Friday, October 11, 2013

Treehouse of Horror: Part Two

TREEHOUSE OF HORROR VI

ATTACK OF THE 50FT EYESORES
 

After being cheated out of a gigantic donut, Homer steals the donut attached to a giant statue in front of a donut shop, setting into motion the destruction of Springfield by giant advertisements, featuring Paul Anka was the key to the giant advertisement's defeat!

The strength of this segment is that, unlike a lot of the Treehouse of Horror segments, it ends up being a sort of ensemble segment featuring a lot of the different Springfieldians, and they all have great moments. Especially Wiggum, who ends up shooting the captain of Springfield's basketball team, who he claims was "turning into a monster." Easily one of my favorite Wiggum moments.

This is one of my favorite segments, in part because I am a gigantic kaiju fan, and it was nice seeing Simpsons bring in some kaiju parodies, including the use of the iconic, always awesome, Godzilla roar. Even better that the roar comes from a gigantic Kent Brockman.


NIGHTMARE ON EVERGREEN TERRACE
 

Nightmare on Evergreen Terrace: Groundskeeper Willie, having died in an accident caused by the carelessness of the parents of Springfield (especially Homer), begins killing the students of Springfield Elementary in their dreams, in this awesome parody of the Nightmare on Elm Street movies.

Maybe I'm biased as a giant fan of ol' Mr. Krueger, but this segment is just fantastic. There's actually something creepy about the sequence in which Martin is strangled to death by Groundskeeper Willie's tongue. Also the fucking hilarious moment immediately after where his corpse is accidentally shown to two difference classes, traumatizing them all. This also gave us the classic "Lousy Smarch weather" and "Don't touch Willie, good advice" lines, in the hilarious sequence showing off exactly what happened to Groundskeeper Willie.

This is a classic. It's a great parody of Nightmare on Elm Street, it's hilarious, it manages to be creepy at the same time, altogether just a really amazing segment.


HOMER³ 
 
 
In his attempt to avoid Pattie and Selma, Homer ends up stuck inside of the third dimension. Jesus Christ this segment... maybe for younger viewers the visuals will seem really lame and dated, but I can remember when this first aired, being a kid, and just having my mind absolutely blown by how fucking beautiful the whole thing was. It's still really beautiful to me, but that might just be nostalgia goggles.

I think this may be my favorite Treehouse segment of all, partly just for the visuals and the really sweet, beautiful, Myst-like soundtrack (fitting, given that one of the buildings from Myst makes an appearance), despite the relative lack of jokes. Not that there aren't some funny moments, I love the sequence where Homer asks if anyone sees Tron, followed by everyone answering nope one after the other, save for Wiggum who says yes, before correcting himself and saying no.

There's also something kinda disturbing about seeing 3D Homer fall apart the way he does, even if he ends up with a sort of, remotely happy ending when he enters our dimension. I can't put my finger on it, but it's still fairly creepy looking to me.


OVERALL

This is my second favorite Treehouse episode, and one of my favorite Simpsons episodes in general, easily. This was originally my favorite episode as a kid, and I have fond memories of rewatching a recording I'd made on VHS over and over. All three segments are fantastic, the third segment's CG was amazing for the time, the odd animation the second segment uses for a few of its dream sequences is interesting... altogether it feels like an experimental episode, but an experiment gone right. It's odd, but it's amazing.





TREEHOUSE OF HORROR VII


THE THING AND I
 

After hearing strange sounds coming out of the attic, Bart and Lisa discover that Bart's evil twin has been chained up and living above them this whole time, eating fish heads. Although the commentary for the episode references Basketcase as being the intended parody, I personally don't see it. It reminds me more of Castle Freak, which was based on an awesome HP Lovecraft story.

This episode is just full of amazing lines, most of which come from Dr. Hibbert, who just completely steals the whole episode with great bits like "Too crazy for Boy's Town, too much of a boy for crazy town." I've always loved him as a character, and it's nice seeing him finally get some time in a Treehouse episode, and man is he on his A-game for the whole thing.


THE GENESIS TUB
 

After leaving a tooth in a container of soda, Lisa ends up growing an entire microcivilization that worships her as a god and fears that Bart is the devil.

I'm not normally too much of a fan of Lisa centric episodes, but this segment is just hilarious, and Lisa gets some of her best lines in the show's history. I love her reaction to her mom lying about waffles, serving her waffle shaped pancakes. It's nice seeing her as still being a kid, even if she is a genius, something the show ended up forgetting as the years went on.

Although the segment is just chockfull of hilarious lines, for some reason the thing that stuck with me the most is where a crowd of the microcivilization's people ask Lisa theological questions, and an enormously fat man, in a really fat voice, asks "Why am I so fat?" I don't know why I find it so hilarious, but it's become something I quote whenever I'm watching a movie or show and there's someone who is extremely obese.


CITIZEN KANG
 

Citizen Kang: Homer stumbles upon a conspiracy by Kang and Kodos to replace the presidential candidates and take over the earth in what may be one of the most memorable and quoted Treehouse of Horror segment of all time, and certainly one of the funniest.

Oh where to begin with this segment, there's just so many great moments that it feels hard to really point out anything in particular. Homer referring to Bob Dole as "Mumbly Joe", the image of both Bill Clinton and Bob Dole suspended naked in space goo, Kang's and Kodos's messages to the American people while disguised as the candidates... there's just so much.

My favorite moment is probably Kodos-Dole trying to gain favor with the audience by promising abortions for all, which they boo, then "abortions for none", which they boo, and he appeases them by promising "abortions for some, tiny American flags for others."

