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Friday, October 26, 2012

Treehouse Of Horror!

Did you know that there are very few television shows that have had an annual Halloween themed episode?

Sure, you might have seen the occasional Halloween episode of some of your favourite television sitcoms.  Right off the bat, I can recall the television series “Roseanne” having at least two or three.  I think I also remember seeing a couple of Halloween episodes of “Home Improvement”, “Family Matters”, and “The Facts Of Life”.  And, heck, you could even justify calling every episode of “Bewitched”, “The Addams Family”, “The Munsters”, and “Sabrina The Teen-Age Witch” a Halloween themed one (even though in a lot of cases, they really weren’t).

But there is only one television show that I know of that has managed to come up with one brand new Halloween episode every year since 1990, and continues to do so today.  If memory serves me, this year will mark the twenty-third in a series of twenty-three and counting Halloween specials that will air on FOX.

And to think that it all began as we watched two young children telling ghost stories in a treehouse in the backyard of 742 Evergreen Terrace.

It seems hard to believe that The Simpsons have even been on the air for 24 seasons, let alone produced twenty-three different “Treehouse of Horror” specials.  The clip above was from the fifth edition of the “Treehouse of Horror” series, but it all kicked off on October 25, 1990, during the show’s second season.

Unlike most episodes in the Simpsons series, the “Treehouse of Horror” episodes are split up into three separate mini-episodes, each one telling a scary story that puts many of the residents of Springfield in danger of getting haunted, injured, or killed.  Don’t worry though, by the next episode, all your favourite characters (save for Maude Flanders and Bleeding Gums Murphy) are alive and well again.

Truth be told, the writers loved the idea of creating the Halloween specials, as it allowed them to use cartoon violence that would never be seen in the other non-Halloween themed episodes.

And just where did the writers of the Treehouse of Horror specials come up with the ideas as to what the specials would be about?  Well, lots of places!  They consulted classic literature, horror movies released between 1950 and 2000, classic television, cartoon series, and comic books. 

And would you believe that the “Treehouse of Horror” specials have attracted quite a few celebrity guest voices?  Here is a list of celebs who voiced either themselves or somebody else.  Beginning with season two, you have James Earl Jones, Paul Anka, Phil Hartman (who also voiced Lionel Hutz and Troy McClure), Robert Englund, Regis Philbin, Kathie Lee Gifford, Jerry Springer, Ed McMahon, Tom Arnold, Lucy Lawless, Dick Clark, Pierce Brosnan, Matthew Perry, Jerry Lewis, Jennifer Garner, Dudley Herschbach, Oscar de la Hoya, Terry Bradshaw, Dennis Rodman, Richard Lewis, Fran Drescher, Dr. Phil, Sir Mix-a-Lot, Daniel Radcliffe, Hugh Laurie, Aron Ralston, and Jon Lovitz.

So, with twenty-three specials, that adds up to, let’s see if my math is correct here...sixty-nine different Treehouse of Horror stories so far.  It’s pretty difficult for me to select a list of the stories that I really enjoyed the most, but you know what, I think I’m up to the challenge.  I scoured the internet, television, and YouTube to choose my Top 10 list of my own personal all-time favourite Treehouse of Horror stories.  Some you may agree with...some you may not.  Nevertheless, these are my top ten in no particular order.

From Treehouse of Horror XI – Original Airdate:  November 1, 2000

Lisa Simpson, vegetarian, animal rights activist, Springfield destroyer...

You couldn’t blame Lisa for wanting to release a dolphin named Snorky out into the wild...she felt terrible for him, with being trapped in a giant aquarium in a marine amusement park being forced to do tricks for a bite of fish.  She thought she was doing the right thing.  Never in her wildest dreams did she think that the dolphins would turn on her, and stage a coup to take over Springfield.  What happens in the end will leave you wondering who the real enemy a rather humourous way, that is.

From Treehouse of Horror XVIII – Original Airdate:  November 4, 2007

Okay, I’m a sucker for any Simpsons episode that makes fun of the movie that reportedly kickstarted the love affair between Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt.  In this obvious spoof of “Mr. And Mrs. Smith”, Homer and Marge take on the roles that Brad and Angie made famous...they play assassins who have been hired to take each other out.  The episode seemingly plays out the exact same way as the movie, but in the iconic re-creation of the iconic scene in which the two assassins destroy their own home while trying to kill the other one off, there’s a twist ending which sees some Springfield favourites lose their lives, and make Homer and Marge see what is really important out of life.

From Treehouse of Horror II – Original Airdate:  October 31, 1991

The whole idea of the episode was that Lisa, Bart, and Homer would end up having nightmares after eating one piece of Halloween candy too many.  While the whole episode was enjoyable, and while I liked all the nightmares, I have to give Lisa’s the edge because of the wonderfully biting social commentary that took place within it.  Basically, the plot of Lisa’s nightmare is that Homer buys an enchanted monkey paw that grants its holder four wishes.  After Maggie wishes for a new pacifier, Bart immediately wishes that the Simpsons were rich and famous.  The whole episode pokes fun at the then explosion of Simpsons memorabilia from T-shirts and boxer shorts to compact discs and movie deals.  And when Lisa and Homer make their own wishes, it turns an already bad situation worse.

