13 Things You Didn't Know About Michael Jackson's "Thriller"

Hands down, Michael Jackson's "Thriller" has got to be one of the best videos that has ever been produced. It's a cult classic that completely revolutionized how music videos were created and consumed.

Below are thirteen things that might surprise you about this spooky, 1980s Halloween fave. Think you know it all... ?


Michael Jackson Was Almost Excommunicated For Making The Video

Jackson and associates when he was a Jehovah’s Witness, 1984

Throughout the 1980s, Michael Jackson was a practicing Jehovah's Witness who obeyed his religion's mandate to spread the faith by knocking on doors in his neighborhood, wearing a crude disguise of mustache and glasses. He attended services at the local Kingdom Hall with his mother and siblings, and abstained from drinking, swearing, and supposedly, R rated movies.

However, a pop star's life is often at odds with the Witnesses' strict teachings; Jackson and his assigned "minders" butted heads over numerous issues, including song lyrics ("Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough" was too sexually suggestive) and dance moves (Jackson's iconic Motown 25 performance was deemed "dirty, burlesque dancing," despite the singer's protestation that "90.9% of dancing is moving the waist").

The "Thriller" star and the Jehovah's Witnesses butted heads again in 1983 when they found out he was making a werewolf music video.

"They told [Michael] that it promoted demonology and they were going to excommunicate him," said Jackson's then-attorney John Branca.

Jackson was devastated.

... And He Almost Had The Footage Destroyed

About two weeks before the premiere of "Thriller," Michael Jackson called his attorney, John Branca, and tearfully ordered him to destroy the negative of the controversial music video.

After much cajoling, the singer revealed that the Jehovah's Witnesses were threatening to excommunicate him if he didn't.

Branca conferred with "Thriller" director John Landis, and both agreed that the video's negative had to be safeguarded. Landis immediately removed the film canisters from the lab and delivered them to Branca's office, where they were locked up.

To appease Jackson's conscious, Branca fabricated a tale that actor Bela Lugosi, one of the singer's idols, had been a deeply religious man who didn't approve of vampires and put a disclaimer to that effect at the beginning of his "Dracula" film.

Jackson bought the story, placing a similar disclaimer at the beginning of "Thriller" -- and the Jehovah's Witnesses never excommunicated him (Jackson officially left the religion of his own accord in 1987, though he often still referred to himself as a Witness).

The rest is music-video history.

Ola Ray Was A "Playboy" Model

After Jennifer Beals turned down an offer to co-star in "Thriller," director John Landis cast an unknown 23-year-old former Playboy Playmate named Ola Ray. (She appeared in the June 1980 issue of Playboy magazine.)

"I auditioned a lot of girls," Landis said. "[Ola] had such a great smile. I didn’t know she was a Playmate. ... I thought, 'Oh, Jesus Christ!' I went to Michael and told him and said, 'Can I hire her?' He said, 'Sure.'"

Though Landis seemed to think Ray's previous gigs would shock and disgust the religious Jackson... Ray said the singer had seen her center-fold spread and "seemed taken by the fact I was a Playboy model."

... And Michael Jackson Made Out With Her

Former Playboy model Ola Ray, who co-starred with Jackson in his 1983 "Thriller" music video, rarely speaks about the singer at length; but in an exclusive 2010 interview with Vanity Fair, Ray revealed that she had "shared some intimate moments with [Michael] in his trailer" on the video's set.

"I won't say that I have seen him in his birthday suit, but close enough," she said, laughing. "What we had was such like a little kindergarden thing going on. ... Kissing and puppy-love make-out sessions, and a little more than that."

Journalist and Vanity Fair contributor Nancy Griffin, who was on set during the filming of "Thriller," similarly told ABC News that she witnessed "some very sweet kind of physical interaction going on between [Michael and Ola]." When asked how far she thought the pair got in their relationship, Griffin speculated, "second base, maybe third."

Since Jackson's death in 2009, Ray said she thinks about the singer every day, with considerable regret: "I just wish I would have had the opportunity to be a little bit more in his life. ... I didn’t tell him [I was in love with him at the time]. And that’s one thing I hate, the fact that I didn’t really get a chance to tell him how I really felt about him."

