either luck, meticulous planning or genius, Jerry Kramer was hired to direct a one hour documentary while the video was being made and he captured the spirit, energy and imagination that went into creating such a landmark piece of work.

Featuring interviews with cast and crew, including Michael Jackson and John Landis, it offers a rare and now treasured insight into one of the most gifted artists we’ve known.

We see fans arriving to catch a peek at Michael, and imitating his moves, and we hear teenage girls and moms confess their devotion. Michael and John then sit down to tell us how it all came together:

“We’re trying to bring back the motion picture shorts. I wanted Thriller and Beat It to be a stimulant for people to make better videos or short films. I saw American Werewolf In London and we really, really liked it. It was a different type of horror movie, it was comedy and horror, that’s the way I saw it. And I said who’s the director who did it and he said John Landis! John Landis! I said great, that’s who we gotta get so I said get in touch with him.”

The Making Of Thriller

Moving on through to the make-up effects and prosthetics, choreography and the actual video shoot, the documentary is in-depth and there’s much to enjoy. The playful yet focused way that the director and the artist work together comes across as both endearing and genuine. The combination of instinct and experimentation also shines through and we see dancers doing take after take to get that one perfect shot would end up in the finished product.

Composer Elmer Bernstein, who worked on scores for films like The Ten Commandments (1956), The Magnificent Seven (1960), To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) and The Great Escape (1963), as well as Landis’ An American Werewolf in London (1981), was hired to compose incidental music for the video while Rick Baker oversaw all of the make-up effects and prosthetics. He talks in detail about some of the challenges involved with Thriller, how he learned to create effects and what he was like as a child.

Also included are clips from “Can You Feel It“, “Beat It“, and the Motown 25 performance of “Billie Jean” as well as audio clips from “Workin’ Day and Night“. Oddly enough, this vintage documentary has never been released on DVD, but we still have the VHS copy at home where it got many The Making Of Thrillerplays in the late 80’s and then again the 90’s when my young nephew and nieces were growing up – they were enthralled by Michael, as we all were, and still are to this day.

What’s also great about Making Michael Jackson’s Thriller is that it’s a window back in time to when videos really mattered and MTV had the power to make or break a record or an artist.

The documentary was released to coincide with the video and became one of the top selling VHS releases at the time. If you’re a fan of Michael, the work of John Landis or the 80’s, it’s really something that’s worth tracking down as you won’t be disappointed, but thrilled.

Patrick Samuel

Patrick Samuel

The founder of Static Mass Emporium and one of its Editors in Chief is an emerging artist with a philosophy degree, working primarily with pastels and graphite pencils, but he also enjoys experimenting with water colours, acrylics, glass and oil paints.

Being on the autistic spectrum with Asperger’s Syndrome, he is stimulated by bold, contrasting colours, intricate details, multiple textures, and varying shades of light and dark. Patrick's work extends to sound and video, and when not drawing or painting, he can be found working on projects he shares online with his followers.

Patrick returned to drawing and painting after a prolonged break in December 2016 as part of his daily art therapy, and is now making the transition to being a full-time artist. As a spokesperson for autism awareness, he also gives talks and presentations on the benefits of creative therapy.

Static Mass is where he lives his passion for film and writing about it. A fan of film classics, documentaries and science fiction, Patrick prefers films with an impeccable way of storytelling that reflect on the human condition.

Patrick Samuel ¦ Asperger Artist

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