Friday, October 3, 2014

28 Days 'Til Halloween: Artifacts

Today, riding in the elevator at work, I saw a news item on the little infographic e-screen beside the doors which indicated that Michael Jackson's Thriller video was getting a 3D reboot for theatrical release in 2015, to be helmed by the original director of the music video, John Landis. A fairly remarkable coincidence, since I had already been planning to talk about Thriller as part of the Countdown today.

I felt compelled to go online and try to track down the actual source of this alleged story, because while I am well aware that there are no edges of the bottom of the nostalgia barrel left unscraped by Hollywood these days (the movie based on the game Battleship came out two and a half years ago, you guys), it still struck me as a bit of a stretch that Thriller's graveyard-dirt-simple plot such as it is could be expanded to 80 minutes or more, and perhaps more importantly, that Landis would have nothing better to do with his time than oversee the whole thing. A little searching later, I found myself deep in the gossip columns of the New York Daily News, where Landis was quoted talking about a revamp of Thriller, not a reboot; and for that matter it's still going to be a very short mini-movie with a music video in the middle of it, not a feature film, but since they're going to up-convert it to 3D they're also going to show it in multiplexes that have that technology, hence the "theatrical release" language. So the world has not yet gone completely insane. Carry on.

At any rate, what I really wanted to talk about was Thriller the album, which I did in fact own a cassette copy of as a kid. And really, as far as I was concerned, the title track was the one and only reason to own the album. Nowadays I have a much greater appreciation for Michael Jackson's musical legacy, but as a kid I had almost none, because he was just not my cup of tea. Thriller, the song, was pretty good, and I certainly have fond memories of watching the world premiere of the video on MTV back in the day and totally eating it up, but my true confession is that it wasn't even the funk of forty thousand years embedded in the groove of the song that made me feel like I needed to own the album. It was Vincent Price.

Specifically, it was the long, drawn-out evil laugh he contributed to the very tail end of the song. That was something I wanted to have my very own physical copy of, because it was perfect for incorporating into the soundtrack of a haunted house, something I was fairly obsessed with in my childhood.

I don't remember how exactly it came up, but one year when my family was at the beach, me and my Little Bro and a couple of the neighbor kids put together a haunted house. When my family went to the beach, we were usually visiting our grandparents' house on the sound, which meant staying in a guest room for the week. But a few doors down from my grandparents was a house where a whole family stayed all summer, mom and dad and three kids, two daughters a little older than me and a son a little younger. Little Bro and I would hang out mostly with the boy, but sometimes the older girls would grace us with their presence, and I'm pretty sure the younger of the two sisters was the one who decided we needed to make a haunted house. So we spent a morning decorating the girls' bedroom, covering the windows with blankets to make it dark and rearranging all the furniture to make a winding path around the room with hiding places for jumping out of. I think we made some fake bodies out of clothes stuffed with other clothes and arranged them in death scenes, and we improvised some monster costumes out of construction paper props and gags you could buy down at the corner drugstore's toy counter, fake fangs and fingernails and stuff like that. And we practice a couple of dry runs and then we ran and got all our parents and made them all walk through the fright house (room) and they were all very indulgent about the whole thing, despite the fact that it was July and not haunted tour season per se.

Of course I was always the kind of kid for whom doing something once was never enough, especially once I started brainstorming ways that I could do things better (or at least bigger) with another go. So shortly after that summertime haunted house experience, I dedicated myself to collecting things that could be useful for the next time we would make one, whether it was giant spider toys or blood-red colored lightbulbs or a copy of Thriller that could be cued up to the Vincent Price cackle and played on a boombox tape deck when someone entered the Room of Doom.

I ended up with a pretty good stockpile of accessories, but as you can probably guess we never did put on another haunted house. It seemed like a good idea on one summer day when everything came together, and the stars never aligned in quite the same way ever again. And Thriller, along with every other 80's album I once owned on cassette, is long gone from my personal music collection. Oddly enough, what never did go away was that feeling in the back of my head that a spontaneous haunted house could break out at any moment, and every once in a while I'll see something on a store shelf that would be perfect for it and I'll have to hold myself back from picking it up, just to have, just in case.

1 comment:

  1. Blogger ate my comment! Lemme recap:

    Marvel Comics still chased fads shamelessly in the early Eighties, bless 'em, and in one issue, Alison "Dazzler" Blaire works as a backup dancer on the Marvel Universe's version of the Thriller video. Hilarity ensues. Stupid story, great cover.