Welcome to Part 2 of 11 rugged reviews of terror for the horror inspired, macabre enthusiast, mischievously satirical and devastatingly honest fans of The Simpsons where we take a quick peek inside their Treehouse of Horror like the fearless Losers Club that we are. This event of mine is a selfless, non-profit effort in hopes that I can sway the non-familiar to become quite familiar as these are truly masterwork animations.
In the first part I briefly went over the premises for each individual short story told in the first four episodes of the Simpsons horror influenced series. Highlighted a trend of inspiration through the Twilight Zone episodes of yesteryear, the obvious throwbacks to a classic film such as Frankenstein, a classic piece of literature in The Raven, and a classic little TV series called The Alfred Hitchcock Hour among many, many more. We also saw the story beats expand and each plot thicken with every passing episode, as the years went on the characters became increasingly familiar and the creators seemed to get more imaginative and confident in manipulating these well known stories to fit the Simpsons mould.
In the last edition of this eleven-part series I compactly described EC Comics and the role they played in the creation of the Treehouse of Horror episodes. In another tid-bit of history I will inform you that yes, there was no installment in the very first season that aired its first episode on Dec. 17th, 1989. As it isn’t exactly unrecognizable that the first season was immensely different, creators went with a Christmas celebration episode called “Simpsons Roasting On An Open Fire” to kick off the long-lasting series. The show had not yet lent itself over to the parody genre just yet and was still trying to build characters within the confinements of Springfield and find its footing in the FOX television family. Two years before its initial release on network television, The Simpsons started off as a series of “bumpers”, which are also known as animated shorts, premiering on The Tracy Ullman Show on April 19, 1987, and would regularly run as a segment on this FOX variety show for three seasons before spinning off for their own shot in the spotlight. Tracy Ullman eventually tried suing Matt Groening and company for a portion of the revenue because she thought it was her own show that deserved most of the credit for the success of The Simpsons. She lost.
Treehouse of Horror V AKA “The Simpsons Halloween Special V”
(Season 6, Episode 6)
Originally Aired: October 30, 1994.
For the fifth time in a row we are greeted with sarcasm in the form of a tall, beautiful blue-haired woman with a raspy voice. The usual keep-the-children-out fare that we have come to expect but what we are about to find out in this episode is that due to complaints of excessive violence in previous installments, writer/director/producer David Mirkin decided to add more graphic violence to actually give viewers something to complain about. We are told by Marge that a better option would be to watch a film called “200 Miles to Oregon” during a black and white clip pulled from said film, which turns out to be a fictional piece and suddenly that casual sarcastic warning we have come to expect becomes a little more realistic in this episode as this episode was changed from a TV-PG rating to a TV-PG14 rating. Outer Limits style Radio Waves of Bart and Homer’s voices are played upon your TV screen, as Bart remains sinister and evil as ever reassuring that they will be in control of what we are about to witness, while Homer on the other hand is, let’s just say, very much Homer Simpson.
We are shown two lonely tombstones that say “Amusing Tombstones” and “R.I.P” (could it be the end of this beautiful segment?), followed by a somewhat depraved cartoon imagery of lonesome Moe Szyslak hanging himself, witch versions of Patty and Selma are burned at the stake while lighting their final cigarette, and Bart finally gets to put Principal Skinner in a guillotine and behead him into a wicker basket containing the heads of Mrs. Krabappel, Willie, and Chief Wiggum. The Simpsons are all sewn back together in Frankenstein’s Monster fashion, quickly swap heads and that formulates this episodes couch gag sequence.
