When you mention Michael Jackson and Halloween in the same sentence, the first thing that pops into your head is “Thriller,” mainly for the iconic music video. But this collaboration with Stephen King is on par with Jackson’s infamous short film, but never seems to get the same amount of attention. While it’s not perfect, it still has some amazing moments regarding the dancing and the fantastic makeup by Stan Winston. It’s a fun, spooky experience with the King of Pop that fans need to check out for Halloween.
The plot is simple: a small town mayor leads an angry mob with torches to an old, creepy mansion to run out the town reclusive. Spoiler: the reclusive is Michael Jackson. They barge into the house and Michael pulls off several tricks to both scare and excite them. The entire feeling of the film is a b-horror movie from the black and white opening scene to the stereotypical characters, like the guy who’s scared out of his mind to the disbeliever. Sure, it’s a little cheesy, but it’s not so terrible you can’t sit through it. If anything, it makes the whole thing a lot more fun.
Of course since it’s Jackson there’s a lot of dancing involved and as always it’s amazing. He and the rest of the ghoulish back up dancers do a great job pulling off moves that keep you captivated. If you watch closely there are several nods to “Thriller,” which is a clever way to address those who insist on intently comparing the two. There’s also a reference to “Bad” during the performance of “2 Bad” where the music follows the same beat as the former song. It’s small, but it’s a cool throwback to his part material. In this film Jackson plays a sassier version of himself. For some reason, he keeps saying “Hello?!” like a valley girl, as if he just discovered the phrase. It’s a little weird, but cute; it makes me laugh all the time. He’s also mischievous as he starts off playing innocent tricks on the townspeople that slowly turn more sinister.
What I find interesting are the methods Jackson uses to convince people he’s not a bad person. It starts off well and good with the funny faces and dancing. But then he summons ghosts from the walls of his house. The townspeople are shitting themselves, but Jackson shows it’s all good when the music plays out of nowhere and dancing resumes. But with the snap of his fingers the ghouls turn down right evil as they look more demonic and start terrorizing the mayor. This is the point where Jackson peels off his clothes and is nothing but a skeleton. How are the townspeople doing? They’re still pretty entertained. After a while Jackson turns into some sort of goo and goes inside the mayor to fuck with him some more. He then makes the mayor start dancing involuntarily and right before the mayor leaves he gives him one final spook with a giant demonic head. He scared the mayor so bad he jumps out the window. The townspeople then decides Jackson isn’t so bad after all. So you see that this guy is clearly not human and your response is your dancing was pretty neat? I’m pretty sure he has the ability to kill people, but they’re like it’s all fun and games. It’s just something I couldn’t stop thinking about while watching.
Since this came out when CG effects were just getting started, some of the special effects haven’t aged that well. There are moments where you can tell which portions are a green screen, but they don’t look horrible. While the image of a skeleton doing the moonwalk isn’t as impressive as it was in 1997, it’s still a cool idea. What is breath taking is the makeup. In the film, Jackson not only plays himself, but also the town mayor. The makeup is so convincing you wouldn’t think it was Jackson until he starts dancing in the fat suit, which is hilarious to watch. There’s also a part where the King of Pop turns into a weird, tall demon. The image is a little startling just because he towers over everyone else in the room. Plus, considering this was made in the late ’90s some of the effects are still great, like Jackson removing his face as if it were a mask to reveal his skull. That’s normal, right?
For the most part the film is a bit funny and thrilling, but there’s also a disturbing sub-text involve. All throughout the mayor keeps calling Jackson a freak and says there aren’t room for freaks in town. Jackson gets so fed up at one point he decides to leave by breaking his face. I’m not kidding. He gets down on his knees and slams his face on the floor. He then tilts his head up and shows his crumbling face to the crowd. This part is so unsettling due to what was happening in Jackson’s life at the time. He was still dealing with the accusations and the media constantly hounding him, calling him names like “Wacko Jacko.” It’s as if he was trying to tell people he was falling apart and it’s because people wouldn’t leave him alone. It’s a subtle, but chilling image and one that intensifies after his death.
Overall, the film gets 9/10. It’s not perfect, but it sure is a lot of fun. As always, Jackson goes above and beyond for this short film. The dancing is amazing as always and the makeup still looks convincing years later. Some of the special effects haven’t aged that well, but it adds to the charm of the film. It may not have the same scares that “Thriller” has, but it’s a cool Halloween treat from Jackson all fans should check out this time of year. Think of it as Jackson’s way of saying “Happy Halloween.”