One thing I really love about this episode is that, despite featuring both Bob Dole and Bill Clinton, the show doesn't particularly make a jab at the politics of either of them, and still manages to make both of them absolutely hilarious. This is much like the fantastic episode "Two Bad Neighbors" where George Bush Sr. moves in near the Simpsons family. I've never been too much of a fan of political humor, with some exceptions, because I've found that it quite quickly becomes dated, so it's nice seeing writers that took a different route to insure that the material would stay funny.


OVERALL

Overall: This is probably the most memorable of all of the Treehouse episodes. I see and hear references to this one all the time, and especially the final segment seems to be quoted more often than almost any other Simpsons episodes. "Don't blame me, I voted for Kodos" seems to pop up after any election here in America, and I love it.


TREEHOUSE OF HORROR VIII

THE HĪ©MEGA MAN
 

After Mayor Quimby insults France, Springfield gets nuked and Homer finds himself to be the last man alive earth in this parody of the Charlton Heston classic "Omega Man."

Every time I see this episode I wish more time had been spent showing Homer goofing off in the destroyed Springfield, it's probably the highlight of the whole segment but doesn't really go on for that long. Still, there's some hilarious bits, like Herman's line about the bunker standing a six megaton blast, "no more, no less." Also Homer's fantasies about his family all involving them swinging at a baseball with a bat.

For some reason, a lot of this segment makes me think of Futurama. I think part of it is that it starts a trend Futurama had of having people randomly shout "Silence!", something I really love for some reason, and want to start doing in real life. The segment was written by Futurama creator David X. Cohen, so I guess it all makes sense.


FLY VS FLY
 

After Homer buys a teleporter from Prof. Frink's yard sale, an accident causes Bart's head to be placed on a fly's body , and a fly's head on Bart's body.

It's an altogether alright segment. It's got some funny moments, like Homer accidentally punching Lisa with the teleporter, or Bart accidentally making Catdog years before that show went on the air. The fly, with Bart's body, ends up being fairly creepy at least, but it doesn't really save the segment from mediocrity.

Prof. Frink is also great in what short moments he gets in the segment, but to be fair when isn't he hilarious? It's funny, I hate who he's based off of, but I love Frink. I also love Freakazoid. I'm not really sure why it is that parodies of Jerry Lewis are so funny to me.

-
EASY BAKE COVEN
 

In easily one of the weakest Treehouse of Horror segments of the first ten episodes, we get a glimpse into the origin of Halloween. In the early 19th century, the puritan versions of Springfieldians are involved in a witch hunt that ends up revealing that Marge Simpson (and her sisters) is a witch. After being revealed, she goes door to door kidnapping kids to eat them, before the Flanders' family tempt her and her sisters with snacks instead.

It's altogether just really, really lame. There's a few kinda funny moments, but nothing really laugh worthy, just sort of mildly amusing.


OVERALL
This was, sadly, a pretty meh episode beyond the first segment. It's not exactly an -awful- episode, but it's not one I really ever care about, and will often skip it when I'm watching the series.



TREEHOUSE OF HORROR IX

HELL TOUPEE
 

Snake gets arrested after robbing the quickie mart, and is executed on live TV as it's his third strike. Homer has his hair sewn to his head by Dr. Nick, and ends up being possessed by the spirit of Snake, who wants him to murder everyone that witnessed the crime: Apu, Moe, and Bart.

After the disappointment that was Treehouse of Horror VIII, this segment gave me a lot of hope when it aired. It's pretty amusing, the deaths are surprisingly horrific, and the writing is pretty damn good. It's not one of the better segments, but it's certainly pretty good. Also hey, Homer trying to kill his family again. This seems to be a minor recurring thing in the Treehouse of Horror episodes.

One thing that always stood out to me with this segment, even now, is that it looks darker than a lot of episodes. I'm not sure if it actually is, but it just seems like the coloring is off, or maybe it's intentional.


THE TERROR OF TINY TOON
 

Marge takes Maggie out trick r treating, but not before taking the remote's batteries and telling the kids they aren't allowed to watch the Itchy and Scratchy Halloween special. Bart takes some of Homer's plutonium to use in place of the batteries, and ends up getting both himself and Lisa sucked inside of the Halloween special, causing them to have to try and survive Itchy and Scratchy as they run through the basic cable lineup.

I kinda love this segment, it reminds me of one of the segments in Amazon Women on the Moon, wherein an old man ends up stuck inside of tv land. Possibly intentional, as this was another segment written by David X. Cohen, who has referenced the movie on Futurama (including an episode named Amazon Women in the Mood.) It's a great comedy and it's nice to see it referenced. I also just really love Itchy and Scratchy.


STARSHIP POOPERS
 

And here it is, the worst segment across the first ten Treehouse episodes. Maggie loses her "baby legs", revealing monstrous tentacles and a large, sharp fang in her mouth. Kang and Kodos come to earth, revealing that one of them impregnated Marge earlier, and that they are the true parents of Maggie. In order to resolve the issue, they all go on Jerry Springer, and the viewing audience is left wondering how a segment so stupid managed to make it to air.

I absolutely, truly hate this segment. There's almost nothing funny in the episode beyond Homer's reference to baby legs, and Dr. Hibbert's response to Marge asking what he prescribes for Maggie, "Fire, and lots of it." Jerry Springer feels out of place, and alongside the groaner of a name just feels like an attempt by the writers to show how "hip" they are with entertainment today, which is amusing considering Poochie's appearance in the previous segment.


OVERALL

Beyond the third segment, it's an alright episode, I'd just suggest ending the episode immediately after the second segment ends. There's no reason to watch Starship Poopers, and I'd be happy just pretending it never happened.


