Thursday, October 14, 2010

More old nightmares: The Simpsons Treehouse of Horror!

At a time when too few television shows seem to bother with Halloween episodes anymore, The Simpsons long-running "Treehouse of Horror" anthologies are like a jack-'o-lantern beacon to all us Halloween nerds. While recent years' entries haven't been as strong (much like the show itself), I love revisiting the old classics. Some of my favorite segments...
"Lisa's Nightmare"/"Bart's Nightmare"(1991)--The second Halloween episode is centered around candy-induced nightmares had by all three family members (in Homer's, Mr. Burns harvests his brain for a worker robot who, natch, is extremely lazy); the first two are the best, with Lisa's involving a fabled monkey's paw: "I must warn you it carries a terrible curse; I myself was once president of Algeria" the middle-eastern shopkeeper warns, to which Homer replies, "I don't wanna hear your life story-- PAW ME!" The family's wishes lead to riches, world peace, and, inevitably, ruin, as Treehouse stalwarts Kang and Kodos arrive from outer space to enslave the newly docile planet. (The comic ET's have had at least a cameo in every Halloween special since the beginning.) Bart imagines himself into a pitch perfect parody of "The Twilight Zone" classic "It's a Good Life," in which little Bill Mummy had an entire town under his psychic thrall. Here, Bart uses his powers to turn Homer into a jack-in-the-box (a direct lift from the original), but also to play pranks like having Moe tell his bar "I'm a big stupid guy with a big butt, and my butt smells, and sometimes I like to kiss my own BUTT! Hey, wait a minute..."
"The Devil and Homer Simpson"/"Terror at 5&1/2 Feet"/"Bart Simpson's Dracula"(1993)--The first is a brilliant vignette in which Homer sells his soul to the Devil, who turns out to be none other than-- hi diddly ho!--Ned Flanders. Like the best "Simpsons," this is filled with tiny details and moments that are utterly hilarious... like Blackbeard the Pirate objecting to the high chair Marge gives him when he serves on Homer's "Jury of the Damned": "Aye! This chair be high, says I!" Meanwhile, "Terror" spoofs another classic "Twilight Zone" ep, with Bart subbing for William Shatner as the passenger (on a schoolbus, natch) who sees a gremlin no one else does. In "Dracula," the crew takes on Francis Ford Coppola's stylized adaptation in typically irreverent fashion (Homer to Bart: "His hairdo looks so queer"). It all ends with a musical homage to-- apropos of nothing-- "A Charlie Brown Christmas."
"The Shinning"/"Time and Punishment"/"Nightmare Cafeteria"(1994)--This entire episode is brilliant, from the pitch perfect "Shining" spoof to Homer's misbegotten romp through time (which keeps changing the future) and the grisly "Cafeteria," in which the staff of Springfield Elementary casually embrace cannibalism. Though funny, the second two segments contain some of the most disturbing material I've ever seen on network television, including lobotomies, the bloodthirsty teachers, and a sick finale in which the whole family's skin turns inside out... and they break into song.
"The Thing and I"/"Citizen Kang"(1996)--In an inventively disturbing segment, Bart and Lisa discover they have another sibling... Bart's "evil" former siamese twin, Hugo, who's been living in the attic and subsisting on a diet of fish heads. The bizarre tale is highlighted by a slew of priceless one-liners, like "A routine soul smear confirmed the presence of pure evil." "Kang" gives starring roles to the aliens, who take on the identities of Bill Clinton and Bob Dole before the '96 election. It's a testament to the show's brilliance that this political lark feels fresh and funny rather than dated.
"It's the Grand Pumpkin, Milhouse" (2008)--While later Treehouse of Horror entries have been a letdown, I have to mention this inspired send-up of the ultimate Halloween special, "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown." Everything about "Peanuts," from the dancing to the nonsense talking grownups, is spoofed, while in this version, of course, the "Grand Pumpkin" actually shows up... and he's pissed!

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