In probably one of the most bizarre film collaborations of the nineties, late pop legend Michael Jackson joined forces with horror author Stephen King to produce a long-running music video for 1997’s “Ghost.” Jackson was no stranger to music videos that acted as short films, case in point his 14-minute, groundbreaking video for “Thriller.” To promote Jackson’s newest remix album “Blood on the Dance Floor: HIStory in the Mix,” Jackson teamed up with renowned makeup artist Stan Winston who directed the film and Stephen King who wrote its script.
“Stephen King is a gentle, sweet, kind man. He’s very humble,” Jackson said in an interview that year.
“Ghost” was initially intended as a short companion film to 1993 film “Addams Family Values,” for which Jackson recorded a song that was dropped amidst his sexual abuse allegations. It was shot in six weeks on a $15 million budget and had Jackson playing two roles and leading twenty-minutes of choreographed dance. The film initially premiered before King’s newest film “Thinner” in Beverly Hills in 1996 at the Motion Picture Academy of the Arts, and again at Cannes Film Festival the following year solo.
Upon Jackson’s passing in 2009, King reflected on the time he spent with him on set of “Ghost” for an interview with Entertainment Weekly.
“The video contains some of the best, most inspired dancing of Jackson’s career. If you look at it, I think you’ll see why Fred Astaire called Jackson ‘a helluva mover.’ You’ll also see Jackson’s sadness and almost panful desire tp please. This is a sadness that’s all too common in people who possess talents in amounts so great it has become a burden instead of a blessing. Jackson was painfully shy to talk to but watching [“Ghost”] still makes me happy.”
“Ghost” takes place in Normal Valley where an angry mob show up to Jackson’s spooky mansion after the parents of neighborhood kids discover he puts on scary magic shows for them. The mayor of the town, also played by Jackson, insists that he leave town immediately and leave the kids alone. This beginning witch hunt sequence echoes Jackson’s real-life persecution surrounding those sexual abuse allegations in the nineties. Jackson’s own reclusive, misunderstood private life led him to being a tabloid spectacle and the public would never let him out of their clutches.
While the film can be seen as a companion piece to the “Thriller” music video whereas zombie ghosts have replaced werewolves, the film hasn’t aged very well to modern cinematic standards. The CGI skeletons and effects give off an amateurish Eddie Murphy “Haunted Mansion” vibe, not that there’s anything wrong with that. There’s no real plot of the film, because 12 minutes it Jackson is having an impromptu dance break with his zombie friends for no real reason at all.
But the point isn’t the quality of the film, but how it brought together two legends in their respective fields – King, in modern horror fiction, and Jackson, in pop music – to make one result with decent payoff. The ambition is evident, and surely in 1997 this music video meant a lot to a large group of fans. Sure, this is no “Thriller” or “The Shining,” but seeing a skeleton moon walk across a dusty, haunted mansion ballroom is pretty neat.
You can watch “Ghost” in its entirely below.