TREEHOUSE OF HORROR X

I KNOW WHAT YOU DIDDILY-IDDILY-DID
 

The title had me worried back when this first aired, as the movie the title parodies is probably one of the worst slashers of the 90's. Which in itself is an accomplishment, I guess. Thankfully, it's not so much a parody of that, and more of a parody of numerous horror films and some original twists here and there.

The Simpsons family, after getting their Sugar Crisp cereal back in some amazing story we'll never know the details of, accidentally run over Flanders because Homer forgot to put the fog lights in. Homer has to stage an accidental death for Flanders in an awesome sort of Weekend at Bernies type deal, and then the family finds themselves threatened by someone who seemingly witnessed the murder.

This segment is everything that Starship Poopers wasn't. It's hilarious, it's clever, it's well written... I love it, and the reveal of Flanders being a werewolf was an awesome twist that strengthens the whole thing.


DESPERATELY XEEKING XENA
 

In what is unquestionably the best segment of the episode, and one of the best Treehouse segments ever, Bart and Lisa gain superpowers from a freak accident involving a candy scanner and have to save Lucy Lawless from Comic Book Guy.

This segment is just so full of catchy quotables that it's insane. This is what gave us the be all end all answer to all continuity problems and plot holes in entertainment history: Wizard did it. Even the theme song given to Bart and Lisa's superhero alteregoes, Stretch Dude and Clobber Girl, is extremely catchy. This was so good it basically came back in Futurama in a plot where Fry and Leela gain superpowers from an ointment, complete with their own similar sounding and equally catchy themesong.

Lucy Lawless does a great job in her cameo role as herself, and ends up getting some of the funniest lines of the episode, and Comic Book Guy is just fantastic in his role as "The Collector." I especially love his decision to die in a Lorne Green pose from the original Battlestar Galactica.


LIFE'S A GLITCH THEN YOU DIE
 

Y2K happens, and partly due to Homer's incompetence the world ends up doomed. Electronics come to life and wreak havoc, planes crash, nuclear plants meltdown, massive looting and riots. Only Lisa and Marge survive, taken aboard a rocket for the world's best and brightest, while Homer and Bart end up on a rocket full of the worst of humanity: Tom Arnold, Rosie O'Donnel, Paulie Short, Spike Lee, etc., which gets shot into the sun.

While not as good as the first two segments of the episode, this segment is still full of hilarious bits, my personal favorite of which is a hair metal band that is confused over if they're Ratt, Quiet Riot, or Poison, though they seem to be visually based off Spinal Tap (which Simpsons VA Harry Shearer was a member of.) I also just really love the kind of disturbing ending, with Homer and Bart deciding they'd rather die in space than spend another moment with Rosie O'Donnel, Tom Arnold, and the like. The final shot, of their heads inflating onscreen and then exploding offscreen, is kinda disturbing and hilarious all at the same time.


OVERALL

Overall: This is not only one of the better Treehouse episodes, but also the best episode of Season 11. It's hilarious, it's full of memorable moments, and all three segments are great.


FINAL THOUGHTS
Here's what I've got for the first ten Treehouse of Horror episodes, rated from best to worst.

  1. TREEHOUSE OF HORROR III
  2. TREEHOUSE OF HORROR VI
  3. TREEHOUSE OF HORROR V
  4. TREEHOUSE OF HORROR VII
  5. TREEHOUSE OF HORROR X
  6. TREEHOUSE OF HORROR I
  7. TREEHOUSE OF HORROR IX
  8. TREEHOUSE OF HORROR VIII
  9. TREEHOUSE OF HORROR IV
  10. TREEHOUSE OF HORROR II 
 

Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Simpsons Treehouse of Horror: Part One

    I love The Simpsons, I've made no secret of that. It's more like an obsession. It's one of my favorite shows of all time and I've watched the first 14 seasons several dozen times over. I've marathoned whole seasons so many times, watched every episode of the first 14 seasons with commentary at least once, and I used to own quite a bit of Simpsons merchandise, and the bulk of the Simpsons video games. Hell, my earliest experiences on the internet, back in the mid-late 90's, were spent on early forums and fanpages for the show, and I remember my first desktop wallpaper being 3D homer from one of the Treehouse of Horror episodes.

    I also absolutely love Halloween, something that I figure is far more obvious, so it seems odd that I've never tackled The Simpsons Halloween specials on here. So, starting today, I'm going to fix that. I'm just going to go over the first ten Treehouse of Horror episodes, give my thoughts on them, share what I feel are the highlights of each, and then after I've done the 10th maybe I'll rank them.


TREEHOUSE OF HORROR

WRAPAROUND
 

The only one of them to actually feature the eponymous treehouse! I really do love this, as much like everything else in season two, it's just got this realistic, nice kind of sweet vibe to it with Bart and Lisa telling each other spooky stories in their treehouse while sharing candy, as their dad watches from the outside.



BAD DREAM HOUSE


The family moves into a big haunted house in an awesome parody of the Amityville films and the first Poltergeist. The house, voiced by Harry Shearer in a variation of his Skinner voice, is fantastic, and Homer is truly at his A-game the whole story with such awesome bits as Homer arguing with the man who sold him the house over not being told that it was all built on an Indian burial ground, finishing with the revelation that he'd been told several times. Homer's complete disregard for his family's lives combined with Marge's mild annoyance towards him over it is always something I love in these Treehouse episodes. The ending, where the house decides to destroy itself rather than have to spend more time with the Simpsons, is probably one of my favorite segment endings in Treehouse history, and probably one of my favorite moments of the season as a whole.


