Since its premiere in 1983, it’s hard to think about Halloween without Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.”
The creepy send-up of 1950s B-movie horror films, in which the singer morphs into a werecat and a zombie, has long been a fixture this time of year.
It’s likely that your local costume store carries some version of the iconic red leather ensemble Jackson wore in the short film. (Seriously, how many of us have searched for his outrageous jacket at one point in our lives?)
The video’s famous zombie dance sequence has been replicated everywhere from “South Park” to a maximum security prison in the Philippines that went viral for obvious reasons and the spooky, disco-funk tune typically enjoys a surge in sales and radio airplay this season amid horror-themed festivities.
And now the entertainer’s estate is leaning on the late King of Pop’s appreciation for all things frightful and fantastical for a wave of projects, including a Halloween-themed compilation album, a 3-D version of “Thriller” and an animated special for CBS.
“Michael loved Halloween. He loved dressing up. He loved the festivities,” said Nick Cannon, who hosted a horror-themed event for hundreds of the singer’s fans and celebrities at Hollywood’s TCL Chinese Theater Tuesday night.
The legendary venue had all the makings of a haunted house – screams emitted from speakers, fog pumped into the auditorium – but the hundreds of guests who filed into the theater weren’t greeted by frightful characters. Instead, they were met by a Jackson impersonator clad in the singer’s signature shades and sparkly ensemble who stood silently and posed for photos.
Yet the main attraction wasn’t the phony Jackson, but the double feature built around “Thriller 3D.”
After opening at the Venice Film Festival earlier this year, Tuesday’s event served as the U.S. premiere of the 3-D version of Jackson’s most famous video. A spokesperson for the singer’s estate said the fan events are currently the only way the public can catch the new version of the video.
“[The 3-D] really makes the dance number better,” said John Landis, who directed the original and oversaw its recent restoration.
Landis worked with Optimum Productions on the conversion, which began with a high-res version of the original 35mm negative pulled from Jackson’s archives.
The video wasn’t re-edited or recut in any way, Landis said. All of the audio, including the original track, Elmer Bernstein’s score and the film’s sound effects were also enhanced.
“I know this is the way Michael would have wanted it to be seen,” Landis said.
On Tuesday, the rarely seen full-length version of “Ghosts,” the 1996 short film co-written by horror novelist Stephen King, was screened for the first time in the U.S. (to cheers worthy of an arena concert).
Also shown was a re-edited version of Jackson’s “Blood on the Dance Floor” music video that interspersed newly filmed vignettes — featuring the cast of the Jackson-themed Cirque du Soleil show “One” — with the original clip.
The night was also a celebration for “Scream,” the recently issued compilation album that carries a Halloween theme.
Curated by the estate and Epic/Legacy, the collection spans some of the singer’s darker tunes such as “Dirty Diana,” “Threatened” and “Thriller.” The album gets its name from Jackson’s duet with his sister Janet — a powerful political tune that doesn’t have much to do with the compilation’s theme outside of its title.
Before the screening fans caught a preview of another spooky themed Jackson project – an animated special that’s coming to CBS Halloween weekend.
Aptly titled “Michael Jackson’s Halloween,” the one-hour special is in the same spirit of those classic Charlie Brown holiday specials with its whimsical animation style offering a nod to Tim Burton’s “The Nightmare Before Christmas.”
Built around more than two dozen songs from Jackson’s catalog, the story follows millennials Vincent (Lucas Till) and Victoria (Kiersey Clemons) who meet by accident on Halloween night and find themselves at a mysterious haunt called This Place Hotel, a fun nod toward a pre-“Thriller” Jackson hit.
Maybe its time to rechristen Jackson as the King of Horror?
“Michael Jackson’s Halloween” premieres Friday at 8 p.m. on CBS.
‘Michael Jackson’s Halloween’
When: 8 p.m. Friday
Rating: TV-PG (may be unsuitable for young children)
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