Michael Jackson's Thriller hit to crank up Halloween sales

LOS ANGELES • Dancers lined the Atlantic City boardwalk last Halloween to re-create the famous routine from Michael Jackson's Thriller video, while former United States first couple Barack and Michelle Obama shimmied to the hit single at their final White House Halloween party.

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 are looking to grab a share of the estimated US$8.4 billion (S$11.3 billion) Americans spend on costumes, candy, decorations and other items.

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 remix 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 Mr 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 is 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 television 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 is designed, in part, to draw a younger generation to his music.

Mr Branca and Mr 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 US$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 US$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, Mr Branca says there are no plans for more.

Even if the album does not sell well, it could increase sales of the Jackson catalogue, said Mr 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 strong. A 3D version of Jackson's 14-minute Thriller video screened at film festivals in Toronto and Venice this year and Mr Branca is searching for the best way to distribute it in theatres.

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," Mr Branca said.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 21, 2017, with the headline 'Michael Jackson's Thriller hit to crank up Halloween sales'. Subscribe