John Landis made the film because he saw a great opportunity to bring back the theatrical short. "I saw it as a chance to resurrect a genre that had once been a Hollywood staple. Music videos were new in 1983, and MTV was just two years old."
Michael Jackson admitted that at one point he was close to abandoning the song: "The mixes sucked. When we listened to the whole album, there were tears... I just cried like a baby." He stormed out of the room, and rode a bicycle up to a schoolyard. He watched children play in the yard for some time, and when he came back, he "was ready to rule the world!" He went back into the studio and recorded the song successfully.
The film had a brief theatrical release in Los Angeles at the AVCO Theater - it played for three weeks along with Disney's Fantasia (1940) and sold out every night, although some parents complained that their children were scared by the werewolf sequence. This was done so it would qualify for an Academy Award for Best Short Live Action but despite its commercial success, it wasn't nominated for any awards.
It likely had a UK theatrical release too, considering the British Board of Film Classification's database lists a cinema submission from 1983 (with a 15 certificate).
Rick Baker was unsure about working on this film at first, thinking the actors couldn't handle the make-up: "They have to sit still in a chair for hours, while you work on them. It's uncomfortable. It's not something actors look forward to."
The signs on the theater are as follows: The main sign reads "Vincent Price's Thriller". Vincent Price was a noted horror film actor who performed the film's rap. A poster of House of Wax (1953), in which Vincent Price had starred. A poster of Schlock (1973), which was John Landis' first film, and Make-up Artist Rick Baker's second.
When Michael Jackson was informed that his co-star Ola Ray had posed nude for Playboy (June 1980), Jackson confessed that he had not seen her centerfold, and was not informed prior to the video shoot that she had posed for Playboy. (Ray was then the girlfriend of Jim Brown).
Michael Jackson had seen John Landis' An American Werewolf in London (1981) and called Landis vacationing in London with his wife at 2:00 am (Jackson didn't know the time difference). When Landis came back to the US, he visited the Jackson family's house and showed Michael a book of movie monsters. Michael wouldn't look at them because they were too scary for him. He hadn't seen many horror movies. Landis also gave Michael a list of horror movies to watch, but he declined due to them being too scary for him.
Michael never toured from the thriller album instead to keep thriller at number one he made the video thriller and from this album it went on to win 8 Grammys and become and still is one of the highest selling albums in music history earning over 100 million copies sold
Michael's conversion to werewolf was parodied in Weird Al Yankovic's semi-mockumentary, "The Compleat Al", when Al personally asked Michael for permission to parody Beat It, granted permission with a thumbs up, then as Al was leaving changed to a werewolf (though did not go after Al).
John Landis: [SYNW] "See you next Wednesday" spoken by someone in the movie that Michael and Ola are watching. It's written in blood on a wall. The phrase "see you next Wednesday" also appears by the theater marquee in John Landis' film An American Werewolf in London (1981).
Michael Jackson at the time being a devout Jehovah witness but later would change religion but still remain christian feared that the video would go against his fans religious beliefs and feared backlash so in the beginning of the video Michael has a message stating that " due to my strong personal convictions, I wish to stress that this film is no way endorses a belief in an occult".