EVERY. TREEHOUSE OF HORROR. EVER. [REVIEW] (Pt. 1)

It’s Halloween season! Wahoo! What better way to celebrate it than looking back at a bunch of movies that take place on Halloween?! Wait. Crap. I did that already. Well if movies set on Halloween aren’t enough to get you into the holiday spirit, how about we take a look at the legacy of every installment of The Simpsons Halloween Specials? LET’S DO IT. Over the next few posts, I’ll be looking at EVERY segment from EVERY episode to highlight some of my favorite gags, favorite silly nicknames in the credits, and anything else I want to point out. I’ll also be rating every segment and every episode as a whole and hopefully I don’t something something. See, I said, “Something something,” as a reference to one of the segments that I’ll be getting to. If you’re looking for behind-the-scenes anecdotes and information, you’re in the wrong place! I’m just watching every episode and telling you my thoughts! So strap in and keep checking back. Also keep in mind that I haven’t watched a lot of these in a while, in some cases never, so forgive me for pointing out bits of trivia that are well-known in the Simpsons community.

 

the simpsons treehouse of horror bad dream house

Treehouse of Horror (Season 2, Ep. 3)

Bad Dream House” – In this play on The Amityville Horror, the Simpsons move into a house for dirt cheap and creepy stuff starts happening. The music in this segment is really creepy, so when the house starts dripping blood, the surrealism in the normally goofy show actually feels creepy. When marge blames Homer and he calls the realtor, Homer pointing out that the realtor mentioned that the house sat on an ancient Indian burial ground is one of the funniest moments. Rather than run from the house screaming, the Simpsons demand that the house keep doing these weird things at their command.

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Hungry are the Damned” – While preparing for a barbecue, the Simpson family get abducted by aliens who claim they are benevolent creatures. Lisa doubts their intentions, she begins to investigate the ship when she finds a book entitled “How to Cook Humans.” The aliens blow dust away to reveal that it actually says, “How to Cook FOR Humans.” Lisa brushes more dust away, revealing, “How to Cook FORTY Humans,” with the aliens finally revealing the whole title of “How to Cook FOR FORTY Humans.” This bit is great, which is probably why they recycled it for Season 6’s “Bart of Darkness,” where Lisa finds a “Human Head,” only to reveal it actually says, “Schuman Farms Head of Lettuce.” Also, when preparing the grill, Homer empties an entire canister of lighter fluid into the grill in almost the exact same way he does in Season 7’s “Lisa the Vegetarian.” I’m thinking maybe the creators really liked these gags, but since this was early on in the Simpsons legacy, maybe they thought no one would notice? Anyways, those two gags are great, and even if the segment isn’t phenomenal, it introduced us to Kang and Kodos who became staples of every future “Treehouse of Horror” installment, even if only for a cameo. Oh yeah, and James Earl Jones voiced another one of the aliens! Crazy!

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The Raven” – Sticking to their horror guns, this segment merely recreated most of Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven” poem, but featuring Homer pining for Marge while being harassed by a raven that looked like Bart. It was cool to see a Simpsons-ized version of the poem, but it’s really not at all funny, but I don’t think it was really meant to be. I felt like I was watching a classic Dr. Seuss animated story or something, which I think was the intention, but still, if I’m watching The Simpsons, I want to at least chuckle here and there.

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Overall Thoughts –  Although this is far from the funniest “Treehouse of Horror,” or any other episode for that matter, this was their first attempt at doing a Halloween Special and they leaned more heavily on the horror elements, so I want to cut them some slack on that front. This episode also featured the wraparound concept of Bart and Lisa telling one another scary stories in Bart’s treehouse, which is where the name of the episode came from. Also of note is that there are no wacky names in the credits! Don’t worry, those will be coming shortly.

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the simpsons treehouse of horror ii halloween candy nightmare

Treehouse of Horror II (Season 3, Ep. 7)

Funniest Credits Nickname: Colon Cramps Lewis

Lisa’s Nightmare” – I should point out that this segment doesn’t actually have the title “Lisa’s Nightmare,” but that’s how this segment is referred to across the web. A classic retelling of the classic “The Monkey’s Paw” story where the Simpsons go to Morocco and Homer buys a severed primate hand that will supposedly grant three wishes. First, Maggie wishes for a pacifier and receives it without much fallout. However, when granted their next wish of fame and fortune, the implications are that the Simpson family have completely permeated pop culture, causing the general public to get sick of seeing Bart on billboards saying, “Get a mammogram, man!” Next, Lisa asks for world peace, which unfortunately leaves the world defenseless to an invasion from Kang and Kodos. Lastly, Homer asks for a turkey sandwich, but unfortunately it’s dry, and with all the wishes gone, tosses the paw in the trash, only for Flanders to find it, make wishes, and have absolutely no repercussions. OH, THE IRONY! Similar to the previous year’s “The Raven,” it was fun to see a retelling of a classic story, but this time more jokes were tossed it so it was much more entertaining.

