Michael Jackson's "Ghosts" (1997) (part 3 of 3)
Strobe lights continue to flash, and the townspeople just stand there watching the routine, with fans blowing on them. More kung fu noises transpire. Suddenly, there’s a break in the music. After another HHHHHAAAAAA!, Michael pantomimes smoking a cigarette [?]. And I guess the CGI guys tried their best to do something with this, because Michael then exhales ectoplasm.
The music returns. The ghouls start climbing up the walls on wires and flipping off. Meanwhile, the Mayor tightens his tie more often than Rodney Dangerfield. We get another HHHHAAAAAAA!! from Michael. Geez, how many is that so far?
Now they’re all stomping up the walls, and flipping up from the balcony to the ceiling, and dancing on the ceiling. At this point, the music turns into a bad Danny Elfman rip-off, so I’m guessing this part was not in the extended dance mix of “2 Bad”. Then we get two more HHHAAAAAAAAs from Michael, and I think I have to give up on noting them at some point.
The kids look up in wonder at the dancers on the ceiling. Even the mom who was lecturing Michael earlier looks like the picture of joy right now. So I guess this is all supposed to be amazing and astonishing, even though any given Cirque du Soleil act could knock this routine on its ass.
There’s another break in the music, and all the Ghoul Dancers hover back down to the floor, which I admit is a pretty cool image. But I don’t know why we needed all the sentimental close-ups on everyone watching this, like it’s the ending of Close Encounters or something.
Everyone stands there, silently staring at each other once again. And then Michael suddenly reaches down, grabs at his pant legs, and there’s a blur of clothing. Yes, folks, Michael has now decided to expose himself. Everyone gasps, because Michael has become a CGI skeleton [!]. It probably didn’t take a whole lot of makeup to turn Michael into a skeleton, now did it?
Obviously, they went the Andy Serkis route here, filming Michael and tracking his motions, and then animating this skeleton along with his movements. I gotta admit, this is a pretty cool effect too, even though they take things a bit too far, with Michael’s trademark shoes and socks [!] on the skeleton. Also, he is kind of just recycling his dance routine with the Elephant Man’s bones in “Leave Me Alone”.
All the ghouls and townspeople look on eagerly as Skeleton Michael dances. And yes, at one point, the skeleton moonwalks. The skeleton dances to “Is It Scary?” which, you guessed it, turns out to be another “stop hounding me for being weird” song from Michael. Collect all 300.
At one point, the skeleton bows, taking off his own head like a hat. The skeleton approaches the Mayor and pulls him forward by the tie. And then things get a little confusing, because suddenly Michael the Skeleton is up on the wall, screaming his HHHHAAAAA!! again. It’s incredible he can do that without lungs or vocal chords.
Skeleton Michael lets out an Evil Laugh, and commands his ghouls to fly at the Mayor, and do their best to scare him. The first ghoul does that standard ghost “fly really fast from a faraway point to be right in his face” move, which probably would work a lot better in 3-D.
And then another ghoul flies at the Mayor. The ghoul opens his mouth, and out pops a goblin [!] with glowing red eyes. That’s Stan Winston for you. There’s another HHHAAAAAA (does he ever get tired of doing that?) from Skeleton Michael. All the ghouls turn to the camera one by one, with ominous looks on their faces, and we get eight million reaction shots of the townspeople looking scared. It took several viewings for me to realize that the point here is that ghouls have suddenly become more monstrous and demonic-looking. It’s really confusing, because it’s not as if they looked like the Osmonds in the first place.
Suddenly, all the Solid Ghoul Dancers drop to the floor, growling. Then they start rhythmically stomping their feet, like they’re at a hockey game during the playing of “We Will Rock You”. There are more reaction shots of the townspeople looking scared. Honestly, this whole film is at least 45% reaction shots.
Eventually, the ghouls all fall on their backs in unison, then immediately sit up as the music begins again. They completely surround the Mayor, clawing at him and freaking him out.
Then Michael decides to go for an all new level of weird. Skeleton Michael jumps down from his perch, spinning around and turning into something like a light blue cyclone. When he stops spinning, he’s suddenly flesh and bone Michael again. But this time, he’s become giant, scary Michael, with a demonic face, and special effects that make him appear to tower over the Mayor. He leans down and says in a Linda Blair voice, “Are you scared yet?” I mean, really. Just get scared already, so we can end this nonsense.
And I honestly thought that was about as bizarre as things could get. But, no. Never underestimate the weirdness in Michael’s head. Because Giant Demon Michael grabs the Mayor’s chin, forces his mouth open, and then turns himself into a blue liquid [!] and goes down the Mayor’s throat [!!]. That was just… wacky. You know, Jesus once implored his followers to drink of his blood. Drinking Jesus? Jesus Juice? Are you seeing the connections yet?
The Mayor, suitably disturbed, shifts around uncomfortably, while his chest pulsates. He straightens, trying to assure the townspeople he’s okay. Suddenly, he’s gripped by the uncontrollable urge to dance, dance, dance. The drum machine kicks in again as he starts getting down with his bad, bloated self. And yes, he grabs his crotch. A lot. Seeing the “normal” Michael do this is bad enough; When he does it encased in a fat suit, it’s what I call good old-fashioned nightmare fuel.