Story I: The Shinning (dir. Jim Reardon)
I’m sure the title of this episode says it all, but as Groundskeeper Willie warns Bart of a lawsuit for using the title “The Shining”, we must keep it on the down low to protect our beloved cartoon franchise. The Simpsons are hired by Monty Burns to take care of his summer mansion during the winter months, so the family accepts and packs up to ship out for a little while. After being forced to turn around a few times on the trip, Homer decides he is not turning back again and ignores Lisa when she informs him that they had left Grampa Simpson behind. As they arrive at the beautiful home that we are informed is built on a Native burial ground and hosted satanic rituals, witch burnings and of course, five John Denver Christmas albums, they are taken on a personal tour by Mr. Burns himself. They are left to their house-sitting tasks after Burns and Smithers take all the beer in the house and cut the cable lines, which causes Smithers to worry but is easily persuaded away. Homer absolutely loses his mind then attempts three times to recreate the famous “Here’s Johnny!” moment from Stanley Kubricks classic but ends up with a “I’m Mike Wallace, I’m Morely Safer, and I’m Ed Bradley. All this and Andy Rooney tonight on 60 Minutes!” moment. There is also a quick cameo of Freddy Kreuger, Jason Voorhees, Pinhead, Dracula, The Mummy, and Wolfman.
Story II: Time and Punishment (dir. Jim Reardon)
Homer gets his hand stuck in the toaster when clearly not paying attention while reflecting on how wonderful his life is and how lucky of a man he is for having such a wonderful family in a free country. Smashed to pieces in attempt to release his hand, Homer takes the handy man approach in trying to fix the toaster himself. Through Homerism modifications the toaster now has the ability to manipulate time and is thus known as a time machine. Through several test runs and ill-advised decisions by Homer in the past, the world see’s many different scenarios shake loose like Ned Flanders controlling the entire population where humans must go through a “Neducation” program, giants walk the earth, donuts do not exist and people eat like amphibians. James Earle Jones joins the cast again for this episode to spew one great line as the alternative universe’s Maggie Simpson.
Story III: Nightmare Cafeteria (dir. Jim Reardon)
Today’s special? Sloppy Jimbo’s served on a warm bun with a side of Üter. After Mrs. Krabappel sends Bart to the detention room, it becomes cautiously overcrowded with bad apple students. With Lunchlady Doris expressing concerns of the latest budget cuts and being forced to serve “grade F” meat which is explained to contain circus animals and filler. The only solutions to both problems comes at a surprisingly simple and fast rate for Mr. Skinner after he gets a taste of discarded chili that spilled onto Jimbo’s clothes after tripping Doris with a pot full of that green, F grade, slop. More and more students go missing with the ever increasing weight of the teachers arriving to teach class from eating too much “Üterbraten” sausage. Only Bart, Lisa, Millhouse, Ralph and Wendell remain and are exceptionally suspicious about the odd activity going on within their school and are on their best behavior to avoid detention. Was it all a dream? Is the inversion fog rolling through Springfield that turns people inside out the only thing worth worrying about? You just gotta watch this damn episode.
Groundskeeper Willie gets the worst of it in all three segments as his back makes very good friends with an axe. This is clearly a running joke in this entire episode.
The Outer Limits 1963 – 1965
The Shining 1980 (dir. Stanley Kubrick)
Stephen King’s: The Shining 1977 (Author. Stephen King)
Stephen King’s: The Shining 1993 (dir. Mick Garris)
A Sound of Thunder 1952 (Author. Ray Bradbury)
Jurassic Park 1993 (dir. Steven Spielberg)
Terminator 2: Judgement Day 1991 (dir. James Cameron)
Nightmare Cafe 1992 (1 Season, Created By: Wes Craven & Tom Baum)
Soylent Green 1973 (dir. Richard Fleischer)
Treehouse of Horror VI AKA “The Simpsons Halloween Special VI”
(Season 7, Episode 6)
Originally Aired: October 29, 1995.
This is an oversized episode in comparison to the ones before. Creators were forced to drop some of the earlier expected tropes to accommodate more time to properly tell the ensuing stories. I believe this was the correct choice but that comes at the expense of the wraparound story as well, instead we are left with three extended stories that begin to push a little deeper in the fight for horror reference supremacy. Although, Ned Flanders dressed up as Leatherface along with other members of the Simpsons family dressed up as horror icons would have been exciting, instead we get Krusty riding as the headless horseman, throwing his smiling mug right into our TV screen, causing a splatter of blood forming the title ” The Simpsons Halloween Special VI”. Still, pretty awesome. Cutting to the couch gag where the Simpsons family fall from the ceiling hung with nooses around their neck, assuming to avoid any controversy, creators have Maggie still sucking her soother.
