GHOSTS (1996)


Is This the Next Stephen King Film to Be Rebooted By Hollywood?

Main Cast: Michael Jackson

Director: Stan Winston

My God, Stephen King, what were you doing with your life in 1996???  Apparently writing a short film with Mick Garris–the first sign of trouble–for Michael Jackson.  Originally conceived as a tie-in to the ADDAMS FAMILY VALUES movie with Garris directing, when contract disputes severed the Addams Family tie-in, Stan Winston (better known for his makeup effects on movies like THE WIZ and GALAXY QUEST), who had stepped into the director’s chair when Garris went off to direct THE SHINING, turned the idea into an extended music video (about 33 minutes) for Michael Jackson, featuring several of his songs.

The plot of GHOSTS is so simple and hackneyed that it’s almost like it’s daring you to find anything positive about it.  Late one night, the citizens of Normal Valley, led by the Mayor (Michael Jackson is heavy makeup), storm the creepy hilltop mansion of The Maestro (also Jackson, this time as Michael Jackson) with the intention of forcing him to leave town.

The Maestro has been entertaining the local kids, but the Mayor thinks he’s “a freak”.  Not willing to roll over and be run out of town, The Maestro challenges the Mayor to a scare-off.  First person to get scared has to leave town.

Fair enough, the Mayor agrees.

The Maestro makes a few funny faces, asking the gathered crowd if it’s scary, and the kids laugh, as do the parents, although in a more uncomfortable way than the kids.  The Mayor is unflinching.  The Maestro then says you didn’t think I was here alone, did you? And out come the ghosts.

The Maestro and his crew then go through a very elaborate and definitely not off-the-cuff dance routine, thrilling the crowd.

Eventually the Mayor is possessed by The Maestro’s ectoplasm and himself becomes a dancing machine, against his will.

In the end, the Mayor admits to being scared while the rest of the townspeople seem to come to accept “the freak”.

I don’t know how much of Stephen King’s input still exists in this form of the concept, but at this point I don’t even think it matters, because I’m only seeing it 24 years later and I gotta tell you, the sexual connotations are rampant in here.

The Maestro is “entertaining” the kids?  The Mayor is possessed by The Maestro’s white ectoplasm?  You can’t tell me no one, in 1996, who was working on this production didn’t see it!

But I digress.

I actually like this version of Jackson.  In his scenes as The Maestro, when he has to act, he comes across as very natural and likable, and I wish there had been more of his interactions with the people.

His insistence on being portrayed as “the freak” feels a little tired and desperate, but when he says he just likes to scare people, I get where he’s coming from.  Maybe the concept just doesn’t sit with me because I’m viewing it in 2020.  I wonder if a 1996 viewing would have come across like less of a tired retread.

But that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy it.  Granted, THRILLER was better, but King wasn’t attached to THRILLER, so I’m not reviewing that one here.  I AM reviewing GHOSTS, however, because it’s listed in King’s IMDb filmography.

Wikipedia says he co-wrote it with Garris–I assume when it was still an ADDAMS FAMILY tie-in–but I’ve read elsewhere his input was limited to some of the ghostly designs being based on his concepts.  If that’s true, I’m not sure if that counts a co-writing, but we’ll go with it.

Anyway, I can totally see 1996 cheesy-grinning Stephen King writing something like this and thinking it’s “spoooooooooky”.  But I also think sometimes he plays way too much into the “image” of being the Master of Horror.  Neither here nor there, though.

Bottom line, is GHOSTS a worthy addition to the King filmography?  And why does my spellcheck keep changing filmography to flexography?  The answer to the first question is yes and no.  It IS a fun short film, one I would like to watch again when I have time.  But a Stephen King short film, even if he only came up with some of the ghost concepts?  I don’t know about all THAT.  I suppose there is something to be said for having a hand in writing a “horror” video for the King of Pop, but since it’s pretty much the simplest, most predictable plot for someone with Jackson’s public image, I think he could have done better.

So many people claim to be horror lovers, but what they really mean is they’re lovers of safe horror, horror their kids can watch with them, and I feel that’s what this was meant to be.  Sure it’s HORROR, isn’t it spooky with the ghosts and demons and everything, but it’s totally tame enough for the kids to watch too.  But then it’s Mick Garris, so what else should I have expected?

I want to see the non-Garris version of this. I say give this a shot, it’s on YouTube, and if nothing else you’ll get a few decent Michael Jackson songs out of it.

King on Film

The Dark Half (1993)

The Tommyknockers (1993)

Needful Things (1993)

The Stand (1994)

The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest (1995)

The Mangler (1995)

Dolores Claiborne (1995)

The Langoliers (1995)

Thinner (1996)

The Shining (1996)

Gerald’s Game (2017)

1922 (2017)

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