Far more unsettling than Thinner, if not always in the ways intended, is the 35-minute Michael Jackson ”trailer” that opened in selected Sony Theatres along with Stephen King’s thriller. Set in a cheesy horror-film castle, and built around ”Too Bad,” one of the bottom-heavy techno-grooves off 1995’s HIStory, it’s essentially the ”Thriller” video updated to an era of computerized special effects. Jackson’s haunted-house choreography hasn’t exactly advanced with the times (it looks more than ever like funky Broadway), but now, as he cavorts with a chorus line of decaying aristocratic ghosts, he gets to elevate his weirdo/demonic/am-I-black-or-white? iconography to new levels of videogame dazzle.
In Ghosts, Jackson is hounded by local townsfolk who accuse him of being a ”freaky boy”; he wins them over by proving he’s even freakier than they thought. See Michael morph into a scaly demon! See Michael turn into a gyrating, pelvis-thrusting, moon-walking skeleton! See Michael face off against himself playing a middle-aged White Guy who looks like a portly driver’s-ed teacher! In the wittiest moment, Michael the whirling harlequin jumps into the White Guy, who proceeds to dance just like Michael. The creepy difference between the ”Thriller” video and Ghosts is that what was once a living-dead tease has now become a shade too real for comfort. When Jackson transforms himself into a living skeleton, a bone-jangles who fragments right before our eyes, he seems to be winking at his own degeneration. The King of Pop? Michael Jackson has become the Norma Desmond of pop. He had a face once; now he has only a mask.