Joe Jackson Had To Be Escorted Off The Set By Police

During the shooting of "Thriller," Michael Jackson was emotionally stressed by long-simmering family and business pressures. As the singer grew to trust some of his "Thriller" collaborators -- including director John Landis, make-up artist Rick Baker, and Epic official Larry Stessel -- he opened up about his loneliness, his perception that he had been robbed his childhood, and his troubled relationship with his father.

More than once, Landis found himself caught up in the twisted dynamics of the Jackson family.

One night when Joseph and Katherine Jackson visited the set, the director recalled, "Michael asked me to have Joe removed. He said, 'Would you please ask my father to leave?' So I go over to Mr. Jackson. 'Mr. Jackson, I'm sorry, but can you please...?' 'Who are you?' 'I'm John Landis, I'm directing this.' 'Well, I'm Joe Jackson. I do what I please!'"

After an increasingly hostile argument, Joe Jackson had to be escorted off set by a policeman.

The Zombie Costumes Were Made From Clothes Picked Up At A Salvation Army

Well, they had to cut corners on the budget somewhere!

As co-designer Kelly Kimball explained in the The Making of Michael Jackson's 'Thriller' documentary: "They told us we had to have a lot of dead people, so we went down to the Salvation Army and bought a lot of old suits and things, as-is -- they had holes in them. We took [the clothes] home and wrecked them! We dunked them in water, we rubbed them on the ground, we slashed them up with razor blades. Then we laid them out to dry, and bugs crawled in them, and I don't know . . . maybe some bugs are still in them! [laughs]"

Jackson himself with a big fan of the Salvation Army. The singer loved rummaging through the store for "things I haven't seen since I was little," and often made sure to visit various second-hand, thrift shops wherever he traveled.

Michael Jackson's Red Jacket Sold For $1.8 Million

The iconic jacket, designed by Deborah Nadoolman-Landis (director John Landis' wife), sold for an absurd amount of money at an auction in 2011.

Nadoolman-Landis -- who had also designed Indiana Jones's jacket in "Raiders of the Lost Ark" -- elaborated on her iconic "Thriller" design in a recent interview with the Wall Street Journal.

"When it came to Michael’s jacket, there was a tremendous amount of thought that went into it," she said. "I had sketched different looks, but I found ultimately once I came across the jacket with the V with the extended shoulders -- that was it. It’s graphic and structural, and I wanted a good silhouette. The V in the jacket really echoes the pyramidal shape of the choreography."

As for the jacket's color, Nadoolman-Landis said she picked a bright red to stand out against all the fog and the "black, white, beige, gray, brown" zombie costumes on set.

"His pants were just white jeans that I dyed red to match the jacket. The socks and the shoes were his own."

The designer added: "Michael was elegant. I worked with David Bowie, who was also that same body frame, again very, very slim. Fred Astaire was a 36 regular; Michael was a 36 regular. David and Michael and Fred Astaire -- you could literally put them in anything, and they would carry themselves with a distinction and with confidence and with sexuality."

MTV And Showtime Helped Pay For The Video

With "Thriller," both Michael Jackson and director John Landis wanted to reinvent the "theatrical short" by creating a 14-minute, two-reeler musical with a big budget and a Hollywood director.

However, such an ambitious idea did not go down well at Jackson's record label.

"Music videos were new in 1983 [and] were used to sell records," Landis explained. "The ['Thriller'] album had been out a year, and had already been the number-one album of all time, had already sold more records than any other album in history. ... So CBS Records and Sony said they wouldn’t give us any money [for the 'Thriller' music video]. They thought the album was over.

"Michael said he’d pay for it, and I said, 'Absolutely not! I’m not going to take your money,' because it cost almost $500,000 to make -- that’s very expensive!" (Jackson previously paid $150,000 out of pocket for his iconic "Beat It" music video.)

To raise funds, George Folsey, Landis' partner in the venture, suggested they make a documentary, to be called The Making of Michael Jackson's 'Thriller.'

"We sold that hour to a brand-new thing called cable television and the Showtime Network, which at that time had only three million homes as subscribers," said Landis. "They paid a quarter of a million dollars for the rights to show it exclusively for, I think, ten days."

