Thriller illusion on Michael Jackson’s History Tour – How did they do it?

Michael Jackson’s magic trick during Thriller into Beat it was an amazing illusion but how was it done?

One of the best parts of a Michael Jackson concert is the magic tricks and illusions that he included in-between songs, disappearing from one side of the stage to the next, defying gravity with a lean or flying away far into the sky out of the stadium to close the show!

Michael, since the Victory tour has included Las Vegas style illusions into his show and even more still, on his solo tours, all the way from the Bad Tour to the History Tour. One of the best illusions during the History tour was the transition magic trick between “Thriller” and “Beat it”.

It’s been a good 15 years since the tour so I think enough time has passed between now and then to warrant a good look, so, let’s take a closer look today and see if we can work out HOW THEY DID IT?

Thriller illusion magic trick description

This what happens during the illusion. At the end of an extension of “Thriller”:

1) Michael Jackson, after dancing the main famous dance of Thriller, is forced down a platform by the backing dancer “ghouls”. Whilst we see his arms, they place a wear wolf mask over his head. The platform is then raised to reveal Michael in his wear-wolf mask, at which point he joins the dancers to finish the main chorus of the song with all the classic moves!

2) At the end of the song we find that the song has not really ended and that the “ghouls” have an evil plan! They wheel onto stage a massive torture chamber type contraption on the left hand side of the stage. It contains:

– A platform on a large table
– A grated metal cage that opens, down the middle,to either side of the table top like structure. The cage is covered in white material so you can not see through it when the cage is closed.
– A Flame thrower!
– Wheels, to transport this evil contraption! 🙂

3) After placing the torture chamber they go off and grab a still dancing Michael Jackson. They then rip off his Thriller jacket! They then drag him still screaming to the torture chamber.

4) After getting him up on the contraption, the metal cage closes around him, trapping him inside. We can see that he has no escape.

5) The “ghouls” then ram 100 spikes through him and the cage to ravish him and make sure that they finished him off properly!

6) These ghouls might have been extra evil beasts because not only are they not satisfied with caging him, impaling him, they decide that they need to do more …. they then set the whole cage on FIRE! That has got to hurt! Even for the King of Pop …

7) They then open the cage up to find his carcass and smouldering bones …BUT WAIT!!!!!!!

He has dissappeared!

BAM! Costume change and Michael is on a crane on the other side of the stage kicking off “Beat it!”.

You can’t burn up the King of Pop, you silly ghouls!


This is a truly amazing illusion, so well done to the creators! I was just as confused at the live show as I was for a long time after.

By the way, this might be the right time to say, it wasn’t me dancing the Thriller section on the tour. The amount of people who have asked me this and insisted that it was me and think that I am lying to them … It wasn’t me! I have a crazy brother who used to do all of that for Michael, so maybe it was him … although he was next to me at the tour so it wasn’t him either, I don’t think.

Anyway, back to this. The best way is to look at it with a logical mind:

People can’t disappear into thin air!

People cannot disappear into thin air. Only Harry Potter, myself and a few other selected sorcerers can. They weren’t on stage on the History Tour, trust me. He also, wasn’t burned alive and incinerated. We can clearly see underneath the contraption and the audience had a, I would say, 140 degree clear view around the contraption, so the audience really did get a good look.

Logic alone will tell you one thing:


We could clearly see above and to the sides at all times. The only obscured section is down – logic tells us that he went in a downwards direction.

Before we accept this as a fact, do we have any supporting evidence from the tour that could corroborate the fact that he went in a downwards direction?

The answer is YES!

We see Michael Jackson, being led up onto a platform. The first question has to be, “Why are his legs open so wide?”. His legs are placed in a very specific place, why? If he’s gonna dissappear, why does he need to have open legs. The only logical explanation is that a) he needs space between his legs and b) there is something that he doesn’t want to step on …. like a hole possibly?


We have an incident during the History tour concert in Manila, Philippines. When Michael is placed up on the platform he put’s his foot in the wrong place and it clearly goes down a “hole”, in what is made to appear as a flat standing board. He then pulls it out and rebalances himself. Ooopps!


We have another incident during Michael Jackson’s History tour in Dublin, Ireland! Michael misplaces his feet and falls again. He regains his balance and they continue with the illusion.

Again, if it was a flat surface, it would be hard to fall, where would you fall? Michael clearly falls in a hole in the middle of the platform (most clear in Exhibit 1!)


There is a third example of this happening but even clearer…. I am sorry to report that in my old age, I have forgotten the concert! LOL! I used to be a lot more on the ball …


In between Michael’s legs we have a hole for him to disappear down!

Why do we keep saying Michael? That ain’t Michael!

In actual fact, although we have been having some fun here, Michael Jackson had long gone by the time this illusion happened on stage. He was dressed and relaxing just under the stage with a towel, He would then walk up a small step of steps for “Beat it”.

Let’s take a look at this. When Michael is taken down the platform we see him bring his arm up and then take his head down, with his arm remaining in plain site to prove that it is still him.

