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Starlight sun

Vincent Price in the absurd and awful "Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs" from 1966.
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Darkness falls across the land

The midnight hour is close at hand

Creatures crawl in search of blood

To terrorize y'all's neighborhood

And whosoever shall be found

Without the soul for getting down

Must stand and face the hounds of hell

And rot inside a corpse's shell

The foulest stench is in the air

The funk of forty thousand years

And grisly ghouls from every tomb

Are closing in to seal your doom

And though you fight to stay alive

Your body starts to shiver

For no mere mortal can resist

The evil of the thriller!”

(cue maniacal laughter)

It was one of the best outros in pop music – ever! Horror film icon Vincent Price offers a sinister “rap” at the conclusion of Michael Jackson’s internationally-beloved song “Thriller,” from the world’s best-selling album – ever!

I recall when I first heard that song for the first time, sometime in 1983 on my parent’s clock radio, and heard Vincent Price’s amazing – and scary – vocal.

“Thriller” came up over the weekend while heading to a soccer game with my kids. They love Michael Jackson, just as my generation loved him and they seem to dig 80’s music far more than contemporary “gold soundz.”

Anyway, I was doing a little research on Vincent Price and his contribution to “Thriller,” which always interested me (partially because of a family connection to Price, due to him taking piano from a relative when Price was a child in St. Louis. In fact, my parents later inherited that very piano – a music link to the cinematic horror master who appeared in countless films, stretching decades, from Service de Luxe (1938) to Edward Scissorhands (1990).

And as for my kids, well, they know Price’s work pretty much only from that bit on “Thriller” and on his campy role as the villain “Egghead” on the 1960’s Batman series.

And really, my own introduction to Vincent Price’s work was as a child when he appeared in a 1972 multi-part episode of The Brady Bunch when they travel for a family vacation to Hawaii and the Brady brothers find a “tiki” that seems to lead to bad luck. In the episode, Price appears as Prof. Hubert Whitehead. Whitehead traps the boys in the cave when he suspects that the boys are trying to steal his latest find (according to The Brady Bunch wiki) – the burial grounds.

Anyway, what was great about Vincent Price is that to his final days in show business, he was willing to stretch himself and try something interesting. Just look at him in the aforementioned Edward Scissorhands, for instance.

But back to “Thriller.” Apparently, Vincent Price was originally selected after “Thriller” songwriter Rod Temperton (formerly of funk band Heatwave), who originally titled the song “Starlight,” with the hook “Starlight, starlight sun,” instead of “Thriller, thriller night,” was trying to come up with something the “kids” would like, and ditched the original “Starlight” idea for the darker “Thriller” title and lyric – which proved to be a winner.

Knowing now that “Starlight” was the original title, I find that absolutely fascinating. Temperton, who died just last fall, said that when he came up with “Thriller” as a title, he wrote a number of titles on paper, and “Midnight Man” was popping out as well. So, Temperton slept on it and woke up with the word “Thriller” in his mind and "Something in my head just said, 'This is the title'. You could visualise it at the top of the Billboard charts. You could see the merchandising for this one word, how it jumped off the page as 'Thriller'"

But what of the outro? It needed someone from the horror genre. And producer Quincy Jones, married to former Mod Squad star Peggy Lipton (and future Twin Peaks actress), apparently knew Vincent Price and put the two in touch.

As noted, Price arrived to the recording studio and “was startled by the headphones when arrived at the studio, never having used them before. When he reluctantly put them on, he jumped out of his chair in surprise upon hearing the funky music track he was to speak over. He ultimately needed a little help with this cues to speak over the music, but ended up nailing it,” much to Quincy Jones’s excitement.

A video, of course, was later made (at a cost of $500,000, it was the most expensive music video ever made) and in the opening title card, Jackson made sure his Jehovah’s Witness faith was noted, reading: “Due to my strong personal convictions, I wish to stress that this film in no way endorses a belief in the occult.”

As those of us of a certain age can remember, Thriller was released in late 1982, in the midst of a full-fledged, fundamentalist Christian “Satanic panic” and “the occult” was seen as a potential “gateway drug to El Diablo” himself in Reagan America.

And Vincent Price, of course, recorded that 1969 album An Adventure in Demonology, where, in the introductory track, Price says: “Yes, you see, the universe is populated with spirits: unseen forces which permeate all things, both tangible and intangible, both visible and invisible. Things we see and things we don’t, things we know or think we know and things we know nothing of: the natural and the supernatural.

Was it all a put-on? 

In this undated article, headlined “Vincent Price and the Occult,” the master of horror is asked by a reporter if he had “ever had any really uncanny experiences” in his life.

Price replies: “I should say so. For example, I was flying into New York’s LaGuardia Airport some years ago. It was fogbound – I think it’s eternally fogbound – and the plane was circling. Suddenly, as I looked out the window I saw clearly in the clouds the words, ‘Tyrone Power is dead.

