Of Monsters and Music Videos
Published: Thursday, October 31, 2013
Updated: Thursday, October 31, 2013 18:10
"Crazy Clown Time," David Lynch
How to describe the music video for David Lynch’s “Crazy Clown Time?” In some sense, it is indescribable, a “see it to believe it” kind of video. But I would hate to make anyone watch this video. It’s a disturbing, surrealist nightmare, seemingly ripped straight from David Lynch’s id.
The scene is a backyard at nighttime, strewn with beer cans and cluttered with cookout equipment and an old TV. The players are a strange assortment of types: a Goth with a Mohawk, a dude decked out in full football gear, a good-looking suburbanite man. Then Suzy, a voluptuous blond, struts forward and takes her shirt off in front of the men. Suddenly things get really weird. Over a steady beat, Lynch’s high-pitched, shrilly robotic voice tells the story. Over the course of seven minutes, Suzy pleasures herself while getting doused with beer, the Goth sets his hair on fire, and everyone involved runs around the backyard in a drugged-out stupor, smoking and screaming and setting things on fire. The images themselves would be creepy enough, but the relentless music and Lynch’s voice shrieking out “It was really fun!” completes the sensation.
Should we have expected anything else from David Lynch? The man made his name with violent surrealist movies like Blue Velvet and Mulholland Drive, which explore the dark underbelly of American life. The video for “Crazy Clown Time”—a song featured on his 2011 musical debut of the same name, a thoroughly weird electronic effort—does the same thing, investing a barbecue with images of dreadful sadism. But a little bit of Lynch can go a long way. Check out the video if you dare, but don’t be surprised if you find it replaying in your nightmares. – S.K.
"Thriller," Michael Jackson
With its skulking zombies and bloodthirsty werecats, Michael Jackson’s music video for “Thriller” shocked audiences when it was first released in 1983. Three decades later, the video is now heralded as the most influential pop music video of all time. Selling nine million copies worldwide, it has even been inducted into the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress—“Thiller” is the first video ever to receive this honor.
The 13-minute long video opens innocently enough, with a young teenage couple on a romantic date, but the plot takes an unexpected twist when Jackson suddenly transforms into a monstrous beast beneath the light of the full moon. Long, dirty nails emerge from his fingers, and wiry whiskers grow out of his cheeks. His eyes glow, beady and yellow, terrifying the girl he was with and causing her to run away in terror.
As “Thriller” progresses, the settings shift—from a dark alley, to a gloomy graveyard, and eventually to an abandoned house—all while the line between fantasy and reality is blurred, which helps give the video its eerie edge. Even by the video’s end, viewers don’t know whether the supernatural creatures were part of a movie, part of a dream, or part of what really happened. It’s all quite unsettling.
Directed by John Landis, the music video represented a then unprecedented merging of music and film. This, combined with its weird subject matter, unusual dance moves, and gripping costumes, makeup, and special effects, added to “Thriller’s” wild success 30 years ago. And even now, Jackson’s video is still iconic. It’s a creepy classic, standing the test of time and proving that “no mere mortal can resist the evil of the thriller.” – A.I.
"Bonfire," Childish Gambino
Donald Glover awakes in a dark wood with a noose around his neck. He looks up, and sees that he was cut down from a tree, seemingly escaping his own death. With a look of horror on his face, he begins to cough up blood, removed the noose from his neck, and tries to run away, only to stumble to the ground. In the distance, he sees what appears to be the man who tried to kill him, walking through the woods with a noose and a knife, approaching a group of campers sitting around a fire listening to a ghost story. Glover runs to their defense, discovering he too has a knife. When Glover tries warning them of the approaching killer, however, he finds that they cannot see or hear him, as he waves around his knife in desperation. The suspect killer approaches, scaring the campers, revealing himself as their friend. They walk away, leaving Glover to repeat the loop, awaking again in the woods, a noose around his neck. Donald “Childish Gambino” Glover’s 2011 video “Bonfire” is reminiscent of M. Night Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense, as it is implied that Glover is the ghost the campers are talking about. The music video reflects, in an offhanded way, the racial themes of the song, evoking imagery of the lynching of African-Americans. Glover presents the true American horror story, one of a society often ignoring these ghosts of slavery as they run through perpetual loops—“Bonfire” is a sophisticated, powerful take on Halloween-relative music videos, originally released Nov. 1, 2011. – J.W.
"Monster," Kanye West