When bosses at MTV saw it, they were furious and immediately called the "Thriller" director.

"'How can you do that?!' they asked. We said, 'OK, you give us the money.' And they gave us another quarter of a million to show it for two weeks, and that [covered] our costs!"

"Thriller" Pioneered The "Making-Of" Genre

In 1983, Jackson's record label, CBS, refused to pay the "Thriller" music video's $500,000 budget. To make ends me, director John Landis did a deal with the new cable network Showtime, who handed over $300,000 for the video and a proposed documentary that Landis would oversee, too. (The rest of the budget came from MTV.)

The subsequent 45-minute Making of Michael Jackson's 'Thriller' doc established the genre, anticipating the "extras" that now accompany almost every DVD release.

However, at the time, said Landis, "we used to call it 'The Making of Filler'. It turned out very well, but the truth is that it's filled with scenes from 'American Werewolf' because I owned them, and anything else we could find to fill up the time.

"When we found we were still six minutes short, we decided to put in pieces of the video itself. In fact, it's very effective, but at the time I thought, 'This is shameless!'"

... It Also Basically Created The Home Video Market

After director John Landis and co. sold "Thriller" and its making-of documentary to cable TV... a company called Vestron arrived on the scene.

Vestron offered to distribute The Making of Michael Jackson's 'Thriller' as a $29.99 "sell-through" video on VHS and Betamax, a pioneering deal of its kind. (Most videos were then sold for far higher prices -- anywhere from $80 to $100 -- to rental stores, rather than directly to consumers.)

"You have to remember, back in those days none of us realized quite what home video was going to become," said Landis' then business partner George Folsey. "The studios treated it pretty much the way they treated television in the '50s and '60s, with total disdain. They had no idea that the home video business was going to save Hollywood -- it never crossed their minds."

The Making of Michael Jackson's 'Thriller' went on to become the best-selling musical on VHS ever, worldwide.

"Thriller" Was Screened In Theaters So It Would Be Eligible For An Oscar

"Thriller" never received an Academy Award nomination, but the video was screened before Disney's re-release of "Fantasia" for a week in Westwood, California just so it could be eligible for a short film nod.

Many A-list celebrities turned out for the premiere at the 500-seat historic Crest Theatre: Diana Ross, Warren Beatty, Prince, Eddie Murphy.

"I’ve been to the Oscars, the BAFTAs, the Emmys, and the Golden Globes, and I had never seen anything like this," remembered director John Landis.

Ola Ray looked for Jackson before the lights went down and found him in the projection booth. He told her that she looked beautiful, but refused her entreaty to come sit in the audience. "This is your night," he told her. "You go enjoy yourself."

Landis warmed up the audience with a new print of the Mickey Mouse cartoon "The Band Concert.' Then came "Thriller," with its sound mix cranked up to top volume. Fourteen minutes later the crowd was on its feet, applauding and crying, "Encore! Encore!"

Eddie Murphy shouted, "Show the goddamn thing again!" And they did.

It Lost The Top Prize At The MTV Video Music Awards

"Thriller" was nominated for Video of the Year at the first-ever VMAs in 1984, but it lost to The Cars' surreal clip for "You Might Think."

MTV later declared "Thriller" the Greatest Music Video Ever Made.

... But It Became The First Music Video Ever Inducted Into The Library of Congress' Film Registry

Under the terms of the National Film Preservation Act, each year, the librarian of Congress names 25 films to the registry that are "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant," to be preserved. The library then works to make sure that a copy of the film is at least preserved by a film, television or recording company, and then tries to obtain a copy to keep in the Library of Congress, where it is available for research purposes.

In 2009, Jackson's "Thriller" became the first music video to enter the archives.

"I think it is a recognition of how much they changed the music industry in the '80s, and we thought it was important to represent that," said Stephen Leggett, the coordinator of the National Film Preservation Board. "We picked ['Thriller'] because it was most iconic from the era."

Noting the "lavish" production values of the "Thriller" video, librarian of Congress James H. Billington added, "Music videos up to that time had been basically people singing a song to a camera. ... Anybody who saw this film at the time had it become part of their DNA."


This seemed like an appropriate post for today, haha. Happy Halloween, ONTD! :)