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Bart’s Nightmare” – Bart dreams of a world where he can read people’s minds and control reality to change people who disagree with him into monsters. How is this a nightmare? It’s just kind of weird, which actually made things really weird, and it’s no surprise that this segment was actually inspired by an episode of “The Twilight Zone.” My biggest laughs came from Principal Skinner announcing that America was renamed “Boner Land,” thanks to Bart, and Moe answering the phone at his bar and announcing, “I’m a stupid moron with an ugly face and a big butt and my butt smells and I like to kiss my own butt,” to heighten Bart’s prank phone call gag. If you’re wondering why this episode is a nightmare, it’s because the ending reveals Bart has these powers because he craves attention from his dad, and the episode ends with Homer and Bart telling the other, “I love you,” which is what causes Bart to wake up screaming. Boner Land was easily my favorite part, because I’m a child.

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Homer’s Nightmare” – Mr. Burns fires Homer to set an example and he takes up a new job as a grave digger. Homer falls asleep on the job in an open grave, and Mr. Burns crosses his path, looking for the brain of a cadaver to put into a robotic employee. I like to think there were supposed to be jokes in here somewhere, but none of the jokes really landed with me. The “Mr. Burns is Dr. Frankenstein” joke was a little too forced, so I think this installment existed merely to keep in the theme of each segment being inspired by a familiar story. The robot topples over onto Mr. Burns and his head is grafted to Homer, causing Homer to wake up, only to realize Mr. Burns’ head really is there. Get it? Because it’s funny? In theory? Nothing about this segment really impressed me and the whole thing just felt like filler.

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Overall Thoughts –  Conceptually, I liked that this installment featured Simpsons twists on three classic stories. I also LOVED that the nightmares were inspired by too much candy after the family went trick-or-treating. I get super depressed when Halloween night is over and having these dreams take place after the culmination of the spooky season made me feel really nostalgic for the time between the end of trick-or-treating and going to school the next day to start having to write “November 1” instead of “October.” This year also started the tradition of spooky nicknames! The funniest part about the names in this installment was how arbitrarily words like “Spooky” or “Scary” were placed in front of names, whereas the nicknames got more and more ridiculous and creative down the line.

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treehouse of horror iii z for zombies

Treehouse of Horror III (Season 4, Ep. 5)

Funniest Credits Nickname: Matt “Merchandising” Groening

Clown Without Pity” – When Homer forgets to buy Bart a birthday present, he runs out to a store full of cursed items. He sees a Krusty the Klown doll and is given the bad news that the doll is cursed. Luckily, the doll comes with free frozen yogurt. Sadly, the yogurt is also cursed, but the good news is Homer gets his choice of toppings. Unfortunately, the toppings are full of potassium benzoate, and when this gag starts feeling redundant, Homer asks if he can go. The doll ends up trying to kill Homer, Marge calls the toy manufacturer hotline and realizes a switch on the back was set to “Evil” instead of “Good.” There are a couple of great bits in this episode, like someone dumping naked pictures of Whoopi Goldberg into a “bottomless pit,” only to have the pictures tossed back, as well as Homer running naked out of the bath and Patty saying, “There goes my last lingering thread of my heterosexuality.” The fact that the doll had a switch for Good/Evil makes everything that much sillier, and when “Good” Krusty goes home to Lisa’s Malibu Stacy like she’s his wife, it really rounded everything out with a final goofy joke.

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King Homer” – Inspired by King Kong, this segment featured Mr. Burns bringing Marge to Giant Ape Island to entice a giant ape, which was Homer. Duh. When flashbulbs drive the captured Homer crazy in New York City, he captures Marge and runs a muck. When recreating the famous skyscraper climbing sequence, Homer can only get a couple floors before collapsing. The ape lives through the ordeal and marries Marge in a pretty funny wedding where other apes come in and ushers ask if they’re on the groom’s or bride’s side. I liked that this segment did a retelling of the important beats of the King Kong story while also adding in a silly epilogue to really make it their own. Even though it came across mostly as an homage, there are a couple great bits. One featured Smithers opposing Marge joining the cruise by saying, “I think women and seamen don’t mix,” and also a sequence where a sailor wishes they were instead going to Candy Apple Island, which still has apes, just not as big. See, because you’d expect Candy Apples to be there! Get it?