HUNGRY ARE THE DAMNED
 

The first of many appearances of Halloween episode regulars Kang and Kodos, and the appearance of an alien voiced by James Earl Jones himself, Sarek the Preparer. I do love that all three are named after Star Trek TOS characters (a Klingon, a cruel former dictator, and Spock's father respectively.) The whole segment is a delightful parody of the classic Twilight Zone episode "To Serve Man", but with the twist that the only monsters on board the ship are the Simpsons themselves, following in the same theme as the first segment. I do love Kang and Kodos, and I always love James Earl Jones, but I always found the segment to be relatively weak. I do love the bit where the Simpsons family mocks the aliens for being technologically out of date when it comes to video games.


THE RAVEN
 

Easily the highlight of the episode, and one of my favorite moments in animation history. The magnificent voice of James Earl Jones narrating over a particularly beautifully animated depiction of Homer re-enacting The Raven, with Marge as the long lost Lenore and Bart as the Raven. I love the designs, the heavy use of shadows, the color scheme, there's just something so beautiful looking about this whole segment that it doesn't really matter if there's not too much in the way of outright jokes. It's humorous still, but the beauty and the amazing narration take priority, and they carry it all so well. I've never been particularly too much of a Poe fan, but everything here just works so damn well that it always lifts my mood when watching it. Admittedly, I think I could sit and listen to James Earl Jones read Family Circus strips and still be captivated.

OVERALL
Although not one of the best, the first entry in the Treehouse of Horror series is still quite fantastic, and a must in my Halloween special rotation, if not just for James Earl Jones reading The Raven. Maybe it's nostalgia, but there's just something about this episode in particular that catches the spirit of Halloween to me.


TREEHOUSE OF HORROR II


WRAPAROUND
 

This time all of the stories center around the nightmares the Simpsons family have after feasting on a particularly large haul of delicious Halloween candy. This is also the first time we see the kids in Halloween costumes: Bart as an executioner and Lisa as a totem pole, which hindered their ability to get very far. Marge, of course, is the Bride of Frankenstein.

LISA'S NIGHTMARE
 

On The Simpsons' first of many, many, many trips around the world, the family ends up in Marrakesh where Homer buys a magical monkey's paw from the former president of Marrakesh. Maggie starts things off by wishing for a new pacifier, though Bart follows things up by wishing for the family to be rich, turning into a lovely, but sadly brief, parody of how overblown Simpsons merchandising was at the time. It still holds up pretty well, and I really do love it. Lisa wishes for world peace, turning everything into a magical hippie utopia that quickly gets invaded by Kang and Kodos, who use their advanced club and slingshot technology to conquer everyone. Homer, of course, knows the solution to everything, a wish that can't be turned against them: A very specific turkey sandwich. Sadly, in the greatest horror twist of all, the sandwich turns out to be a little bit dry, and they ditch the paw.

Ned Flanders ends up with it and quickly makes a bunch of wishes to defeat the aliens (with even more advanced board-with-a-nail-in-it technology), and a castle for himself. It's nice seeing back in the day where Flanders was essentially just the perfect neighbor and a do-gooder, because I really don't want to see what current Ned would wish for in the series.


BART'S NIGHTMARE
 

This is probably my least favorite segment of the episode. It's essentially a parody of the classic Twilight Zone episode wherein a magical child made people that he hated vanish, and could alter reality. The difference being that the child is, well... Bart. It's not too bad of an idea, but after some funny gags showing off Bart's powers, the focus turns towards Bart and Homer being forced to bond by Marge, and it just kinda falls apart. There's some amusing bits, like Bart's wrong test answers becoming reality and Bart replacing a football during a big game with Homer mid-kick, but overall it's just kinda mediocre. The best part of the whole segment is a short glimpse at Krusty, who has been forced to do his show for several days straight, and I think that's mainly because I love seeing horrible things happen to Krusty.


HOMER'S NIGHTMARE
 

Homer ends up fired from work for sleeping on the job and ends up forced working at a cemetery, meanwhile Mr. Burns and Smithers start up plans to build the ultimate automated worker. The catch? They need a human brain, and after an accident at the cemetery, Homer ends up being their desired subject.

This is pretty hilarious segment just for the banter between Mr. Burns and Mr. Smithers. I've always loved both characters, partly for the antiquated words and phrases the former tends to use, and thankfully they're both given the focus of the segment, with Homer not really doing much beyond causing some damage as a robot and being fired towards the start.

The segment ends with the metallic body of Homer falling and crushing Mr. Burns, leading to my favorite line of the episode, "every bone shattered, organs leaking vital fluids, slight headache... lack of appetite" as Mr. Burns concludes that he's dying. As Homer wakes up from his nightmare and into the wraparound of the episode, it's revealed that Mr. Burns' head had to be grafted onto his shoulder after the accident, and the whole thing was real, ending with an awesome preview for the next episode with Mr. Burns' head still attached to Homer's body.

OVERALL
Not only one of my least favorite Treehouse of Horror episodes (at least before those that came after the Simpsons Movie), but also one of my least favorite episodes of the first ten seasons. It's got some laughs, but overall it just feels really weak and unmemorable.


TREEHOUSE OF HORROR III

WRAPAROUND
 
 
The Simpsons are having a huge Halloween party, featuring many of Bart and Lisa's classmates and Grandpa! I love all the detail that went into this, expanding on the costumes of the previous episode's wraparound by giving -everyone- a neat costume. Bart as Alexander de Large from Clockwork Orange is a particularly amusing highlight as it's one of the many, many Kubrick references that ended up in The Simpsons in this season and later seasons. The wraparound is also chockful of hilarious bits like Homer ruining one of the Halloween games by eating parts of it, and Flanders nearly giving Grandpa a heart attack. Also Homer's completely awful attempt at a scary story.


