Dancers lined the Atlantic City boardwalk last Halloween to re-create the famous steps from Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video, while a DJ named Prashant taught Bollywood versions of the King of Pop’s moves at the Hard Rock Cafe in Seattle.
The executors of the late singer’s estate have caught on to what disc jockeys and party planners have long known, that “Thriller,” released 34 years ago, means Halloween fun for a lot of folks. And now they’re looking to grab a share of the estimated $8.4 billion Americans spend on costumes, candy, decorations and other items. After all, even Barack and Michelle Obama shimmied to the hit single at their final White House Halloween party.
On Sept. 29, Sony Corp. will release “Scream,” a compilation of 13 previously issued Jackson songs, such as “Thriller” and “Dangerous,” as well as a new, remixed version of “Blood on the Dance Floor” by the producer duo known as White Panda. Next month, CBS will air a new, hour-long animated spooky special in prime time. More videos and remixes are on the way.
“We’re planting the Halloween flag,” said John Branca, the Los Angeles attorney who serves as co-executor of the singer’s estate, along with former music industry executive John McClain. “Michael loved Halloween!”
There’s a lot of whimsy in the marketing. The album comes in glow-in-the-dark vinyl. A related poster and cover include an augmented reality Jackson experience. The TV show, “Michael Jackson’s Halloween,” features the voices of Alan Cumming, Lucy Liu and Jim Parsons. It follows a young couple who meet at a mysterious hotel on Halloween night. There are Jackson’s songs, of course, and an appearance by an animated version of the star, who died in 2009 at age 50. It’s designed, in part, to draw a younger generation to his music.
Branca and McClain have already made Jackson’s heirs a considerable chunk of change. “This Is It,” a documentary about the singer’s preparations for his ill-fated 2009 tour, went on to be the highest-grossing concert movie of all time, with $261.8 million in worldwide sales, according to researcher BoxOfficeMojo.com. Last year, the estate sold Jackson’s half of the Sony/ATV music publishing business to Sony for $750 million.
Some fans are sniping online that the “Scream” compilation — with no new songs — seems like nothing more than a money grab. With two albums of unreleased Jackson music already put out posthumously, Branca says there aren’t plans for more.
Even if the album doesn’t sell well, it could increase sales of the Jackson catalog, according to Geoff Mayfield, a Los Angeles-based music industry analyst.
“It’s possible the regular album will sell more than the new version,” he said.
Interest in the pop singer remains high. A 3-D version of Jackson’s 14-minute “Thriller” video screened at film festivals in Toronto and Venice, Italy, this year, and Branca is searching for the best way to distribute it in theaters. Another Jackson short film, the 40-minute “Ghosts,” released in 1996, could be updated for new audiences. And if the animated show is a hit, there could be more.
“You see Charlie Brown Christmas every year,” Branca said.