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A novel or film trying to captivate the reader by using intrigue and suspense.

Alfred Hitchcock was a master of suspense and his works are considered to be thrillers, especially his movie Psycho.

Recently ranked as the best music video ever according to VH1, Thriller combined elements of cheesy B-movie horror with Michael Jackson's then-rather-unique dance numbers. John Landis-directed, the short movie clocked in at seventeen minutes long, complete with screaming-waif-running-around scenes, they're-gonna-break-down-the-door scenes, and of course, Michael Jackson as both a werewolf, and an undead ghoul sort of guy.

Starting with MJ in a 50's jock outfit, talking to his girl, and ending with his eyes glowing as he leaves with his girl, as well as spanning a few decades, the direction is brilliant. There's even flashback/dream imagery, but that's an interpretive thing, because the directing is vague enough to make you wonder which parts of the video were real, and which parts weren't. No Halloween is complete without seeing this video at least once. Vincent Price's "rap" and cacophanous laughter will always be remembered, if not from any of his movies, then just from this song by itself.

Thriller is a 1982 album by Michael Jackson. It was released in December 1982 and went on to become the single best selling album of all time worldwide, selling at last count an estimated 51 million copies worldwide. To put that in perspective, for every 122 people in the world, one copy of Thriller was sold. It won eight Grammy awards and spawned three #1 singles and four more top ten singles in the US. It was the number one selling album in the United States for 37 weeks in 1982 and 1983, still a record. Why? Because it is, unquestionably, one of the greatest pop albums of all time and one of the few that actually deserved its monumental success. The album was remastered and re-released with some bonus material on October 16, 2001, the day I write this review. I was standing in line as the store opened to purchase it. The album was produced by a living legend himself, Quincy Jones, and features guest appearances by Vincent Price and Paul McCartney.

This album fused pop, rock, and rhythm & blues in a way that had never been done before. Today, with twenty years of hindsight, the genres mixed here seemed old hat, but this album broke a lot of ground and blazed paths for thousands of artists to come. What's amazing, though, is that he made it sound and look absolutely effortless, as though this fantastic music was almost off the cuff; at least, that's the feeling I got the first time I heard this album and when I hear it now. His mastery of modern music, at that moment in time, is absolutely unparalleled.

Sure, there are a few weak points on the album, such as the vocal interaction between Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney at the end of The Girl Is Mine. But there are so many magnificent pop songs on this album that the sheer power of songs like Thriller, Beat It, and probably best of all, Billie Jean, make up for it. Even twenty years after its release, it still sounds absolutely fantastic.

The album opens with Wanna Be Startin' Something, an appropriate opener. It's a very danceable track with some nice horn elements and electronic effects. It's definitely a worthy song to open this album, as the beat is fantastically catchy and almost forces you to tap your foot. This would be a career song for most pop musicians; here, it's merely an opener that foreshadows the things to come.

Baby Be Mine is much more of a ballad-style song with a lot of subtle electronic elements and a nice flow. Again, it's a very good song, good enough to make you enjoy playing the whole album straight through, but it is unquestionably overshadowed by the next four tracks, which are among the most masterful pop songs ever recorded.

The first of these four, The Girl Is Mine, is a duet recorded with Paul McCartney and was the first single from the album; Michael would repay the favor with Say Say Say from Paul's album Pipes of Peace. It's a very nice duet between the two, detailing their competition over a girl. This is a fantastic mellow pop song, only really hindered by the spoken word interaction between the two at the end of the track.

The next three tracks were all number one singles, and the run starts off with Thriller. It's an excellent pop song with some spoken word pieces by horror movie king Vincent Price and some nice sound effects to accompany the great beats and excellent vocals from Michael. The song is perhaps even better known for its 1950 horror movie style video that is considered to be the greatest video ever made (according to VH1, anyway).

And it just gets better. Beat It is just a fantastic dance song, using lots of guitars and an excellent, danceable riff. I would argue that it is the best dance track made in the 1980s and definitely among the most innovative with the meshing of dance elements, rock elements, and great vocalization. It broke new ground in the fusion of rock and dance, even more impressive when you consider that it is just a great little song.