During a History tour concert in Munich or in Wembley, London, this is done very well indeed but in concerts like Bucharest, it is not done so smoothly.

We can obviously see that Michael’s double places HIS arm up and it is the double that comes back up on the platform. We can also see a clear difference in the dancing style too, between the two.

In addition to this Michael was wearing a V-Neck white t-shirt before he went down the platform. We can see this in one of the Munich concerts on the tour (not televised). He is wearing his white T-shirt with short leaves and they put the Thriller jacket on him whilst he is still on stage. He is wearing a white T-shirt for the whole concert – which is pretty clear.

Michael’s double on the other hand is wearing a LONG SLEEVED shirt.

They also had different jackets

We have an additional point to add as well. Michael’s “Thriller” jacket was different to his doubles “Thriller” jacket! They added a little something to Michael’s which wasn’t on the doubles. You will have to find a HD version and look very very carefully for this – Michael’s jacket had a red blood like stain on the arm. Almost like a permanent stain. I think that this was added on purpose for fun, to differentiate between MJ and his double.


Michael Jackson went down the platform and did not participate in the actual illusion, which was executed by a double.

In summary so far we have concluded:

1) Michael Jackson did not participate in the illusion

2) There is a hidden hole in between the protagonists legs – a trap door … or an exit hole!

3) He went DOWN, through that hole.

Some of the odd things about this illusion include:

1) Why do the dancers keep jumping around the contraption?

This is called misdirection. You know that whenever a magician carries out misdirection that they are trying to distract you from something that they are doing elsewhere! I think that this is done to add doubt and questions to whether the protagonist has slipped out the back and turned into a ghoul … this is very unlikely.They are just distracting the viewer and overloading the senses.

2) Why do they constantly move the contraption around once it is in place?

This is key. They turn the contraption AWAY from the audience so that they cannot see the protagonist standing above the hole, and possibly going down it. If the contraption was left in it’s ORIGINAL position, you would see it but they move it to face the back so that we cannot clearly see the area that he is standing … hiding the hole.

3) Why does the double come out wearing a long sleeved shirt?

I have a suspicion that this is something to do with health and safety and some kind of fire proof shirt, protecting his arms and body. There is another long shot reason which is that the dancer is skin tone is very different to Michael’s and they didn’t want to, or have the time, to make up his arms exactly like Michaels. I would go with fireproofing though…

4) Why do they remove the Thriller jacket in the first place?

I think that this is so that the jacket doesn’t get caught up in the hole and also doesn’t go up in flames!

5) Why do the front legs of the torture chamber have an additional two arms at 90 degrees, sticking out?

Could this be part of some kind of mirror device that blocks the view whilst the dancer slips underneath the stage? The more I look at this, the more I think that this is just another device to confuse the situation!

Does he go underneath the stage?

It is possible that the dancer slips through the floor and down underneath the stage. We do have a precedent for this on Michael Jackson tours (we will looks at these examples soon). My inclination is that this does NOT happen. My reasons for this are:

a) We can clearly see underneath the contraption. We can see the lights from behind the torture chamber. We can see around the contraption, from many angles. We would possibly see any major activity and him dropping though.

b) The dancers are constantly moving the contraption around. Almost to a point where it would not be feasible for him to drop down through the stage because of placement and alignment problems due to that movement. It’s not fixed enough to allow enough time for him to safely be underneath the stage – they are all wearing masks so this would have to be done SAFELY without doubt.

c) The contraption would have to be placed in the exact same place EVERY TIME, which is fine, but I would presume that the “trapdoor” would be marked on the stage. I have never seen a trapdoor on that side of the stage or any markings – even though we do see markings and evidence for other illusions on the same stage.


A truly amazing illusion! A little bit slow … I think it could have been quicker and I think that Michael could have appeared a bit quicker after it … but a very well constructed illusion.

In my opinion after taking a look at this I would suggest that the dancer did not disappear, that he did not go through a trapdoor underneath the stage but DID go through a hole and is still INSIDE the contraption lying down FLAT underneath the cage.

If you look at the platform you will see it is actually a double platform. with a small gap between it. You can see through this gap although, technically you should because we can see the supports – the colour in between the supports is BLACK … something fishy is going on there!

Also, coincidentally, the height of the double platform would just about fit a human head and a human lying down flat. He probably slides through the hole and down and forwards inside the contraption.

This would explain the long sleeves, possibly fire proof. This would also explain the amounts of time that the material is punctured, before the flames, just a the bottom of the cage – we even see the dancers checking, on occasion as to whether he has gone or not!


He’s lying flat inside the contraption! I think that an additional reason why he didn’t go under the stage was the height of the whole contraption. It is unnecessarily high up which would make it harder to travel between it and underneath the stage … have a look and have a think about how you think it was done. He’s in the contraption lying down if you ask me … oh, one more thing! If you look at many of the camera angles … they film just above the platform line, especially when showing the flames.

By Anthony King (c)

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