Although they didn’t begin until the second series, The Simpson’s annual Halloween specials have become a firm fan favourite. Like the series itself, they started out quite modestly before reaching dizzying heights of brilliance before settling into the gradual, seemingly inexorable decline of the series as a whole. Even then, though, they often provide a fantastical and fertile opportunity for the creators and characters to cut loose and prove that there yet be more than nightmares left on Evergreen Terrace. So come with me this month as I take a look at one Treehouse Of Horror a day for Halloween!
We begin with a warning from Marge that the episode is very scary and not suitable for children. While this would later become the opportunity for a few more jokes, this initial warning was intended sincerely as the production team were concerned they’d pushed the envelope a bit too far for a family show. While it seems a little tame now, back then you can see why. Following Marge’s lecture, our usual route to the Simpson’s house is replaced by a journey through a graveyard full of now-dated topical gravestone gags, bringing us not into the house but instead to Bart’s treehouse where he, Lisa and Maggie are telling each other spooky stories, unaware that an increasingly unnerved Homer is listening in.
Bad Dream House
“This family has had its differences and we’ve squabbled but we’ve never had knife fights before.”
The first segment is a sly and surprisingly blood-drenched spoof of many a haunted house movie, with “The Amityville Horror” and “Poltergeist” providing most of the material. Made at a stage where the ambition was still occasionally outstretching the animation, the sometimes clunky and occasionally block coloured scenes are propped up by a witty script packed with zippy lines including a wonderful phone call from Homer to the realtor regarding the contents of the cellar and Bart asking the voice encouraging him to kill his family if it’s his conscience. It’s darker than the Simpsons had been before and doesn’t hold back on the spookiness without losing any of the funny.
Hungry Are The Damned
“Well, if you wanted to make Serak the Preparer cry, mission accomplished.”
Turning their attention to the sci-fi end of the scary spectrum, the second segment expertly skewers the “Twilight Zone” episode “To Serve Man”. Again, it’s in the little touches it delights more than the main tale. From Homer’s preparing to light the grill to the need for the alien spacecraft to employ a secondary tractor beam to lift Homer into the ship, this is a classic Homer story (he gets all the best lines) and serves to introduce Kodos and Kang, the aliens who would go on to become perennial fixtures of the Simpsons’ Halloween hoedowns.
“Quoth the raven, ‘Nevermore’.”
Narrated by James Earl Jones (who also voiced minor characters in the other two stories), this is an almost unique experiment in the history of “The Simpsons” and its Halloween specials. With the exception of some minor slapstick flourishes, it’s a wonderfully executed – if truncated – adaptation of classic American literature with a bravura performance by James Earl Jones and Dan Castellaneta that makes you wish they’d had the time and courage to do the full poem.