31 Days to Scare ~ Michael Jackson’s Thriller (1983)

The Facts:

Synopsis: A night at the movies turns into a nightmare when Michael and his date are attacked by a hoard of bloodthirsty zombies – only a “Thriller” can save them now.

Stars: Michael Jackson, Ola Ray, Vincent Price

Director: John Landis

Rated: PG

Running Length: 13 minutes

TMMM Score: (9/10)

Review: To celebrate the 35 year anniversary of Michael Jackson’s Thriller, the folks over at IMAX did a pretty cool thing and re-released it in theaters for one week. Showing before The House with a Clock in Its Walls and looking scary good enhanced by 3D, it only hammered home again what a landmark achievement this was in the still-growing music video scene. All these years later, it stands as a high-water mark for the medium and is a pretty creepy mixture of horror and music.

Directed by John Landis (An American Werewolf in London) who had shown an eye for horror and comedy, there’s a sizable portion of this without any music at all and it opens with Michael Jackson and his girlfriend Ola Ray running into car trouble in the woods. Aping I Was a Teenage Werewolf from 1957, Michael changes into a beast and just before he nabs his prey we see that we’re actually watching a movie…that’s also being watched by Jackson and Ray. The meta-ness of it all aside, Ray can’t take the scares and hightails it out of the theater. Reluctantly, Jackson follows her and that’s when Thriller takes control. As they walk home Jackson’s killer vocals and unimpeachable dancing give way to an ever expanding smorgasbord of all manners of ghouls and zombies that come out to play…and dance. It all culminates around the 8:25 mark when Jackson finds himself possessed by the dead. Will Ray be able to get away or will she succumb to the creatures of the night?

I can’t tell you what a joy it was to see this projected on the huge IMAX screen in 3D. It looked like a million bucks and by the time we get to the legendary dance break I had goosebumps all over. It’s such a masterful mix of music and story tightly packaged into 13 minutes. While this was only in theaters for a week, maybe we’ll all get lucky and they’ll bring it back around Halloween – it’s worth seeing whatever movie it is paired with.  Even if you can’t see it in a theater, watch it again above and relive how good this is!

31 Days to Scare ~ House of Wax 3D (1953)

The Facts:

Synopsis: An associate burns down a wax museum with the owner inside, but he survives only to become vengeful and murderous.

Stars: Vincent Price, Phyllis Kirk, Carolyn Jones, Frank Lovejoy, Charles Bronson, Paul Cavanagh

Director: André De Toth

Rated: Approved

Running Length: 88 minutes

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review: There are a lot of firsts that House of Wax can lay claim to. It was the first color 3-D feature from an American production company and the first 3-D film presented in a theater boasting the multi-dimensional stereophonic sound. We’re a bit too used to an enhanced movie-going experience now, but try to put yourself in the place of audience members back in 1953 when this horror classic was released. Before things got too bloody and gross, it didn’t take much for audiences to shriek in terror…now add in the new-fangled technology and the frights truly leaped off the screen. Not only does this make excellent use of the 3-D effects, it’s a way above average movie on the whole.

The prologue of the film takes place in a wax museum curated by Professor Henry Jarrod (Vincent Price), a man possessing an eerie ability to construct life-like historical figures in wax. Though he’s looking to buy-out his ne’er-do-well business partner so he can make the masterpieces he wants, the partner has a quicker plan in mind and burns down the museum for the insurance money. All of Jarrod’s pieces are lost and though he’s severely disfigured, Jarrod survives and begins a plan of mysterious revenge.

For the remainder of the film, we watch as Jarrod emerges from the ashes with a brand new wax museum that becomes a hot ticket in town. Too bad not everyone that wronged him is around to see the fantastic displays of recognizable faces from history. Then again, underneath the costumes and adornments don’t those faces look sort of…familiar? Figuring out what’s really going on and who is truly behind it all is just part of the fun to be had here.

What sets the one apart from the bunch is not only its well-executed 3-D effects but its care for storytelling and characterizations. At 88 minutes, there’s a lot of ground to cover but everything feels nice and lean, with no extra fatty sections that drag the action to a halt. In addition to Price’s typically benevolent investment in a tragic character, there’s a lovely leading lady in Phyllis Kirk and even appearances from future Morticia Addams Carolyn Jones and a young Charles Bronson. The finale manages to stick its landing with two different race against time action sequences happening at once.

The history behind this one is interesting as well. Originally written as a play, it was first made into a movie back in 1933’s Mystery of the Wax Museum starring Fay Wray. This 1953 production is nearly a shot for shot remake of that movie, a very impressive feat. Some may recall this was remade in 2005 with the plot drastically altered and, Paris Hilton’s performance notwithstanding, it acquitted itself nicely if not overly memorably.

Unlike many 3-D movies released in the subsequent years, House of Wax is one that could still be enjoyed even without the added ‘oomph’ that the 3-D experience provided. While there are a few sequences where the filmmakers were clearly showboating, they aren’t as eye-rolling as the tired gags seen in Jaws 3-D or Friday the 13th Part 3 in 3-D. What ultimately makes the film worthy of its recent inclusion in the National Film Registry is that even taking away all of the 3-D hoopla there are numerous swell scares to be had. If you have the capability to watch this in 3-D, by all means, do so! If not, it’s still one to seek out for the classic that it is.