And it gets even better...

I would be willing to argue with anyone that Billie Jean sits alongside only Yesterday by The Beatles as the greatest pop song ever made. Period. I have heard this song more times than I can count and I still get goosebumps during the first few beats and during the first singing of the chorus. One could argue that the beat is merely ordinary or that the lyrics are not noteworthy at all. To them I say I don't really care. Michael's vocal improvisation on this track is amazing and it is the one song that I've ever heard that made me literally wish that I had a singing voice that could carry a note; lord knows I've found myself singing this song badly in the shower enough times. This is an amazing five minutes of pop, folks; pure magic from beginning to end, and besides Yesterday, I can't think of anything comparable.

After the first two thirds of the album, the rest of the disc could be utter tripe and this album would still be great, but the remaining tracks are solid as well. Human Nature is a mellow track following the very upbeat tracks that preceded it and provides some great contrast without disrupting the flow of the album. It has a bassline that I often find myself humming; a pretty catchy song, indeed.

P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing) is another solid pop track, a much more uptempo track comparable to the album opener. The only real complaint I have with the track is that during the choruses the electronic elements are overused, but the underlying catchiness of the song makes it still work.

The closer, The Lady In My Life is, as you might expect from the title, a tender love ballad. It's very gentle and probably the most stripped-down song on the album, but in that, it may be the least interesting song on the album. The beat does pick up later in the song, but it still remains a low-key track, and thus a surprising closer to a largely upbeat album.

The special edition of the album, released on October 16, 2001, includes a very nice booklet, but what's really of note is the fact that the remaining space on the disc is filled up with all sorts of audio treats that make this one worth picking up. Given the high quality of the bonuses, the fact that the album is remastered (and the remaster is excellent) and that my older copy of Thriller had a large scratch on it and I was planning to replace it anyway, I eagerly anticipated this release. It was well worth it.

The tenth track is an interview with Quincy Jones, where he discusses the fact that he and Michael, while recording this album, were also making a storybook for the Steven Speilberg movie E.T., which included a song by Michael that appeared on the record included with the book. This is the eleventh track, a nice number called Someone In The Dark that meshes well with the film, in my opinion. It's a mellow track which lyrically describes the emotional feel of the film... further proof that everything Michael touched in 1982 turned to gold... or platinum.

The twelfth track is a continuation of the interview with Quincy Jones, where he discusses The Girl Is Mine, Thriller, Beat It, and Billie Jean. He focuses on Billie Jean, telling the story behind the song, but it builds into the amazing thirteenth track, a home demo recording of Billie Jean, before the lyrics are even finished and he is literally building the song on the fly. He's throwing up vocal phrases on the beat as he made them up; it's really amazing to hear pop history in the making. He has the chorus finished and the tempo on this version is just a touch slower. It's much like the magic of hearing some of the better tracks on The Beatles' anthology project, an amazing feeling as you hear your favorite songs actually being made.

Track fifteen is a continuation of the interview with Quincy Jones. This time he talks about how many genres were combined and how amazing the mixture was. He mostly focuses on Beat It here. After that, there is an interview with Rod Temperton, who wrote Thriller, and discussed the choice of using Vincent Price in the song; an amusing tale of how Vincent Price was kind of concerned about recording a pop song and how his vocal part was written in two hours. Then there is more of the interview with Quincy Jones, who mentions how he finds Vincent Price and how well he did during the recording sessions. Of particular interest, though, is track seventeen, Vincent Price's previously unheard second verse from Thriller, which is amusing to say the least; the man has an amazing voice, in my opinion.

Tracks 18 and 19 are interviews with Quincy Jones and Rob Temperton, who discuss an unreleased but completed track from the sessions, Carousel, which is track 20. It's very much a ballad and I believe the choice to leave it off the album was the correct one; it's a good track, but it doesn't really fit on the album at all. The disc closes with some final comments from Quincy Jones, who pretty much sums up why this album is great: great songs.

This album is the best selling album of all time, for good reason: it is a fantastic pop record. The best album to pick up if you liked this one is his Off The Wall; his later works, in my opinion, aren't as interesting as his earlier ones. This is undeniably a peak, though; not just for Michael, but for pop music in general.