And yes, Mayor Ebert moonwalks at one point. The song “Ghosts” begins, and eventually the Mayor shakes his big latex rump directly into the camera. In the middle of the song, he screams “STOOOOOOPP!” This somehow causes all the ghouls to change back into ectoplasm, and fly back into the fireplaces and the walls, etc, from whence they came. Was that all it took?
The Mayor simply stands there. Suddenly, his stomach starts throbbing like John Hurt in Alien. Appropriately, a hand bursts out of his stomach, holding a mirror [?]. Yeah, I already know what horrified and disgusted looks like, but thanks anyway.
The Mayor stares in the mirror, then starts screaming as he CGI morphs into a Demonic Mayor. Everyone in the mob is looking pretty befuddled by this. The Mayor starts telling his reflection, “Who’s scary now? Who’s the freak now? Freaky boy! Freak circus freak! Who’s scary?!” Have you ever seen someone get so angry that they just stop having the slightest damn clue what they’re saying, and random words come out of their mouths? That’s how Michael is coming off here.
“Who’s weird now?” the Mayor asks himself. You know, it’s kind of easy for Michael (assuming that it’s his “spirit” possessing the Mayor) to call the guy freaky and scary, when he turned him into that. Finally, the Mayor starts groaning, and drops the mirror. Oh, that’s definitely a no-no. He then pukes a big stream of glowing ectoplasm into the air. Everyone just stares. Finally, the Mayor’s back to normal, and he sees Michael, also back to normal, just standing there. Michael silently bows.
Michael calmly asks if the townspeople still want him to leave. Because I’m sure that display would endear him to anyone. It sure endeared him to one little boy, who we see in close-up adamantly shaking his head. As a reviewer at Salon once said, Michael has terrified them into loving him. Do it some more! Turn into liquid and possess someone again!
But the Mayor spits out, “Yes! Yes!!” Michael agrees to go away. So he falls to his knees and slams his arms into the floor, and his arms promptly turn to dust [!]. As he lies there on his stomach, he slams his head into the floor, which also turns to dust. And then we get a truly icky CGI effect of Michael’s face dissolving right before our eyes. Wow. I could have lived a perfectly content life without ever having seen that.
As they all stand there watching, Michael disintegrates into a pile of dust covered by a poofy white shirt. The music turns maudlin, and there are several shots of the kids looking sad. Finally, Michael blows away, just like those nuclear attack victims in Terminator 2. Enter the choir on the soundtrack, as the kids look ready to cry. “Good riddance,” the Mayor says.
All the sad, sad townspeople people sheepishly follow the Mayor to the door. But once he opens it, he’s greeted with a giant Michael face which fills the entire doorway. Okay, now that’s fucking scary. I make no bones about it. That’s the most unsettling thing I’ve seen since the ending of Carrie. Even worse? The Giant Michael Face actually says, “Hell-oooooo!!” in that same effete, headmistress way. Michael is a deeply disturbed individual.
The Mayor sees the Giant Michael Face, pisses his pants, and goes running out of the room. There’s the sound of glass breaking, and we cut to a mayor-shaped hole in a window. Yes, there’s a hole actually cut in the glass in the shape of a human silhouette. Well, at least it wasn’t the Robin logo.
All the townspeople turn back around, and see Normal Michael standing in the doorway. Harps play as Michael casually asks, “Did I scare you?” You mean, besides the guy who ran through glass to get away from you? Everyone starts excitedly talking all at once, including Mos Def and the Scaredy-Cat Soccer Moms.
Michael interrupts, again asking in the gayest possible tone of voice, “But did we have a good time here? Hell-ooooo!” They all reluctantly agree, but continue to talk over each other.
Here comes the punch line, though. Evil breathing is heard, and we see a dark figure moving around behind Michael. The music gets menacing as everyone suddenly stops talking. Michael turns, revealing another cloaked figure with a skull face. He screams, but the mask comes off to reveal it’s actually the redheaded kid. “Did I scare ya?” he asks. In a way, yes. Your oblivious presence in this film is more frightening than anything I could ever imagine.
Michael strikes an “oh, you rascal” posture with his arms folded, and admits that maybe, just maybe he was scared. There are heartfelt smiles all around. Suddenly, Older Brother interrupts. “Excuse me… excuse me,” he says, almost like he’s going to start asking deep, probing questions about criminal allegations. He gets a weird look on his face and says, “Um, is this scary?” He grabs at his face, but we don’t see whatever he does. Instead, we cut to the outside of the castle, and hear everyone’s screams, and that’s the end.
The lengthy credits show us the entire involved process of turning Michael into the Mayor, then into Evil Michael, and then into Evil Mayor. There’s brief footage of Michael dancing in a black bodysuit, with a computer tracking his movements, and the rough early effects of the skeleton dancing. Finally, there’s a shot of Michael bowing to end it all. So all in all, this is less a short film, and more of a setup for its own “making of” special.
Someone really needs to stop letting Michael make these extended videos. I know “Thriller” was great, but come on, folks. That was over twenty years ago. Let it go. If you’re an accomplished filmmaker or special effects artist, and Michael Jackson comes to you with a killer idea for a “short film”, please, for everyone’s sake, just say no.