Michael Jackson Used to Scare His Kids With the ‘Thriller’ Video and Told Them He Was Part Werewolf

Michael Jackson was known for his timeless songs and unforgettable music videos. The video for his hit single “Thriller” remains Jackson’s most memorable visual, and is considered by many to be the greatest music video of all time. The project also meant a great deal to Jackson in his personal life.

Michael Jackson accepts an award from CBS and The Guinness Book Of World Records celebrating 'Thriller'
Michael Jackson accepts an award from CBS and The Guinness Book Of World Records celebrating ‘Thriller’ | Yvonne Hemsey/Getty Images

Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ video was terrifying

Michael Jackson released his groundbreaking album Thriller in 1982. The following year, Jackson wanted to make a music video for the title track that was unlike anything the music industry had ever seen before.

Officially titled Michael Jackson’s Thriller, the 13-minute video was directed by revered director John Landis and references numerous horror films. Jackson hired Landis after seeing his 1981 film An American Werewolf in London. The pair came up with an idea for a short film with a budget much larger than previous music videos, in the neighborhood of $900,000.

A making-of documentary, Making Michael Jackson’s Thriller, showed the behind-the-scenes process to bring “Thriller” to life — or in this case, death. Costume designer Kelly Kimball revealed that Jackson’s love of thrift shopping led to him acquiring all the looks for the video, from the zombies’ to Jackson’s himself.

“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,” Kimball said, adding that the clothes “had holes in them.” 

“We took [the clothes] home and wrecked them!” she continued. “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,” she remembered. “I don’t know, maybe some bugs are still in them!”

Michael Jackson performs during halftime of Super Bowl XXVII
Michael Jackson performs during halftime of Super Bowl XXVII | Steve Granitz/WireImage

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Michael Jackson scared his kids using the ‘Thriller’ video

The spooky “Thriller” video has become a staple for Halloween and the entire month of October. In October 2021, Jackson’s son Prince stopped by Fox Soul’s The Mix to talk all things Halloween, including hosting his huge, annual costume party for his Heal Los Angeles Foundation that boasts a star-studded guest list.

At one point, Jackson looked back on when his father showed him and his siblings the “Thriller” video for the first time. “That’s a very traumatic moment for me,” he joked. “We were young, we were at Neverland and we watched it on the big screen at the theatre that we had there. The moment — not the full werecat — but in between the transformation when he’s like, ‘Get away!’ The teeth and the eyes, it just terrified me.”

Jackson then recounted what his dad told him and his siblings that instilled fear in them for years. “After we finished the music video, he said, ‘You guys should be careful. You know you can’t be around me when the full moon comes up because that’s real.’”

RELATED: Michael Jackson Loved Thrifting So Much He Got All the Costumes For This Iconic Video At a Salvation Army

‘Thriller’ changed music forever

The “Thriller” video played on MTV constantly, and revitalized the Thriller album’s lifespan over a year after its release. The “Thriller” video helped boost sales of the album and made it the best-selling album of all-time, with nearly 50 million copies sold to date.

After “Thriller,” artists and music video directors began to take music videos more seriously. Rather than just a way to put visuals to their songs, music videos became increasingly about telling a story and providing on-screen entertainment for their fans, all set to their songs.