Thrillers are, in essence, a dramatic interpretation of one of the greatest battles waged every day; right versus wrong, good versus evil, justice versus injustice. People enjoy to take a seat at the front row of this battle because of the influence of modern western ideals that means we can easily empathise with the characters involved; in most cases the victim. However, some thrillers use moments in the story that give an insight into how the villains brain is working, in order to create understanding of both sides to further the feeling of tension for the viewer through the conflict of the battle. However they almost always focus more personally on the hero to create a sense of emotional attachment with the viewer.

Many people find it hard to differentiate between thrillers and horror films. There a few key differences; thrillers use psychological methods of creating suspense, however horror films work around physical violence in a situation that would cause paranoia if it were real. Thrillers usually have heroes that are established throughout the film to fit this role, they are a match for the villain and the whole film builds up to the fight between the two. The main characters in horror films tend to appear much more helpless in the hands of a figure who is usually simply a twisted, heartless killer with a less constructed motive. Horror films are also usually alot less realistic. Thrillers draw you in to what the hero is going through in order to make you feel the mental torture that the character is experiencing.

The main excitement people experience through thrillers, is due to the suspense they create via such means as music that increases in intensity, (e.g. those famous violins in the shower scene of Hitchcock’s Psycho), and point of view shots to make you feel as if you are in the position the character is when they are, for example, searching the abandoned building where the villain was last seen. Suspense is used in this way to keep the audience on the edge of their seats, forever increasing their thirst for a violent, gory or revelatory scene. Sometimes this thirst is quenched, more often than not however, it is not. This is done only to increase the anticipation of the final clash between the hero and the villain.

At plugincinema.com, Tomas Rawlings explains some of the main thriller conventions in his notes from a thriller writing course led by noted screenplay writer Robert Mckee:

· Protagonist is at the mercy of the antagonist.

· Cheap surprise – an easy shock generated by an sudden unexpected action/movement/sound.

· False ending – where it appears the case is solved, but it is not; Speech in praise of the antagonist – often done by the protagonist, is used to build up the villain, even if the speech ultimately damns the villain.

· Make it personal – where the crime/plans draw in aspects of the protagonists life/emotions to change the plot from a professional action to a personal quest. This can be taken even further by taking it from personal quest to making the protagonist also become the victim.

· Theatre of the Mind – don’t show everything to the audience, force them to image some things

There are certain aspects of the main character's personalities and appearances that are constantly used in thrillers to allow us to easy identify who is ‘bad’, who is ‘good’ etc. The hero is usually a white male with an attractive, clean cut appearance. Increasingly, thrillers offer a postmodern anti-hero, a character who is flawed (and thus more realistic?) but who fulfills the role of the traditional hero, and is very often rebellious of the system that he is supposedly part of. He will break the rules, but only with moral justification, (Harry Callahan from the Dirty Harry films, for example). The standard hero is very down to earth and in touch with his feelings, he is controlled and he thinks ahead of anyone else in the film, such as his colleagues.

Villains are often simply the alter ego of the hero, they are the ultimate opposite, the perfect match. Therefore they are conventionally foreign, bearded, tattooed men. They are often facially disfigured or physically deformed, this is used an an outward projection of their internal psychological problems. The standard thriller villain is intelligent, he is calm and calculated, but not to the same extent of the hero, he has a trademark weapon/torture method and also has a weakness that the hero will expose, e.g. Dennis Hopper in Waterworld, Speed.

Obviously not every film contains characters with these exact characteristics. As time moves on and culture changes, so do conventions. We are beginning to see more females taking on these roles (e.g. Uma Thurman in Tarantino’s Kill Bill), the conventions are so firmly set in our minds by previous thrillers that using a non-conventional character can add an extra exciting twist to the story.

Typically, at the end of a thriller, good triumphs over evil, the hero outsmarts/captures/kills the villain, and all is well. The status quo is restored. Ideologically, thrillers usually allow us to sympathise with the hero, although increasingly this is not the case, e.g. ‘Usual Suspects.’

