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Action Jackson

The campaign to redeem his rep is working — so far

Rehabilitate Michael Jackson's career? A year ago it seemed like Mission Impossible. Now, with at least one record label, two publicists, and a host of lawyers working round the clock to make it happen, it's going surprisingly well.

Legally, Jackson is in the clear. In September, California ended its investigation into allegations of child molestation without bringing charges. (The singer settled a civil suit lodged by the boy's family in January for a reported $20 million.) In private life, Jackson is still married to his bride of six months, Lisa Marie Presley, and Elvis has yet to return from the grave. Most important, the self-proclaimed King of Pop is cutting HIStory, a double CD. Due early next year, the best-of album will contain eight new songs — including a duet with sister Janet Jackson.

As always with Jackson, nothing is black and white. Along with his well-orchestrated comeback come reports of three projects that evoke uneasy reminders of his legal nightmare and his gargantuan ego. Jackson's publicity team has no comment on the projects, but here's what we know:

''Is This Scary?'' In this music video, according to a source, Jackson plays a Frankenstein-like character who entices children to his home — a haunted house on a hill. The parents in the village are not amused, and they storm the house carrying torches and bearing signs demanding that the ''freak'' leave town. Stop scaring the kids, they scream. ''Is this scary?'' the singer asks, his eyes bulging as his tongue unfurls a full three feet. Jackson then peels off his face to reveal a skull. The grown-ups jump back in fear, but the kids are delighted by the magic. * History: Before he was investigated for child molestation, Jackson asked horror czar Stephen King to script the music video for the movie Addams Family Values. ''[Jackson] felt as though he had been monsterized by the popular press,'' recalls King. When the civil suit was filed, Jackson shelved the project. * Status: According to inside sources, Jackson is considering releasing the video with HIStory. Even King finds this strange. ''I saw a rough cut of the video in the aftermath of the accusations,'' says the author. ''And taken against that background, the video is both touching and bizarre. It's a peculiar piece of work, to say the least.''

''The Honeymoon'' Last summer, the newly hitched Jackson jetted to Budapest, Hungary, where the world saw him shoot this video featuring hundreds of soldiers in Communist uniform marching across a plaza. The plot is stranger still: At the head of the goose-stepping pack marches a smiling Jackson. As he passes by adoring children, some faint at his sight; others mouth the words ''I love you, Michael'' in slow motion. Later, a bigger crowd awaits the unveiling of a huge statue. Off slips the wrapping to reveal a Godzilla-size image of Jackson himself. A helicopter zooms under its legs, nearly brushing the groin. * History: The video, which cost Sony an estimated $7 million, apparently is designed for movie theaters as a commercial for HIStory. * Status: Sony refused to comment, but a source says it's still slated for theatrical release.

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