Treehouse of Horror (aka The Simpsons’ Halloween Special)
Directors: Wesley Archer, Rich Moore & David Silverman
Guest voice: James Earl Jones as the moving guy (segment 1), Serak (segment 2) and the narrator (segment 3).
First appearance of: Kang and Kodos
Synopsis: The episode is split into three segments, each dealing with a scary story.
The first segment sees the Simpson family move into a haunted house. The house tries every trick to get the family to leave but they stand their ground. Told that the Simpsons were staying, the house opted to self-destruct instead.
In the second segment, the Simpsons are kidnapped by aliens and promised a life of unimaginable luxury. However, Lisa suspects the aliens are planning to eat the family as soon as they land on their planet. The aliens are shocked that this was a possibility and assure the family of their intentions to treat them as gods on their planet. The family are returned home.
The third episode is based on Edgar Allen Poe’s narrative poem, ‘The Raven’. Homer plays the lead character while Bart portrays the raven.
Discussion: Here lies the seminal Halloween episode, loved by millions. Forever remembered as the pioneer of all Treehouses of Horror episodes.
The first segment, The Bad Dream House, was based on several horror films including The Amityville Horror, Poltergeist and The Exorcist. It’s fairly run-of-the-mill horror stuff, bleeding walls, voices telling you to kill your family, Indian burial grounds etc. The twist is, given the ultimatum that the Simpsons are going to live there “so get used to it!”, the house opts to self-destruct. Sagely, Lisa notes that “you can’t help feeling a little rejected”. Aww, the Simpsons aren’t that bad!
Kang and Kodos make their first appearance here. Traditionally seen in every Halloween special (sometimes just as the token cameo), they have a full story here. They’ve kidnapped the Simpson family and Lisa suspects the family are to be eaten as the feast back on the home planet. The segment is based in part on a Twilight Zone episode named ‘To Serve Man’. It’s a cute visual gag which works well and reinforces Lisa being too smart for her own good.
Of course, ‘The Raven’ isn’t the first time The Simpsons have paid homage to Edgar Allen Poe. The poem is kept largely intact but with added bits such as interjections to the treehouse where Lisa is relaying the story, plus Homer’s trademark “D’oh!” and other assorted Simpsonsisms. James Earl Jones’ voice is perfect for the poem’s narration, grounding the segment so it doesn’t get too carried away with Simpsons antics. Lisa’s remark that maybe people were easier to scare back in 1845 is pretty funny; ‘The Raven’ segment reminded me of a cross between Paranormal Activity and Hitchcock’s The Birds. Paranormal Activity was based around some bumps in the night (big deal) while The Birds was about a town being bombarded with thousands of birds. Neither movie (in my humble opinion) was scary so ‘The Raven’ wasn’t going to scare the pants off me either. However, intellectually speaking, I can see the scare factor. A guy has lost his wife (Lenore, seen in this segment as a painting featuring Marge) and the raven is a symptom of his deepening grief, sadness and loneliness. What goes on in your head is often more frightening than external forces, just ask anyone who has suffered depression or anxiety.
It’s a good episode, worthy of season 2’s finest accolades. I’ve basically grown up with The Simpsons, so I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen these early episodes. It’s great being able to see them again with fresh eyes, knowing how the rest of the seasons pan out and how these episodes fit into the canon. I suppose if I didn’t feel this way, there’d be no point in watching Simpsons every day!