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Dial ‘Z’ for ‘Zombies’” – Don’t worry! Zombies finally arrived on The Simpsons! Bart needs to do a book report so he goes to the school library and finds the “Occult” section. He uses a book he finds to attempt to bring Lisa’s cat, Snowball I, back to life, but instead reanimates humans. He eventually reverses the spell and when the family gets home and turn on the TV, they say how happy they are that they avoided being turned into mindless zombies, while zoning out on the TV. The highlight of the episode is the family trying to escape zombies and Homer shoots Ned, and when his family is proud of him, Homer replies with, “He was a zombie?” HE WANTED TO KILL NED ANYWAY. HAHAHAHAHA. Add that joke to seeing a bunch of characters, new and familiar, as zombies shambling around Springfield and you get a pretty fulfilling final segment.

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Overall Thoughts – No real complaints, just an all-around solid episode. There were a handful of really good gags, a Simpsons interpretation of well-known horror tropes, and a finale that incorporated fun character designs of the rest of Springfield. The wraparound story was a Halloween party at the Simpsons’ home where everyone was telling a story. There were a couple of jokes in there, but nothing as fun as the segments themselves.

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treehouse of horror iv simpsons terror at 5 and a half feet

The Treehouse of Horror IV (Season 5, Ep. 5)

Funniest Credits Nickname: Conan “12:30 NBC” O’ Brien/Watch Conan O’ Brien

The Devil and Homer Simpson” – Desperate for a donut, Homer says he’d be willing to sell his soul for one, and the Devil shows up looking like Flanders. Unhappy that his soul belongs to the Devil, Homer sets up a trial, to which the Devil obliges. Against all odds, Marge provides evidence that Homer pledged his soul to her and wasn’t his to give, so the Devil accepts defeat, but not before turning Homer’s head into a donut. There’s a lot of really good stuff in here, especially visually. From Homer going to the “Ironic Punishment Division” in Hell where he’s forced to eat donuts to a jury consisting of Benedict Arnold, Lizzie Borden, Richard Nixon, John Wilkes Booth, Blackbeard, John Dilliner, and the starting lineup of the 1976 Philadelphia Flyers, there are tons of cool sequences. AND LIONEL HUTZ IS IN IT. His only request is bathroom breaks every 30 minutes in exchange for the Devil picking the jury. This is a really dense segment and really entertaining.

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Terror at 5 1/2 Feet” – Inspired by the Twilight Zone episode “Nightmare at 20,000 feet,” Bart is the only one who can see a gremlin damaging the side of a school bus. As everyone on the bus doubts him, the gremlin damages the bus further and further, and when they get to school, they take Bart to a mental institution, despite seeing the damage to the bus. This is the best segment they’ve done so far! There are so many jokes! Homer steals life vests and an airhorn from the marina claiming, “It was just sitting in some guy’s boat!” Lisa asks everyone on the bus to be nice to Bart, so everyone teases him, and we see Martin breathing a sigh of relief that no one will make fun of him for his shirt that says, “WANG COMPUTERS”! Man oh man, I don’t want to type out everything in this segment that made me laugh, because there’s way too many, but this segment is their best one to date.

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Bart Simpson’s Dracula” – Playing directly off Dracula iconography made popular by Francis Ford Coppolla’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the Simpsons go to Mr. Burns’ house because he wants to suck their blood. After Mr. Burns drinks Bart’s blood, Lisa leads her family to kill the lead vampire in hopes of setting Bart free. Marge reveals that she’s actually the head vampire and then the family looks at the camera, says, “Happy Halloween,” and start singing like the ending of A Charlie Brown Christmas. A lot of direct references to Bram Stoker’s Dracula will be lost on younger audiences, like Mr. Burns’ hair, which Homer points out by saying, “His hairdo looks so queer,” but I still enjoyed them. There are a few really silly jokes, like Bart trying to escape Burns’ lair until he sees a sign that says “SUPER FUN HAPPY SLIDE” and sliding back towards Mr. Burns and Homer driving a stake through Mr. Burns’ corpse, only for Lisa to point out it was his crotch, but they’re so dumb that they’re great. My favorite joke comes from Chief Wiggum after he found a cape that said “Dracula” on it, address the press with, “We think we’re dealing with a supernatural being, most likely a Mummy.” Grandpa Simpson repeats a joke made last year by seeing Bart and shouting, “Quick, we have to kill the boy!” and when questioned about how he knew Bart was a vampire, replied with, “He’s a vampire?!” COME ON GUYS, WAIT A LITTLE LONGER TO USE THAT JOKE AGAIN.

