Image: Inmates in the Philippines dance to the late Michael Jackson's "Thriller"
Bullit Marquez  /  AP
Inmates on the island province of Cebu in the Philippines dance to the late Michael Jackson's "Thriller" to pay tribute to the music icon. More than 1,500 inmates became famous on YouTube, with more than 25 million hits on their 2007 rendition of the music video.
Helen Popkin
By
msnbc.com
updated 6/30/2009 9:05:07 AM ET 2009-06-30T13:05:07

Spontaneous gatherings to Michael Jackson popped up all over the globe following news of the pop icon’s sudden death on Thursday.

But in the Philippines, 1,500 convicts at Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center practiced nine hours Friday night and into Saturday morning for their own professionally choreographed tribute to the artist who helped make them the most popular inmates on the Internet.

The maximum security penitentiary became YouTube-famous in 2007 for its exercise yard rendition of Jackson’s “Thriller” video.

The prison’s own version garnered more than 25 million hits, no small feat considering YouTube is a bottomless repository of “Thriller” reenactments uploaded well before Jackson’s untimely demise.

As has been oft-cited in recent days, the 13-minute “Thriller” moviette directed by John Landis changed the nature of music videos and the face of MTV.

Its infiltration of the universal consciousness is evidenced by hundreds of uploads in which people attempt to replicate the rotting zombie horde pop, lock and rolling its way after a screaming girl — each to varying degrees of success. Remember, kids were doing this long before Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” dance. Here are just a few examples of this video trove.

‘Thriller’ mini mob
YouTube features several performances by this Thrillist mini mob re-enacting Jackson’s infamous zombie dance in several locations in England.

One young man flanked and handful of young women show up in a grocery store, China Town and in this video, the public transit system.

They’re not the only group on the planet, or even YouTube, who attempt to freak out the public with their seemingly spontaneous dance of the dead, but they are probably the most coordinated. Note how the unflappable English bystanders attempt to remain unamused.

A ‘Thriller’ of a wedding reception
YouTube is chock full of wedding receptions in which the zombie dance is attempted, but these guys get kudos for both their commitment to undead character and the surprise effect they obviously have on reception attendees.

They do pretty well for a bunch of dudes who don’t possess a rhythmic bone in their body. Note how the one guy, middle right, is really into it. The center guy however, the one with the Fabio hair, loses his commitment toward the end.

Still, it’s charming to picture these fellas having clandestine dance rehearsals as the Big Day approaches.

Unfortunately, all amusement is lost once you discovered that these coordinated wedding dance parties are so common, you can find reception choreographers in the Yellow Pages — which obviously these guys did. Sorry to wreck it for you, but I won’t bear this burden alone.

Darth ‘Thriller’
If we’ve learned anything from Gnarls Barkley and Hello Kitty, it's that nothing is more awesome than “Star Wars” characters doing stuff "Star Wars" characters would never ever do. Case in point, this video from the Disney’s Hollywood Studios "Star Wars" dance off.

Note that the Darth Vader and Storm Trooper uniforms impede the loosey-goosey dance moves of the dead, and Vader, in fact, grabs his Batman utility belt rather than his space cod piece — this is a "family" park!

Some might also argue that as a corporate-sponsored number, this example loses its charm. But in an age where groomsmen can hire “Thriller” reception choreographers, the standard is complex.

Lego my “Thriller”
Ok. Admittedly, this frame-by-frame “Lego” reenactment of the entire 13-minute original rendition is better in concept than execution. It’s got the production values of a Gumby episode filmed before the advent of auto-focus technology.

Then there’s the viability of the Lego corpses. Sure, they’ve got the stiff arms and claws thing down. In fact, all they have are claws. But it’s all rigor mortis, none of the funky zombie flop. Plus, how is it with stop animation that some of these Lego dancers are still out of sync? Most jarring, however, is that a pirate and at least two robots seem to have wandered into the graveyard as well.

And I sure don’t remember the screaming gal barring the door at the abandoned house with a giant roll of toilet paper. Still, if you feel 13 minutes is too long to sit through this high-concept/low-reward piece, think of how long it took to create.

The Zombie Pride of Oklahoma
Marching band geek purists may argue that there is no room for the modern pop song or such choreographed creativity on the half time gridiron.

This marching band geek begs to differ. Anyone who’s ever attempted "Beat It" and its wicked sixteenth note on a reed instrument knows some serious mad skillz are required.

But while the audio portion of Oklahoma University’s Pride marching band rendition reveals why Michael Jackson never produced “Thriller” for a full horn section, just wait until the 1:05 time stamp when the band lays down its instruments and the stadium goes insane.

It’s then there is no question that no mere mortal can resist the awesomeness that is “Thriller.”

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