Story I: Attack of the 50-Foot Eyesores (dir. Bob Anderson)
Colossal donuts are expected to be big, some might even say, colossal, but that is not the case when Homer goes to get himself one of these self-proclaimed “colossal donuts” from Lard Lad Donuts. If Homer wants a colossal donut then he will get one, so to exact revenge on this false advertisement that misleads Homer to a regular sized donut he devolves into anger and steals the large metal donut from the Lard Lad mascot outside of the bakery. A storm falls over Springfield and magically or supernaturally brings these massive advertisement figures to life and furthermore terrorize the town. In our realist society it is true that advertisements only work if we pay attention to them and fall into the trap of consumerism, by taking away the gaze, the monetary value sharply decreases and thus ending the stranglehold we are put in.
Story II: Nightmare on Evergreen Terrace (dir. Bob Anderson)
Willie has come a far cry from the previous versions of Willie we were shocked to see in each of the segments in last years Halloween special with three different axes in the back. This time Willie will provide the terror. In a soon to be realized nightmare, Bart is throwing a frisbee for Santas Little Helper when Willie Krueger appears and slashes Bart with a lawn rake, Bart then awakes from his nightmare to find real gashes on his body. The kids at school all compare stories of encountering Willie in their dreams as well, like Lisa losing hair to hedge clippers and Nelson getting taken down by a floor buffer, all this said preceding a horrific event unfold just before their eyes. Bart and Lisa unwillingly provoke Marge to tell them the backstory of Groundskeeper Willie to then ensue in an unselfish act by Bart after downing way too much sugar in an attempt to stay awake. Hilarity ensues from this point on.
Story III: Homer³ (dir. Bob Anderson)
Patty and Selma are expected for dinner at the Simpsons and this couldn’t be any more problematic for Homer and the kids. Scrambling around the house trying to find a place to hide, Homer uncovers a portal behind a bookcase in the living room that leads to the third dimension. Homer explains this portal to be “something from that twilighty show with the zone”. Homer takes his chances and throws himself into the portal instead of spending the night with his family oriented enemies. The world that is created in this dimension looks like something straight out of the Canadian computer-animated show ReBoot or another reference Homer uses to describe is surroundings is Tron from 1982. And its totally awesome. After unforeseen events, Homer causes a massive disruption in the third dimension that influences the world to cave in on itself, needing Bart from the 2D world to act quickly in attempt to save his father from being trapped in the third dimension forever. Although attempting to bring The Simpsons into the 3D world wasn’t necessarily greeted with the most positive reviews, it’s still tonnes of fun and features a first ever moment in Simpsons history.
The live-action scene was shot on Ventura Boulevard in Studio City. Directed by Executive Producer David Mirkin.
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow 1820 (Author. Washington Irving)
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow 1980 (dir. Henning Schellerup)
Attack of the 50 Foot Woman 1958 (dir. Nathan Juran)
A Nightmare on Elm Street 1984 (dir. Wes Craven)
Twilight Zone (S. 3, Ep. 26) – “Little Girl Lost” (dir. Paul Stewart)
Alien³ 1992 (dir. David Fincher) (Just the name in reference)
The Black Hole 1979 (dir. Gary Nelson)
Treehouse of Horror VII AKA “The Simpsons Halloween Special VII”
(Season 8, Episode 1)
Originally Aired: October 27, 1996.
Now for only the second time we are consecutively deprived of any pre-show warning by the lady with the raspy voice. No Hitchcockian intro or Night Gallery-esque conventions, we must trek forward. In the words of the brat named Bart, “Dont have a cow, man!”. The eighth season starts off with a bang as we get our beloved “Simpsons Halloween Special” title card front and centre while Homer lights a candle inside of a Jack-o-lantern resting on the kitchen table. Naturally, his arm catches fire engulfing him in flames as he runs on and off screen wailing in agony. Shifting over to the brown couch in the living room where we find the Grim Reaper trying to relax, the Simpsons run into the room only to be overcome with fear, stopping their hearts, keeling over and falling into a pile on the floor. This is the perfect ottoman for Death to rest his feet on and finally catch some much needed R&R.