CLOWN WITHOUT PITY
 

God I don't even know where to begin with this segment, it is just so jampacked with hilarious bits. The basic story is Homer buying a Krusty doll for Bart that turns out to be murderous and evil, but the strength of this episode is just on how many amazing funny lines they managed to shove into every bit, like the classic scene where Homer talks to the shopkeeper about the Krusty doll, with Homer responding to everything he says with either "that's good" or "that's bad." Also my personal favorite line "Marge! The doll's trying to kill me and the toaster's been laughing at me!", or possibly the big reveal, wherein a Charles Bronson sounding man points out the issue: "Someone set this thing to evil."

Amusingly this episode set off a bit of continuity that ended up paying off over a decade later: Maude commenting after seeing Homer naked "There goes the last lingering thread of my heterosexuality."


KING HOMER
 

Another just amazing segment, a full on parody of the original King Kong movie. The plot is about what you'd expect, though ending with Marge marrying King Homer, but again the strength of the segment is that it is just shotgunned with some of the most hilarious lines in The Simpsons history. Smithers commenting that "women and seamen don't mix", Mr. Burns getting high off gas he was going to use against King Homer, King Homer eating Shirley Temple, and so damn much more.

This segment reminds me a lot of Airplane and other Zucker-Zucker-Abrams movies where they just put in a gag every second so that if one doesn't work, the next will, and it makes for something that is just so dense with comedy that you can rewatch it over and over and keep finding something else to laugh at. This is one of the reasons why Treehouse of Horror 3 is my favorite of all of the Treehouse episodes, and my second favorite episode of series overall.



DIAL 'Z' FOR ZOMBIES
 

Bart gets in trouble for writing a review for a book meant for preschoolers, and goes into the school library's occult section to find something new. He ends up finding a book of magic spells that he and Lisa plan to use to bring Snowball 2 back to life. Sadly this ends up backfiring and they end up raising all of the dead humans back as brain-eating zombies.

Although not as densely packed with jokes as the first two segments, this is still something where I just can't stop laughing the whole way through. Bart using a Michael Jackson record cover as a hat during his magical incantations, Krusty trying to get kids to send him their parents brains, Homer shooting Ned Flanders without even realizing he was a zombie, and an amazing sequence wherein Homer shoots the zombies of a bunch of famous historical figures who all happened to be buried in Springfield for some reason.


OVERALL
This is just a -fantastic- episode, and if you only want to watch one Treehouse of Horror episode for some reason, it should be this. It's got some of the best writing I've ever seen in a comedy show, and it's all aged really damn well. Anytime I feel I need to point someone towards the high point of Simpsons quality, it's always this and Last Exit to Springfield.


TREEHOUSE OF HORROR IV

WRAPAROUND
 

The final time the series used one, sadly. This time it's all done as a parody of the classic Rod Serling series 'The Night Gallery', as Bart shows off paintings based around the stories of the episode. That show never gets enough love, so I'm glad The Simpsons payed tribute to it. Personally enjoyed it even more than Twilight Zone, but I'm well aware I'm in a minority there. I've got to say, the painting in this wraparound are pretty nicely done.


THE DEVIL AND HOMER SIMPSON
 

In one of the more memorable Treehouse of Horror segments, Homer ends up selling his soul to the Devil, who turns out to be Ned Flanders himself, in exchange for a donut, and must defend himself in an infernal courtroom to prevent Flanders from taking his soul to Hell.

I love Flanders as Satan, there's just something about it that works. It also beats how the show used to depict him, which was basically just Herman with red skin and goat legs. I do miss Herman, though, he was a fun semi-regular character in the early years, the one armed man that owned the gun shop, but hasn't been seen since the 22 Short Tales about Springfield episode. I also really love the crazy depiction of Hell, like demons forcing Homer to eat millions of donuts, which doesn't actually bother him at all.

Probably the most memorable thing in the episode stems from the ending, where Homer's head is turned into a giant donut as punishment for beating Satan, a depiction I see constantly when it comes to Treehouse of Horror merchandise and referenced in some of the Simpsons video games.


TERROR AT 5 1/2 FEET
 

A parody of the classic Twilight Zone episode (and Twilight Zone: The Movie segment) about either William Shatner or John Lithgow fearing a demon on the wing of a plane, Bart must convince his classmates and Otto that there's a gremlin on the side of the bus trying to sabotage the wheel.

This is my personal favorite segment of the episode, in part because I love the source material, but also because I just love so many of the little bits strewn about, like Otto taking Bart's warning incorrectly and ramming an GMC Gremlin off the road, driven by Hans Moleman, which ends up exploding. I love Moleman, and I wish he popped up more in Treehouse of Horror episodes. I also love that, for some reason, the bus windows have airplane-style covers, there's just something about that that makes me laugh harder than it should.


BART SIMPSON'S DRACULA
 

Sadly something of a weak segment, though maybe I'm just biased because I've seen so many parodies of the source material already. Not to say Dracula parodies in general, but specifically so many parodies of Francis Ford Coppola's Dracula, a film I genuinely love. For whatever reason, there was an overabundance of parodies of this film, and most of them were pretty weak, though I did enjoy the Mel Brooks, Leslie Nielsen classic Dracula: Dead and Loving It.

The episode is not without amusing bits. Mr. Burns is funny as always, and I love how it all ends up ending in a weird parody of the ending to Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown, but overall it's one of the weakest segments in the early Treehouse episodes. Homer at least gets a fantastic line partway in, "Kill my boss? Do I dare live the American dream!?" Admittedly I've usually found that in weaker Simpsons episodes where Homer himself isn't the focus, Homer ends up getting some great lines that sometimes end up making up for the lack of quality elsewhere in the episode.