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Overall Thoughts – Great variety of direct and ambiguous references to other stories and great choices for who each story should center around. With two consecutive installments where each segment was highly entertaining, I think this marks that the creators really found their groove. Not just for the Treehouse of Horror series, but for the show as a whole.

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simpsons treehouse of horror v the shinning

Treehouse of Horror V (Season 6, Ep. 6)

Funniest Credits Nickname: Harry (O.J.) Shearer

The Shinning” – This segment immediately recreates the opening of The Shining with its creepy music and family vehicle traveling through a windy mountain road. Mr. Burns explains to the Simpson family, who will be taking care of his hotel for the winter, some things they should know. When Groundskeeper Willie realizes Bart can read his thoughts, he claims Bart has “The Shinning,” he reminds Bart not to read his mind between 4 and 5 because that’s “Willie time.” Homer starts to go crazy from a lack of beer and TV, resulting in the important moments from “The Shining” unfolding. Bart mentally contacts Willie and he tries to rescue the family, only to get an ax in the back. Luckily, Willie drops a portable TV and Homer calms down while watching it, claiming his urge to kill is fading. The family freezes in the snow, but who cares, they still get to watch TV! Man oh man, I had no recollection of just how good this episode was. This segment features some all-time great lines, sequences, and tons of nods to the movie. Homer’s typewriter showing he’s typed, “Feelin’ fine.,” Marge feeling threatened and breaking a case that is labeled in case of “spousal insanity,” and Homer’s recreation of the famous, “Here’s Johnny!” scene but with various talk show opening lines, with my favorite being a David Letterman reference where Grandpa Simpson replies, “Hi David, I’m Grandpa.” GOD, THIS SEGMENT IS SO, SO GOOD.

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Time and Punishment” – Homer greets his family for breakfast and explains how lucky he feels, only to have Lisa point out that his hand is in a toaster. Homer attempts to repair the toaster himself, but his updated electronics have turned it into a time traveling device. Traveling back to the dinosaur age, Homer kills a mosquito, which alters reality to a world where Flanders is the unquestioned lord and master. Homer gets back to the toaster and travels through time again, killing a fish crawling out of the water, and changing the world again. This gag plays out a few more times, ultimately ending with everything being totally normally, with the exception of the rest of his family having super long tongues. The time-traveling repeats just enough times to stay funny and keep you interested, especially when Homer’s frustrations lead him to just destroy everything he can in the past. I also love the gag where Homer travels to a time when his family is rich, but when asking for a donut, Marge doesn’t understand him so he bolts. The funny thing is that than it starts raining and it’s just donuts falling from the sky! Hahaha. Homer loves donuts.

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Nightmare Cafeteria” – What Springfield Elementary lacks in quality meat, it more than makes up for with students in detention! Principal Skinner and lunch lady Doris realize both of their problems would be solved if the students are just turned into meat. Skinner gets to make a lot of goofy dad jokes when talking to Bart and Lisa because they don’t pick up on the fact that he’s eating students. The student population dwindles and when Skinner and Doris corner Bart and Lisa, they fall into a giant blender, only for Bart to wake up and realize it was a dream. The rest of his family mention all he has to worry about is the fog that turns people inside-out, which seeps in through the window, and the Simpson family perform a song and dance with all their guts hanging out. The highlights are definitely Skinner’s dad jokes, and the concept of the teacher eating the students is pretty twisted, so all-in-all a success!

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Overall Thoughts – Although the show abandoned the wraparound story, Willie gets axed in each installment so there’s at least some degree of continuity. Each segment is entertaining and I’m sure anyone else who watched this episode would give high rankings to each segment with slight variations based on someone’s sense of humor. All three segments feature either Homer or Bart as the protagonist, so maybe that’s why they were all so good? Those guys are funny. This was also the last installment that featured a wacky opening sequence of amusing tombstones, signified by the final tombstone on-screen reading, “Amusing Tombstones.” Don’t worry, the silly nicknames stuck around!

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Stay tuned all this week for reviews on the rest of the episodes! Don’t miss any updates by following @TheWolfman on Twitter or liking “The Wolfman Cometh” on Facebook. You don’t want to miss updates, do you?

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