Sunday, October 25, 2020

The Simpsons: "The Simpsons Halloween Special," AKA "Treehouse Of Horror"

Premiered October 25, 1990.

"Quoth the Raven 'Eat My Shorts!'"

Marge Simpson (Julie Kavner) opens the episode, breaks the fourth wall and warns viewers that it will contain material that might frighten younger viewers.  She suggests parents send their children to bed  "instead of writing us angry letters."

We cut to Homer (Dan Castellaneta) who has gone trick-or-treating and is admiring his candy.  He decides to listen in on his children Bart (Nancy Cartwright) and Lisa's (Yeardley Smith) conversation in their treehouse.  

He hears them telling scary stories.

Bart tells the story of the...

"Bad Dream House":

The Simpsons move into a very large house Homer purchased at a bargain.  

However, before they finish unpacking, strange things occur.  A disembodied voice orders the Simpsons to "GET OUT, " a vortex to another dimension appears in the kitchen...

...and blood runs down the walls of the house.  

Marge wants to leave immediately, but Homer convinces her to sleep on it, since he paid so little for the house.   That night, the voice tells Bart, Lisa, Homer and Maggie to kill each other!  

What is the secret of the house?

Lisa isn't impressed with the story, so Bart ups the ante with a "maca-bree" story called...

"Hungry Are The Damned":

During a backyard barbecue, the Simpsons are beamed on board a flying saucer.  

They're greeted by two alien Rigellians who introduce themselves as Kang (Harry Shearer) and Kodos (Castellaneta).  They say they're taking the Simpsons to Rigel 4, which they describe as " world of infinite delights" which will "tantalize" their senses and challenge their intellect.  They serve a banquet of delicious food to the Simpsons.

Lisa gets suspicious of Kang and Kodos' motives and investigates the ship.  Her worst fears are realized when she finds a book called "How To Cook Humans!"  

Back in the real world, Lisa reads Edgar Allan Poe's all-time classic Halloween poem...

"The Raven":

While Lisa reads "The Raven," the roles of its narrator and the raven are played by Homer... 

and Bart!

J.A. Morris says:

I didn't catch this when it first aired (I caught the rerun the following year), but "The Simpsons Halloween Special" is part of my annual Halloween viewing.  It set the template for future editions of "Treehouse Of Horror" episodes and The Simpsons has expanded the format to include non-Halloween episodes like "Thanksgiving Of Horror."  This episode is still great three decades after its premiere.  

"Bad Dream House" is a takeoff on The Amityville Horror, with nods to other horror films as well.  

"Hungry Are The Damned" is a parody of the classic Twilight Zone episode "To Serve Man."   In both of these stories, the Simpsons turn out to be the "monsters" (as Lisa states).  "Hungry" introduces Kang and Kodos, who would make appearances in every Halloween episode.  

The best comes last with the adaptation of "The Raven."  It's beautifully animated and (mostly) sticks to Poe's words.  Casting Homer and Bart in their respective roles was a stroke of genius.  

James Earl Jones guest stars in this episode and his voice can be heard in every story.  Jones narrates "The Raven," voices a mover in "Bad Dream House" and portrays "Serak, the preparer" (a Regillian cook) in "Hungry Are The Damned."  Jones' presence adds a lot of gravitas to "The Simpsons Halloween Special."

As we said at the top of this page, Marge introduces this episode alone on a stage.  

This is an homage to Frankenstein (1931), which featured a similar stage introduction by actor Edward Van Sloan.

When I was a kid, Frankenstein was a movie that was frequently televised around Halloween.  Referencing it is a nice way of tying this episode to Halloweens Past.  

"The Simpsons Halloween Special" is one of the best episodes of The Simpsons and gets my highest rating.

J.A. Morris' rating:

4 jack o'lanterns!

RigbyMel says:

The first Halloween episode of The Simpsons marks the genesis of a Halloween tradition that's been going strong for 30 (!) years now.   

I remember watching "The Simpsons Halloween Special" with my brothers when it first aired way back in 1990.   We thoroughly enjoyed it then and continue to watch it year after year.  

It's interesting to note that the Halloween episodes of The Simpsons are now referred to collectively as "Treehouse of Horror" due to the framing device of Bart and Lisa telling scary stories in their treehouse in this episode.   However, the Halloween specials did not officially (i.e., in the opening credits) get called "Treehouse of Horror" until "Treehouse of Horror XIII" aired in 2002, long after the treehouse was used as a setting.  

All 3 segments of this first anthology edition of the show feature clever parodies of classic horror.  We even sort of get a double Edgar Allan Poe reference in this episode with "The Raven" (obviously) and also "The Fall of the House of Usher"-esque ending of "Bad Dream House."  

We also get introduced to salivating aliens Kang and Kodos, who have appeared in every Halloween Simpsons episode since as well as the Halloween-ed opening credits sequence with a spooky version of the theme music. 

I think my favorite segment of this episode remains "The Raven".  The casting of Bart and Homer as antagonist and narrator (respectively) is inspired and I have always enjoyed the way the James Earl Jones narration interplays with the character voices.  Plus, it's a loving and reasonably faithful rendition of Poe's most famous poem.  

Subsequent Halloween installments of The Simpsons have become increasingly more elaborate over the years, but without this first episode, we'd not have the enduring "Treehouse of Horror" tradition 30 years later. 

