An extended musicvideo by any other name, Michael Jackson’s latest musical thriller-chiller is a lavishly mounted special-effects extravaganza that testifies to the superstar’s guileless egotism and childlike fascination with horror movies. Although more suited to vid than to theatrical display, minipic’s midnight unveiling out of competition at Cannes, attended by the Gloved and Masked One himself, was suitably spectacular, drawing screaming throngs who chased their idol’s car down the Croisette from the Palais to the Carlton Hotel.
Set in misty, mythical Normal Valley, pic’s slight narrative, evolving from a kernel credited to Jackson and Stephen King, follows a group of angry parents, kids in tow, as they enter the night-shrouded castle of the burg’s local weirdo. Modestly named, the Maestro (Jackson) makes a mysterioso entrance to answer angry charges that he has been malevolently frightening the town’s children.
Although the kids are clearly in his corner from the first, the Maestro must convince the riled-up oldsters that his antics are “just fun.” This involves demonstrating his scarifying propensities, first by contorting his physiognomy into all manner of outlandish shapes, then by conjuring up a troupe of spectral ghouls for a funkified danse macabre that coincidentally revives music from Jackson’s last album.
Helmed by special-effects wiz Stan Winston, pic has all the protean morphing and pyrotechnic visual flash one could want, along with such flashes of wit as having a skeleton do Jackson’s celebrated moonwalk. Yet for all the expense lavished on the project and its high-profile launch, there’s not much new here. As for the film’s implicit defense of Jackson’s effect on kids, that can only be described as stunningly naive. Noticeably, the young ones here are all pre-pubescent boys; the claim that their interest in the Maestro (and vice versa) is just innocent fun stretches the bounds of credulity, even though, oddly enough, it also reinforces the impression that Jackson probably believes his own PR.
Jackson plays numerous roles in pic, including the Maestro’s main nemesis, the porcine white mayor. Pic, which is technically superior on every level, ends with a long credits sequence showing the star undergoing elaborate makeup application for these parts.