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12 Thrilling Facts About Michael Jackson's 'Thriller' Video

The real stories behind the King of Pop's spooky mini-movie

Michael Jackson and zombies on the set of 'Thriller'
Courtesy of Sony/Legacy
October 29, 2013 4:30 PM ET

Michael Jackson's video for "Thriller" was released nearly 30 years ago, on December 2nd, 1983. Director John Landis (The Blues Brothers, An American Werewolf in London) extended the track — the seventh and final single released from the Thriller album — into a nearly 14-minute-long musical horror film, letting Michael indulge his monster-movie fantasies. It got saturation play on MTV and has been seen more than 149 million times on YouTube. Just in time for Halloween, here's 12 things you might not have realized the first time, or the 200th time, you watched it:

1. All "Thriller," Some Filler

The video cost half-a-million dollars; at the time, it was the most expensive video ever made. But CBS Records wouldn't pay for a third video from Thriller, and MTV had a policy of never paying for clips. Jackson and Landis funded their budget by getting MTV and Showtime to pay $250,000 each for the rights to show the 45-minute The Making of "Thriller." (MTV reasoned that if they were paying for a movie, they were circumventing their own policy.) Landis nicknamed the stretched-out documentary The Making of Filler.

Courtesy of Sony/Legacy

2. Before songwriter Rod Temperton came up with "Thriller," Michael Jackson's working title for the album was Starlight.

Temperton, a British native formerly of the funk band Heatwave, also wrote "Baby Be Mine" and "The Lady in My Life" for Thriller (and earlier, had penned "Rock with You" and "Off the Wall" for Jackson).

Michael Jackson Thriller
Courtesy of Sony/Legacy

3. Michael Jackson's faith seeped in.

The opening title card ("Due to my strong personal convictions, I wish to stress that this film in no way endorses a belief in the occult") was inserted due to Jackson's Jehovah's Witness faith. Another manifestation of his piety, according to producer Quincy Jones: During the recording of Thriller, in a studio in the Westlake district of Los Angeles, "a healthy California girl walked by the front window of the studio, which was a one-way mirror facing the street, and pulled her dress up over her head. She was wearing absolutely nothing underneath." Jones stared, as did Temperton — but Jackson hid behind the mixing console so he couldn't catch a peek.

Michael Jackson
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

4. "Thriller" is a coming-of-age story.

"In adolescence, youngsters begin to grow hair in unexpected places and parts of their anatomy swell and grow," director John Landis explained, regading the role of the werewolf metaphor in cinematic history. "Everyone experiences these physical transformations in their bodies and new, unfamiliar, sexual thoughts in their minds. No wonder we readily accept the concept of a literal metamorphosis." In other words, undergoing a lycanthropic transformation was a safe way for Michael Jackson to experiment with puberty.

Dave Hogan/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

5. "Thriller" had a Playmate.

Jackson's "Thriller" costar, former Playboy Playmate Ola Ray, also appeared on Cheers and in Beverly Hills Cop II, but her only other notable music video was "Give Me the Night" by George Benson (a single also written by Rod Temperton and produced by Quincy Jones!), on a date with Benson that involves hot dogs and champagne. That video's biggest special effect: Benson playing guitar on rollerskates.

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