RigbyMel's rating: 

4 jack o'lanterns

Friday, October 23, 2020

The Simpsons: "Halloween Of Horror"

454 Evergreen Terrace is transformed into Everscreem Terrors!

Premiered October 18, 2015.

It's the day before Halloween in Springfield.  The Simpson family is excited that their home is undergoing its annual transformation into "Everscream Terrors."  When Homer notices that some of his decorative skeletons are worn out, he visits a Halloween pop-up store, which is operated by Apu (Hank Azaria).  

When three pop-up employees offer to steal decorations for Homer (Dan Castellaneta) in exchange for cash, he inadvertently gets them fired by Apu.  They tell Homer he's "gonna be real sorry" for getting them fired.

In addition to decorating their house, Lisa (Yeardley Smith) is excited that she's finally old enough to attend the Krustyland Halloween Horror with her brother Bart (Nancy Cartwright).  

When the Simpsons arrive at Halloween Horror, Lisa gets scared and regrets coming along.  Homer tells her to stick close to him and she'll be alright.  

However, they are accidentally separated and Lisa is petrified of the actors dressed as zombies.  The Halloween attraction is shut down and Bart is furious at his sister.  

The next morning, Lisa is still shell-shocked.  Bart's anger grows when his mother Marge (Julie Kavner) says that Lisa's condition means the Simpsons won't be handing out candy and they'll have to take down all their decorations.  

He feels better when Marge says she'll take Bart to "Spine Chills," the best trick-or-treating block party in Springfield.  Unfortunately, it's located in a gated community and Bart and Marge are turned away. 

Homer and Lisa plan to spend Halloween putting together a puzzle.  When there's a knock at the door, Homer answers and is greeted by the three pop-up workers! 

They've come to take revenge on Homer for their firing, which means he and Lisa will face something much more frightening than the Krustyland Halloween Horror.

Plus, Bart discovers what happens when trick-or-treating ends and Grown-Up Halloween begins!

J.A. Morris says:

After two decades of "Treehouse Of Horror" episodes, this is the first Halloween-themed episode that is considered "canonical" in the Simpsons' history.  

"Halloween Of Horror" deals with how Halloween changes as kids grow up.  Lisa thinks she's ready for the Krustyland horror attraction, but quickly learns otherwise.  This reminded me of some of my own childhood experiences.  I recall kids my age wanting to watch R-rated slasher movies or going to "realistic" haunted house attractions.  The next day they would regret it.  

I also appreciated the way Marge and Homer handled Lisa's new fear of Halloween.  They take down all their decorations and decide not to hand out candy.  Did they overreact?  Maybe, but it underscores that in spite of Homer's frequent failures since the series began, he and Marge are good parents.  

However, the highlight of the episode is the "NC-17 Halloween" musical number.  It's a hilarious song and it's fun to see the residents of Springfield dressed as hobbits...

... monsters... 

...and even Zardoz!

As usual, we try to avoid spoilers at this site.  However, I will say that everyone ends up having a great Halloween before it ends.  

Lisa dresses up a Freda Kahlo for Halloween, Santa's Little Helper wears a Yoda Costume!
"Halloween Of Horror" is a great episode and it makes me want more canonical Halloween episodes of The Simpsons

J.A. Morris' rating:

4 jack o'lanterns!

RigbyMel says: 

"Halloween of Horror" is an excellent episode of The Simpsons and an unusual Halloween Simpsons as it is the only one (so far) to be considered in canon.   So unlike the Treehouse of Horror episodes, this one actually "happened" in the Simpsons' universe.   This is a character-driven episode that looks at the tensions between childhood fears and adult responsibility and does so rather well. 

I felt for Lisa in this episode.  Her terrified reaction to the Halloween horrors of Krustyland and subsequent shell-shock are utterly understandable.  It's worth noting that Yeardley Smith's voice acting is really top notch in this episode.  For all Lisa's smarts and precociousness, she's still a little kid who needs protecting and Smith's voice acting underscores this beautifully.

I think I also relate to Lisa pretty strongly in this episode because I have never enjoyed slasher movies or gore and was myself rather traumatized by a spooky ride at a local amusement park when I was small. To this day, I HATE  haunted house attractions, but weirdly love a good ghost tour and/or ghost story! 

Homer and Marge try to do the right thing and remove all their Halloween decorations, becoming "skippers" to help their little girl cope.    

Marge tries to placate a furious Bart with a trip to the fancy Halloween block party only to be denied -- they get a tantalizing glimpse of what they're missing in passing. 

And then comes the *real* scary, a home invasion by the disgruntled Halloween pop-up store ex-employees forces Homer to do his best to keep up a brave face for Lisa.  (He tries whistling nonchalantly and settles on the theme from Halloween as his melody of choice!)  Eventually he has to come clean - "I may not be the smartest dad, or the bravest, or the smartest ..."  It's touching and helps Lisa come up with the confidence to formulate a plan.

We also get another angle on the grown-up responsibilities theme with the Rocky Horror inspired "NC-17 Halloween" song and dance number in which the adults of Springfield (in amusingly naughty costumes) sing about the one night a year when they can cut loose (once the kids are asleep).   It's an amazingly clever and funny take on the adult elements of the holiday. 

"Our lives are awful and weary, so tonight we're going way, way, way, way, way too far!" 

Nobody does Halloween as well as The Simpsons and "Halloween of Horror" is a sweet, funny and scary stand out episode that's well worth annual repeat viewing.   

RigbyMel's rating: 

4 jack o'lanterns