It's close to midnight
And something evil's lurking in the dark
Under the moonlight
You see a sight that almost stops your heart

This is a writeup about a pop song, written by Rod Temperton, produced by Quincy Jones, and performed by Michael Jackson, released on Jackson's 1982 album of the same name. It's also a writeup about the music video of the same song directed by John Landis, written by Landis and Jackson, and released in 1983. 

It's also a writeup about the problem of bad people who make great art. 

British songwriter Temperton had written songs for Jackson's "Off the Wall" album in 1979 and conceived of the music for the song first, starting with the bassline, and building into a disco/funk song with a moderate tempo. His first pass at lyrics were much different, and the song was titled "Starlight." Quincy Jones liked the song but wasn't a fan of the title. He felt the song should be the album's title track, and he thought "Starlight" was a weak album title. Temperton came up with a list of possible titles for the song, with Jones eventually settling, reluctantly, on "Thriller."  

With the title selected, Temperton wrote the lyrics quickly, focusing on horror films as the theme, complete with spooky sound effects like thunder, creaking doors, and howling dogs. He wanted to end the song with a spoken word sequence, and Jones' wife, Peggy Lipton, suggested it be performed by one of her friends, horror actor Vincent Price. Temperton actually wrote Price's part for the song in a taxi on the day of the recording. 

"Thriller" was the seventh and final single off the album, and it peaked at #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts. After Jackson's death in 2009, the song re-entered the charts and stayed in the top 10 for about three weeks. 

The song is, as the youths say, a bop. It's got a fantastic groove and a very danceable beat, and there's something both deeply cool and deeply strange about having one of the biggest pop songs in history focusing on horror movies -- especially with a spoken-word rap at the end featuring one of the biggest horror stars in history. If you've never actually heard this one before, I don't know what to tell you; it's one of the best songs on the biggest-selling pop album of all time, and you've got no real excuse for this one. Hie thee to YouTube and listen to the song already

Now as good as the song may be, it doesn't start to get really interesting until we get to the music video. The album, remember, had been on the charts for over a year, but was starting to slide down around the middle of 1983, and Jackson wanted the record to stay at the top for as long as possible. Jackson's manager suggested making the album's third music video for the title track, and after Jackson watched "An American Werewolf in London" that summer, he called director John Landis about the possibility of making a video. At the time, film directors did not stoop to making music videos -- on the other hand, Michael Jackson was the biggest star on the planet, and the rules get bent, in more ways than one, for Michael Jackson. 

Jackson and Landis decided they wanted to make a short film instead of a video, shot on 35mm film, with the production values you'd get on a feature film. And they figured on a budget of $900,000, which is vastly greater than the costs for most music videos, especially, again, for the seventh single off a declining album. Jackson's record company, Epic Records, said fuck-to-the-no -- they felt "Thriller" had hit its peak already and didn't want to throw more money in trying to buoy it up for its star. They eventually agreed to contribute just $100,000 for the video. Eventually, Showtime ponied up half the budget, and MTV, which had a policy of never financing music videos, decided to pay the rest. MTV got exclusive rights to a "Making Of" documentary, and Showtime got pay-cable rights. 

So the video was shot over four days at various locations around Los Angeles. The stars included Jackson and an actress/model named Ola Ray, who played Jackson's unnamed girlfriend, as well as a dozen or so dancers portraying the zombies. In addition to Landis as director, there was also Robert Paynter acting as the director of photography and Rick Baker providing makeup effects -- Paynter had previously worked with Landis on "Trading Places," while Baker had provided makeup on "American Werewolf." Landis' wife, Deborah Nadoolman, designed costumes, including Jackson's iconic red jacket. Michael Peters, who'd worked with Jackson on the "Beat It" video, was the choreographer; he and Jackson worked out the also-iconic zombie dance together. 

And two weeks before the premiere, Jackson decided he wanted the negatives destroyed because the church leaders in the Jehovah's Witnesses told him they'd excommunicate him for promoting demonology. The production team hid the negatives until they could convince Jackson to put a disclaimer at the beginnning of the video saying it didn't reflect his own personal beliefs. 

