Like most children of the 80s, MTV was the center of my world. My parents couldn’t stand the channel so, of course, it became even that much more important thanks to my burgeoning rebellious streak. One of the videos that hit heavy rotation in 1985 was Mike + The Mechanics‘ “Silent Running,” and it was pretty terrifying to my 9 year old self. I remember watching it once all the way through but after that I just couldn’t face the dang thing again. Even worse, the video would show up on USA Network’s “Night Flight” and haunt me again and again in the wee hours.
The story of the video goes something like this… Our young hero, Tommy, is pining for his absentee dad who has disappeared during some kind of vague space mission. On the night of Tommy’s birthday, BILLY DRAGO (THE UNTOUCHABLES) shows up, claiming to know his father, and gives Tommy a key which opens a locked room in his house. In this eerily lit room, Tommy finds a mysterious glowing cube that projects a hologram of his missing father. The hologram tells Tommy that he is sorry for leaving him and hopes that his message will explain everything. Tommy’s mother hears the racket and enters the room just in time to see her son disappear.
There is some seriously weird shit going on in this video. We see Tommy in the darkness of his room at night and oh look, it’s populated by some frightening dolls: a monkey, a spasmodic baby, and a friggin’ clown. There are also some clues to the fate of his father: men in silver biohazard suits and some kind of techno-gobbledygook being typed on a computer screen. I really love the bittersweet (bordering on depressing) birthday scene where Tommy blows out the candles and he looks like he has shell shock.
That’s all fine and good but the one scene that was burned into my mind is when young Tommy is cautiously approaching the door to the glowing “forbidden” room in his house. The STAR WARS-esque message recorded in a hologram bit isn’t particularly scary but the buildup was just too much for me. Even after I had seen the video and knew what was behind that door, it still freaked me out. And what is Tommy’s reward for his curiosity? He vanishes! The kid dematerializes right in front of his horrified mother. Amazing.
Revisiting the video now, the only thing that still scares me is the live performance footage of Mike + The Mechanics at the end and the droll awfulness of the song itself. But it’s easy to see why the video scared me. It’s directed like a horror movie! And for God’s sake, do not put the wickedly creepy BILLY DRAGO in your music video if you want it to hit number one. See, what did I tell you? “Silent Running” only went to number 6 (according to allmusic.com). Ha ha, screw you, Mike! Screw you and your stupid Mechanics!