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.



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.


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.


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.


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.

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.



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.


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.


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 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.

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.


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.


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."


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.


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.

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.



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.


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.


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.


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.

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.



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: 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.


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: 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.

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