OVERALL
Not as bad as 2, but nowhere near as good as 1 or 3. The first two segments are alright, but there's not too much particularly memorable about either of them, and the laughs are pretty spaced out, and the third segment is just lame.

TREEHOUSE OF HORROR V

THE SHINNING
 

The episode starts off strong with a hilarious parody of Stanley Kubrick's adaption of Stephen King's The Shining, complete with Alf Clausen's own twist on Wendy Carlos' opening music for the film as a nice little extra bit of detail. The story follows the basics of the film: Homer slowly goes crazy, Bart discovers he has psychic powers, and Groundskeeper Willie is there to tell Bart about the shinning and then pop up and die later.

The best thing about this episode is how they handle Homer's descent into insanity. Mr. Burns removed all of the alcohol from the house, and upon discovering this Homer quickly moves into threatening to kill everyone before slinking off into the house, wherein the ghost of Moe (with no effort) convinces him to kill all of his family for a beer.

The scene where Marge walks into a big empty room to check out what Homer's written so far is an amazingly well done subversion of what you expect out of the parody, with just the words "Feelin' fine" written with the typewriter, only for a bolt of lightning to reveal that the entire room is covered in the words "No TV no beer make Homer go crazy."

I also absolutely love their twist on the ending, with the whole family frozen solid, watching things on a tiny portable TV, when they all end up having to sit through A Chorus Line.


TIME AND PUNISHMENT
 

Time and Punishment: I think this is possibly one of the most quoted Simpsons episodes for me, just because of this segment. Homer gets his hand stuck in a toaster which he has to break to get off, and ends up turning it into a time machine. What follows is basically the only good adaptation of A Sound of Thunder ever, and I'm really not even joking.

I love all of the different realities Homer ends up in, especially the first, where everything is this sort of totalitarian state where Ned Flanders controls all, and forces people into reneducation camps to act more like him. Much like with the last episode, there's just something funny about Ned Flanders being something evil, it just works so well.

The climax of the segment is absolutely hilarious, with Homer going back in time and altering -everything-, killing every dinosaur, insect, and fish around, in hopes that eventually he'll end up in the right time. Which he does, with the exception of everyone now having frog tongues, not that he really cares much. Also Willie pops back up again to suddenly get axed to death, again. Poor Willie.


NIGHTMARE CAFETERIA
 

As Principal Skinner begins to take issue with overcrowding in detention, he and the rest of the faculty start killing troublemaker students and serving them as food in what is easily the most disturbing segment in Treehouse of Horror history. This episode actually gave me nightmares as a kid, and honestly it's still kinda creepy to think about, despite how funny it is.

There's just something horrifying about Mrs. Krabapple, Principal Skinner, etc. fantasizing about eating the children, and they each become more monstrous as the episode goes on, with Lunch Lady Doris reduced to a hissing, hunched over beast by the end. The climax of the segment itself is kind of disturbing, with Milhouse falling into a giant blender, followed by Bart and Lisa. Also, of course, Willie gets axed in the back, exclaiming "Ach! I'm bad at this!"

Things wrap back around to just hilarious, though fairly disturbing at the same time, as it turns out it was all a dream, and that the only thing Bart has to worry about is some gas that turns people inside out. Said gas seeps into the house and does, in fact, turn the whole Simpsons family inside out in a fairly grotesque fashion, followed by them going over a parody of the opening song to A Chorus Line, tying back into the ending of The Shinning. It then moves right back into just disturbing by ending with Bart being ripped to shreds by Santas Little Helper, leaving a bloody mess behind. It may sound silly but somehow that still bothers me even to this day.


OVERALL
Overall: One of the best Treehouse of Horror episodes, probably my third favorite of all of them. It's hilarious, it's packed with fun stuff that just sticks with you, and it even manages to be downright creepy in the final act, something that almost never happens in the series.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The Night Flier

    When it comes to movies, there's one thing that will always make me happy: A large amount of character actors, and as was probably obvious after my review of Stephen King's The Stand miniseries I'm also a huge fan of both TV (and straight to video) films and Stephen King, so it just feels wrong that I've not done much after The Stand. Tonight, I'm correcting that by shining some light on something I'd consider an underrated gem.

    For those unfamiliar with the King story, "The Night Flier" was a short story he wrote in 1988 about a reporter for a Weekly World News style tabloid hunting down a serial killer who stalks people at night after flying to small airports and hangers in his black Cessna Skymaster. This, along with The Jaunt, has always been one of my favorite King short stories just for the uniqueness of it. Both the main character, who gave us the perspective of just the absolute scummiest tabloid reporter, and the idea of something horrible that has to travel by plane, were just so interesting and out there that the story just really stuck with me, and I remember fondly thinking back to it anytime I'd see an issue of Weekly World News in the checkout lane of a grocery store.
RIP, you beautiful thing you.

    The 1997 adaptation, pushed out directly to video by New Line Cinema, was written and directed by Mark Pavia, who sadly never did another full film, and stars Miguel Ferrer in the title role, who Stephen King fans will remember as Lloyd in The Stand miniseries. He's easily one of my favorite character actors, and I really wish I got to see him in more films. He just does filthy, scummy, greedy people so well. They also brought in veteran special effects artist Howard Berger, who'd previously worked on Misery, From Dusk Till Dawn, In the Mouth of Madness, Evil Dead 2, Army of Darkness, and many other awesome horror flicks, so I expected some pretty pretty good effects despite the low budget and the direct to video nature of the film.
 