From Treehouse of Horror I – Original Airdate:  October 25, 1990

This is where it all began with the very first episode...although, this tale appears sandwiched in between “Dream House” and “The Raven”.  The reason I chose this particular one is twofold.  First, it happens to be the episode where the recurring space aliens Kang and Kodos appear for the first time (there’s another story further down this list that also stars those lovable aliens).  And secondly, the entire storyline involves a certain spiky-haired young girl who thinks that the aliens wish to do more to her family than have them FOR dinner...really, the ending is classic.  You’ll love it.

6 – HOMER3
From Treehouse of Horror VI – Original Airdate:  October 29, 1995

I remember everyone at school talking about this episode when it first aired.  In this particular story, Homer is trying to avoid spending time with Marge’s sisters, Patty and Selma, so he decides to find a hiding spot.  His hiding spot leads him into a three-dimensional world which is filled with geometric shapes, algebraic equations, and an annoying pointed object which ends up causing Homer a lot of problems later on in the episode.  This episode also features a surprise ending which really had lots of people talking.  The segment ended up winning several awards based on its incredible animation (at the time), and was even nominated for an Emmy Award.  For that alone, I had to include it on this list.  But, it’s not my favourite segment from the sixth Treehouse special.

From Treehouse of Horror X – Original Airdate:  October 31, 1999

Hey, remember when the Y2K bug was the biggest news story of 1999, and how it ended up destroying the whole world?  Yeah?  Me neither.  That’s because it didn’t happen.  But considering that we’re almost wrapping up 2012 (another year popular with apocalyptic theories), I thought it would be cool to include this segment.  We learned that traffic lights could shoot laser beams, we learned that electric shavers could be used as weapons, we learned that the late Dick Clark was really a robot, and we learned that apparently the writers of the series feel that Rosie O’Donnell, Tom Arnold, Courtney Love, and Pauly Shore are annoying enough that they should be propelled into the sun.  Ah, memories...

From Treehouse of Horror III – Original Airdate:  October 29, 1992

I am a sucker for zombie movies, and I will sit down and watch those kinds of films for however long I am a...well...non-zombie.  Taking its cues from Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” and Stephen King’s “Pet Semetary”, this tale depicts what happened when Bart and Lisa accidentally wake the dead after attempting to bring back Lisa’s dead cat from beyond the grave.  I must admit that it was cool to see some of the favourite Springfield characters become zombies.  I admit that Zombie Mrs. Krabappel scared me when I first watched this episode.  Oh, and Bart accidentally turns Lisa into a snail.

From Treehouse of Horror VII – Original Airdate:  October 27, 1996

With all this talk of the American elections, I thought we should take a look back sixteen years ago to the 1996 Elections.  The candidates were Bill Clinton and Bob Dole...or was it Kang and Kodos?  After abducting Clinton and Dole (along with Homer), Kang and Kodos assume the roles of the presidential candidates hoping that they could take over the world if elected.  Meanwhile, Clinton and Dole end up reaching an understanding, and realize that they have to work together in order to change the world.  A nice gesture and thought...too bad Homer ended up pressing the wrong button.

From Treehouse of Horror VI – Original Airdate:  October 29, 1995

Yes, I know.  This is the second segment from the sixth Treehouse of Horror special in my Top 10 list.  I make no secret that Treehouse of Horror VI is my all-time favourite of the twenty-three made.  In fact, if I decided to make this list a Top 15, the third story “Attack of the 50-Foot Eyesores” would be twelfth, just behind Treehouse of Horror IV's "The Devil and Homer Simpson".  In this segment, the storyline plays out exactly like “Nightmare on Elm Street”, only with Groundskeeper Willie in the role of Freddy Krueger...who died one cold Smarch day.  Willie begins haunting people in their dreams, injuring everyone who has had them.  When Martin Prince ends up getting killed off in his dream, things become serious enough for Bart and Lisa to make a vow to never fall asleep again.  But when that proves to be impossible, Bart and Lisa must struggle to stay alive in a dream world gone mad.  Baby Maggie ends up making a guest appearance in this segment which leads to an...explosive ending.

From Treehouse of Horror V – Original Airdate:  October 30, 1994

Okay, okay...I spoiled it for you at the beginning by posting that clip.  Can I help it if the episode is so good?  Homer’s “No TV and No Beer” rant made the segment pop as far as I’m concerned.  It was a great retelling of the classic Stephen King story, and Homer’s descent into madness without television sort of reminds me of current times where people flip out over losing their iPhones.  Hmmm...maybe an updated version could be in the works for Treehouse of Horror XXIV in 2013?  We’ll see...

So, that’s my list of top Treehouse of Horror segments.  What are some of yours?

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