Continued Price: “I was taken aback. I knew Tyrone Power, we’d made movies together, but he wasn’t a close friend of mine. When we landed I picked up a newspaper and there on the font page was the story of how Tyrone Power had died suddenly, in his early 50s, while making a movie in Spain.

What is interesting is that Tyrone Power often said his favorite film he appeared in was Nightmare Alley, which premiered just before Halloween of that highly occult year of 1947 – October 28, 1947 – to be exact, just two days after future presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was born in Chicago, the city where the majority of the filming took place.

In Nightmare Alley, based on William Lindsay Gresham’s 1946 novel, where each chapter is represented by a different Tarot card, Power’s character, Stanton Carlisle plays a carnival "mentalist" whose lies and deceit prove to be his downfall.

Stanton learns of the Tarot from mentalist Zeena Krumbein (Joan Blondell), as he learns the tricks of the trade.

What kind of deck is this?” asks Stanton of the Tarot cards.

This is the tarot. Oldest kind of cards in the world. Pete says gypsies brought them out of Egypt. They’re a wonder for giving private readings,” responds Zeena Krumbein.

I’d say. They look plenty weird.”

This all reminds me of my Carnivale sync a few years back and the atomic-bomb explosion that the 1930's-era carnies call "a false sun." (Also check out "The Ferryman" post as well, syncing with Carnivale and the Tarot).

In 1989's Back to the Future Pt. II, Marty McFly finds himself both in 2015, where a cafe devoted to 1980's pop culture plays Michael Jackson songs and a Max Headroom-styled Ronald Reagan takes your order (Recall that Reagan and Jackson met at the White House in the spring of 1984) and in the same film - in the Trumpian/Biff Tannen-ian "alternate 1985" (which feels increasingly like actual 2017), Marty breaks into his own "home," only to find another family lives there in dystopian Hill Valley. And in the girl's bedroom are a number of Michael Jackson posters.

And with the urging of sync buddy Kevin Halcott, who made "The Synchromysticism of Michael Jackson" video, notes a number of curiosities about Jackson and his very public life.

And before concluding this piece, I should note that over my lunch break today, I turned on the TV and came across the ending of the absurd, 1966 James Bond "spoof" film, in which Vincent Price appears. The title? Dr. Goldfoot and The Gold Bombs. It was directed by Mario Bava and featured Price, teen idol Fabian and a series of unfamiliar Italian actors. It was a follow-up to the prior year's more successful - and better - Goldfinger spoof Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine. Price, who looks like he is going through the motions and would rather be anywhere else, said the film project was "the most dreadful movie I've ever been in. Just about everything that could go wrong, did." 

And it's bad. Everything about it is pretty awful. But there is this storyline of Price's mad scientist character starting World War III by dropping a hydrogen bomb on the Kremlin in Moscow.

Fabian's character and some half-baked, Italian Marx Brothers try to stop the H-bomb from going off, considering what would happen if Moscow was destroyed. Bizarrely, the two Italian comedians fall with the H-Bomb, Slim Pickens-style, into a snow bank and the bomb fails to go off.

Although the two Italian comics are put in some Siberian prison camp - the film inexplicably ends with Price's character saying how much they will love Siberia in some gulag. The twinkle in Price's eye indicates another follow-up film, which never came. All the while a sign, with the number "47" is behind him. Forty-seven, of course, is the year that his "friend" Tyrone Power was in Nightmare Alley

Additionally, Dr. Goldfoot and The Girl Bombs was filmed in April 1966 - a very occult month and year, and one I wrote about in my forthcoming book on the music of that year. It was that first week of April 1966 that the famous "Is God Dead?" cover story in TIME magazine appeared (and made an appearance in Rosemary's Baby two years later).

And this week, we see the same story again, except, instead of "God," it's "Truth" that's perceived to be "dead."

Explaining the use of the "Is Truth Dead?" cover story, copying the cover from 51 years earlier, the editors write: "Set on a stark black field and inside the red border, the headline "Is Truth Dead?" is a typographical homage to our "Is God Dead?" cover from April 8, 1966."

And the era of Trump has brought in a time of real uncertainty. Fear. Anger. What is true? What is a lie? And then there is the whole U.S./Russia tension, like days of yore. Or just watch The Americans.

I note this, because today John Lydon (aka "Johnny Rotten" of the Sex Pistols, and later Public Image Ltd.) announced he supports Trump (Lydon lives in the U.S.) and Brexit and UKIP's Nigel Farage, saying "The working class have spoken" and he is in solidarity with their views. And yet as an anarchist-styled punk rocker where he disdained the Royal Family and all they stood for, he embraces Trumpism. 

And in light of the "H-bomb" used in Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs, Lydon's famous lyric in "God Save the Queen" is thus (thanks for the reminder Johnny W.):

"God save the queen

The fascist regime
They made you a moron
Potential H-bomb

God save the queen
She ain't no human being
There is no future
In England's dreaming"

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Andrew W. Griffin

Editor & Owner.

Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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About Red Dirt Report

Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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