    The film opens up with a small country airstrip at night. The only man operating it notices a small black airplane landing, goes to investigate, and gets attacked quickly by something offscreen that hits his head with the door then slices his face up. Right off the bat I'm a slight bit worried, as the effects for the face slicing are pretty damn poor. But hey, it's a pre-credits sequence, I should be used to those being pretty lame in these kinds of movies. It also gives a good ideal of the film quality we're in for, which is to say usual TV movie fare. I'm fine with that, personally.



Thank god he's just jam beneath a thin layer of skin.

    After the title screen kills off the first character of the film, we're left to meet our main character, and man, even by King standards, he's the king of assholes. Richard Dees, as played by Miguel Ferrer, is a cold-hearted, money-focused journalist for Inside View, a tabloid whose primary focus is on uncovering satanic cults, sex scandals, aliens, the paranormal, all that good stuff. King fans may remember the name popping up in a number of other King works, including Richard Dees himself who popped up in The Dead Zone as a skeptical reporter who wanted to interview Johnny Smith. This man is basically every horrible thing people like to think about tabloid reporters and paparazzi, all rolled up into a mean spirited, hate-filled package, and man does it really carry the film.

"No, you tell -your- bitches to leave."

    Of course, for every protagonist, even an asshole protagonist, we need an antagonist, and that's sadly that's a bit of a weaker point to the film. Richard Dees walks into his boss's office, angry because a photo of a dead baby he took wasn't used in the latest issue, to find that his boss, who I can only describe as the product of an unholy union between Rick Moranis and the wacky foreign guy Vigo the Carpathian possessed, is welcoming a new employee: Katherine Blair, as played by an actress who never actually got another role. We're also introduced to the boom mic, you'll be seeing a lot more of him than either of these two guys.

"Just dropping in to say hi."

    Why do I say this is a weak point? Well, in an effort to pad out the content of the novella into a 90 minute film, we've got a sort of cooked up rivalry between Richard Dees and a new reporter who is basically his opposite: a happy, peppy, annoying girl that he nicknames Jimmy Olsen. They're pushed into conflict by their quirky, camp gay boss who hopes that with the two of them working against each other he can corner the market on their big new story, the eponymous Night Flier. It's not that bad of an idea, but it feels really forced and, in the end, it feels like the character of Katherine didn't need to exist. She's not all that interesting, she doesn't actually drive the plot at all despite essentially being the antagonist (the actual night flier is more like the film's macguffin than anything.)

Also I fear she'll tell me the story of how her dad died in her chimney while dressed as Santa Claus.

    Elsewhere, in another little county airstrip in the dead of night, we get one of the film's first actually creepy scenes. An old woman wanders around in a trace, face just completely full of bliss with a zombie like stare, eventually witnessing the bloody death of a man. Her expression doesn't change the whole time. The actress does such an amazing job conveying someone that is just completely under a spell, it reminds me of a time where vampire movies were actually good, the terror of something beastly that could take your mind before it took your life. I love it, and it's one of the non-Dees reasons why I love this movie.


"The blood on my hands is just delightful!"

      Initially Katherine takes over the story, and manages to wow her boss with her magical understanding of computers and the internet, making her some sort of super journalist. Sadly for her, after a failed attempt to get on Richard Dees good side at the dive bar he hangs out in, he explains to her just how horrible the place they both work for are, going into detail on how the insanity they all deal with caused the death of the reporter she was replacing, and then he finishes it all up by taking the job from her. What a guy, Dees. In retaliation, Katherine rips up a ticket that she had to fly out and interview one of the night flier's witnesses, tossing it in the air like whimsical slow-mo confetti in what may be the dumbest scene transition I've ever seen.

Whimsy!

    Dees flies out to the scene of the murder from the first film and we get the second greatest character this film has to offer, and easily one of my favorite performances in a King movie, just for how laughably weird and fun this guy is. Ezra Hannon, as played by John Bennes (the Reverend in Children of the Corn 2), tells his side of the story with a thick, old timey Boston accent and some of the strangest phrases I've ever heard, like comparing Dwight Renfield's (the night flier) cloak as being as dark as a woodchuck's asshole on the outside. Every word this man says, and the way he says them, is just pure gold, and I wish the film could just be about him.

In fact, just stop reading, watch it, then read the rest in his voice.

    According to Ezra Hannon, his former co-worker and the first victim, started acting peculiar after the black aircraft landed one night, much like with the earlier scene we saw of the woman lost in a trance. Ezra catches him cleaning the night flier's aircraft the day before his death, a service they've apparently never offered before, and noticed a strange mound of dirt, insects, and worms underneath the aircraft. It's more standard vampire fare, but just the way the actor tells the events is just amazing, and something I cannot put to words. If you need a reason to see the film beyond Richard Dees or that box art, then let Ezra Hannon be that reason.

And hey, the effects budget shows up again!

    After the greatest interview ever, Richard Dees decides that he needs to balance his work with more opportunities to be an asshole. He goes off to the graveyard to snap some shots of the previous victim's tombstone. He finds that it's just not scary looking enough, so he kicks it over, slices open a finger, and spreads blood on it. Like I said, probably the biggest asshole in King history, and he's not even the monster of the story. He then goes to the morgue and bribes the mortician so he can get shots of the victim's corpse. Because he's a classy motherfucker like that.


He also runs into the most metal graveyard worker of all.

    It's at this point the film decides to bring in some antagonism. Wacky boss wants his story out sooner so he sends off Jimmy Olsen to hunt down any leads she can, and Richard finds that he's being stalked by someone or something that is leaving bloody warnings for him, though he initially assumes that they're just people who are angry over his prior dickery. If it was anyone else, I'd say that was a funny conclusion to make, but I've only known the man for less than an hour and even I want to kill him. To nail that little bit in, the scene right after this is him happening upon a terrible car accident, and deciding to pose the corpses for photos. I'm not joking.