Story I: The Thing and I (dir. Mike B. Anderson)
There is a strangely suspicious noise coming from the attic at the Simpsons residence one night. It’s evident that there is some sort of being up there that has been taken care of for quite some time when the kids do a bit of detective work and find Homer feeding fish heads to someone or something. Bart and Lisa wait patiently for a chance to sneak up there and dig around, finally, Homer and Marge leave the house for a date night and this becomes the perfect opportunity to find out exactly what is going on. We are introduced to Bart’s insane identical conjoined twin, Hugo (this episodes representation of Quasimodo), that was separated at birth due to his evil nature, whom was to be chained up in the attic and fed fish heads forever. In an M. Night Shyamalan styled twist, an unforeseen outcome brought to a head by Dr. Hibbert reveals a secret that puts Bart’s character in question from everything predating this scenario to everything that comes afterward.
Story II: The Genesis Tub (dir. Mike B. Anderson)
In a religious tale of war between the creator and the monster, Lisa inhabits a city of miniature advanced life forms inside of her “tooth-in-cola” school science project involving a petri dish. Within a very short amount of time there seems to be a fully functioning ultra-futuristic, lutheranist, world inside sporting some highly intelligent beings. El Barto, the little devil who was locked up in the attic during the last segment does what Bart does, and destroys portions of the mini-peoples ecosystem with his finger, provoking them to attack him with tiny space crafts a-la Futurama which would also become a Bat Groening classic. Bart feels that he must retaliate in some fashion but is stopped by Lisa. This influences the tiny people to shoot a “Honey, I Shrunk The Kids-esque” beam called “The Debigulator” at Lisa to shrink her down to their size and inform her of their worship of their God, Lisa Simpson, and their distaste for Bart, whom they believe is the Devil. As Bart pursues the science fair with Lisa’s project in hand, she is forced to watch from below as the true monster lies, cheats and steals his way to victory.
Story III: Citizen Kang (dir. Mike B. Anderson)
This is the segment of the episode where the creators felt they could tackle the topical social and political climate and riff on them in a way that would become a further identity of the franchise as a whole. It seems that the ’96 electoral campaign is at stake here with Bob Dole and Bill Clinton taking the brunt of it. Homer is asked by Kang and Kodos to be taken to his leader after The Claw from their spacecraft picks Homer up from his boat at the ol’ fishing hole where it is so “peaceful, relaxing and it doesn’t even matter if he even catches a single fish”. Unknowing that the presidential election is a week later and that the new leader could be one of the two aforementioned candidates, the two slimy aliens need to think quick. From here on out this segment soars into the pinnacle of bleakness when they insert a suspended animation sequence into the mix, where Kang and Kodos steal the identity of Dole and Clinton through a technique they call “bio-dupilication”. Homer puts the entire situation on his shoulders, but as we have learned through many hours of antics that he can’t necessarily be trusted.
There isn’t a tonne of HORROR references in this episode but definitely are some parallels that can be touched upon, you may see more but these are the mixed bag of references I noticed:
The Hunchback of Notre-Dame 1831 (Author. Victor Hugo)
The Hunchback of Notre-Dame 1939 (dir. William Dieterle)
The Hunchback of Notre-Dame 1996 (dir (s). Gary Trousdale, Kirk Wise)
Basket Case 1982 (dir. Frank Henenlotter)
Earth vs. The Flying Saucers 1956 (dir. Fred F. Sears)
Twilight Zone (S. 3, Ep. 28) – “The Little People” (dir. William F. Claxton)
Citizen Kane 1941 (dir. Orson Welles)
Transformers 1984 – 1987
Transformers: The Movie 1986 (dir. Nelson Shin)
Tune in next time for Part III of this 11 part series, more tidbits of information and more classic references from your horror channel with enthusiasts like yourself at HorrorFacts. Create and join the discussion.
Have these episodes influenced your love of horror growing up? New to the series? Let us know if these references have made you want to go back and revisit these special episodes and check out the film, TV and books that they pull from.
Go back to Part I and begin this journey with me, I don’t think you will be disappointed.
El Jordo, out.