Night creatures call
And the dead start to walk in their masquerade
There's no escapin' the jaws of the alien this time (they're open wide)
This is the end of your life

So: here's a very brief description of how the video played out: 

The video begins with a sequence set in the 1950s, where Jackson and his girlfriend run out of gas while driving, then walk into the woods. Jackson tells his girl, "I'm not like other guys," then transforms into a were-cat and attacks her. But luckily, this is just a scene from a movie that Jackson and his girlfriend are watching. Michael's girl dislikes the violence and leaves the theater, where they are soon attacked by zombies! And then Michael turns into a zombie, too! Then the zombies dance. When his girlfriend wakes up from this nightmare, Jackson comforts her, then turns to the camera, secretly revealing his were-cat eyes...

The entire video was almost 14 minutes long, and you can watch it here. It's less a music video for the song "Thriller," as the song was re-edited and stretched out to serve as the soundtrack for the movie, including some instrumental music by Elmer Bernstein

Its official premiere was November 14, 1983, at the Crest Theater in L.A., where a private audience, including a number of celebrities, got to watch the film. In fact, they got to watch it twice, thanks to the demands of Eddie Murphy. It made its debut on MTV on December 2, 1983. After every showing of the film, the channel posted when they would air it again. Ratings were basically ten times higher than anticipated for those periods. The videocassette of the video sold a million copies.

And just as Jackson had hoped, sales of the Thriller album went through the roof again -- a million extra copies a week after the film's debut, with total album sales doubling in the weeks and months afterwards, solidly cementing its status as the bestselling album ever. 

It also helped cement MTV as a major channel and cultural arbiter -- which is ironic, because in its first few years on the air, MTV really didn't like having to play videos by Black artists, and initially refused to play the "Billie Jean" video. The head of CBS Records had to call them up, threaten to pull all videos by his company's artists, and go public about MTV's racism before the channel would air the video. 

The video was nominated for Video of the Year, Best Male Video, and Best Concept video at 1984's MTV Video Music Awards and took home the Moon Man for for Viewers Choice, Best Overall Performance and Best Choreography. It also won the Grammy for Best Video Album in 1984 and for Best Video, Long Form in 1985. In 2009, it was the first music video to be selected for the Library of Congress' National Film Registry

So here's what we have: a great little haunted house of a song, a genuinely fun music video that's still influential today, judging by how many YouTube videos there are of people dancing the zombie dance. 

And there's a couple little problems with them. The first being that Michael Jackson was accused multiple times -- but never convicted -- of sexual abuse of children, and the second being that John Landis got actor Vic Morrow and two child actors killed on the set of "Twilight Zone: The Movie" in 1982, mostly because he couldn't be bothered to be concerned about cast and crew safety. And knowing those things is likely to make you think a lot less of Jackson, Landis, and their works. 

This happens all too often nowadays, commonly when people re-evaluate their feelings about popular actors, authors, and celebrities when it's eventually revealed they harbored racist, sexist, homophobic, or other hateful beliefs. I can't fault anyone for feeling this way -- there's nothing that can kill the joy you used to get from a piece of entertainment like learning the creator was an abusive creep or a monster

We continue to debate whether it's possible to separate the art from the artist. I'm not sure anyone knows if it can be done. But no art is absolutely essential. Your life will be no better or worse if you never watch a Woody Allen movie or read a book by Marion Zimmer Bradley or listen to music by Marilyn Manson

Still, the song is legitimately fun. It's the most successful horror-themed song in history. The video was groundbreaking and influential on a level that guarantees that anyone with an interest in '80s pop music or the history of MTV has seen it several times.

If you want to praise people who aren't Michael Jackson or John Landis, you shouldn't forget Rod Temperton's songwriting, Quincy Jones' endless musical genius, Michael Peters' mesmerizing choreography, or Vincent Price's perfectly macabre rap. 

I'm not going to give you a conclusion yay or nay on whether "Thriller" should be lionized or deplored. That's your decision, not mine. 

The foulest stench is in the air
The funk of forty thousand years
And grisly ghouls from every tomb
Are closing in to seal your doom
And though you fight to stay alive
Your body starts to shiver
For no mere mortal can resist
The evil of the thriller

horrorquest

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