If he had a time machine, he'd use it just to photograph Hiroshima as it happened.

    Richard arrives at the scene of the second murder of the film, interviews a (sadly, nowhere near as awesome or colorful) local about the incident, and goes as far as to break into the crime scene to get some close up shots. It's essentially the same story as before: The night flier flew in and put the couple that owned the strip under his control. What really sells the scene is the previously mentioned female victim, who does such a good job in her scenes. I think the film probably would have been better off devoting more time to the flashbacks than to the other people at Dee's paper.

Can we please have a supernatural Golden Girls show? Please?

    Sadly that all needs to wrap together somehow. Richard and Katherine end up in the same motel and, after some pressuring from Dee's, she agrees to work together with him to track down the night flier once and for all, and share the story. Cue a montage of the two of them trying to call up sources and failing repeatedly. It's pure filler, it's not very amusing, but it finally ends when they ring up someone at an airport who quite obviously lies about the night flier being there. The two get ready to head off and capture him, but of course Richard Dees is a dick, so he wraps Katherine up in a blanket, locks her in the motel room's closet, and flies off alone. What a guy. Balki's character in Langoliers shot a kid and he was still less of an asshole than this guy.

Rupert Murdoch, you've got some competition.

    Night Flier kicks off the final act by having Richard arrive at a fairly large airport this time, completely devoid of any signs of life, and with the black Cessna Skymaster out front. He investigates it and finds the previously mentioned soil, some old timey artifacts, and other items that reveal that Dwight Renfield is, most likely, a real vampire. Richard has no emotions beyond assholish bitterness, however, so he just takes some photos and heads into the airport, because really, I guess it's hard to be surprised by anything when you're too busy looking for a puppy to kick.


Those maggots? Still more human than Richard Dees.

    Inside the airport it's a complete massacre, dead bodies strewn about everywhere, blood on the walls and floor, limbs missing. The special effects budget really kicked in for the final third of this movie, and it all looks pretty damn nice. It's not until he pulls a necklace out of a corpse's mouth, something he saw in a dream earlier in the film, that he finally discovers a feeling that isn't complete and total misanthropy: pants shitting terror. He uses this moment of euphoria to trip, slide up on some blood, and fall flat on his ass while panicking. I don't think I was supposed to, but I cheered, I fucking cheered the first time I saw this scene. I've never been so glad to see someone fall flat on their ass.

It's a shame airports notoriously have such lax security.

    Richard runs off to the bathroom to puke in the sink, only to be interrupted by the sight of an invisible man peeing blood into a urinal. I want to say that again. In the mirror, he sees an invisible man peeing blood into a urinal. This is the single greatest vampire reveal in film history. Can you imagine of Keanu Reeves realized Gary Oldman was a vampire because while he was taking a dump he didn't have a reflection in the bathroom mirror? If you couldn't before, you are now. You're welcome. Thank you, Night Flier, for giving us this moment.


I don't even have a joke. Vampire. Pissing. Blood. Jesus.

    It's at this point that the titular night flier finally meets up with Richard. He stands behind him in a way where we can't see his face, beyond mangy hairs sticking out past his silhouette, and a monstrous, inhuman hand that he uses to take Richard's film. He warns him to stop following him, and that if he ever encounters him again he will swallow him whole, but that he will let him leave today unscathed because he feels that the two are very much alike, because they really needed to hammer it in just how much of a monster Richard Dees is.


If only he didn't have that cliche, cartoony cape.

    Not satisfied with getting a chance to live, Richard forces Dwight Renfield to show him his face, and we're shown the full brunt of the special effects budget of the film. I'm serious when I say that this thing scared the living shit out of me when I first saw it. It wasn't like I wasn't prepared, it's right there on the box cover, but there's just something so horrifying about seeing it in motion that just really bothered me. I would easily call this one of the best vampire designs I've ever seen in film, and it saddens me I've not seen as many unique depictions. The two gigantic fangs, one per row of teeth, is an interesting take, and I love the weird sort of... monkey-bat-bear look of him.


"Hopefully this doesn't get spoiled on the VHS box!"

    Dwight forces Richard to drink some of his blood, sending him into a black and white, fog filled void full of all of the corpses he's photographed in his own personal hell. Sadly the whole scene feels pretty silly, and it's obvious that they ran out of budget at this point. He begins freaking out, chopping at them with his axe, at which point we cut to the real world, where the cops have walked in to find Richard swinging his axe at the corpses Renfield had left at the airport. They assume that he's responsible and hold him at gunpoint, asking for him to freeze.

Okay, who left out all this dry ice?

    At this point the film remembers Katherine, who arrives just in time after her fun closet adventure to find Richard being held up by the police. He screams at her and charges with his axe, only to be shot to death by the two police officers. Proving that assholium is incredibly contagious, the film ends with Katherine placing  the blame for all of Dwight's murders on him, cementing Richard Dees as the Night Flier, and guaranteeing that she takes his place as the star reporter for the Inside View. There's also some cutaways to Dwight turning from monster to human to monster, then back to human, possibly implying that by doing what he did to Richard, he has regained his humanity. We'll never know, as the movie ends here.


Probably should have kept him a monster.

    Altogether it's a fairly heavily flawed movie, but it's still something I really love. It's an interesting concept, it's got some really interesting concepts, the effects are pretty damn good at times, and it's certainly better than the likes of Langoliers or Tommyknockers. I'd recommend it to anyone who enjoys Stephen King, and anyone that would like to see an interesting take on vampire movies. Just keep an open mind, since this is a low budget, direct to video flick.

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