Every year, for one week, the normally social satire heavy Simpsons delves a bit darker. The annual October tradition of terror - The Simpsons' Treehouse of Horror. Rich in references to horror classics and classic horror themes, Treehouse of Horror episodes V, VI, VII, and XII are still a tremendous treat.
The creators of the Simpsons have often used these annual Halloween episodes to provide macabre twists on the show's traditions, from the Couch scene during the opening credits, to the changing of everyone's name in the credits to something scary. The Simpsons' trademark irreverence is definitely present within these episodes and there are some real gems to be enjoyed .
Simpsons Halloween Special- V - As a warning of what is to come Episode V Starts off with a public service announcement by Marge Simpson warning that the episode is so scary that it should not be viewed by children. Next, Marge is handed a notice that the episode is so scary that Congress has determined that it should not be viewed by anyone. Instead, the broadcast switches to the 1947 Glen Ford classic "200 Miles from Oregon" until Bart and Homer hijack the airwaves. Starting off with "The Shinning" ("you mean the Shining? Shhh. Do you want to get sued?"), the Simpsons get the river of blood and the laughs rolling. A trademark of the Simpsons during the Halloween episodes and throughout the regular season are the understated sight gags, such as baby Maggie stacking letter blocks that spell "Red Rum". The Simpson's send-up of the Shining provides a nice look at the talent of the Simpsons' writers when given an opportunity to write an extended parody of the pop culture standards to which they ordinarily make only a passing gag reference.
Next, in Time and Punishment, Homer's broken toaster turns into a time machine as Homer learns the hard way how the tiniest act in history can change the world, as a splatted mosquito leads to Ned Flanders becoming the lord and master of the world and a sneeze can kill the dinosaurs. Particularly funny is is when Homer's sneeze leads to a life where he finds "fabulous house, well-behaved kids, sisters-in-law dead, luxury sedan, woo hoo!" and rejects this life in the lap of luxury when he realizes, to his horror, that they don't know what donuts are."
Finally, in "Nightmare Cafeteria," Bart is sent to detention at the cafeteria and, before long, the cafeteria detention workers become more and more scarce and the sandwiches become more and more plentiful. While not quite as funny as the other episodes, a darker Simpsons is sill enjoyable.
Treehouse of Horror - VI - Starting off with "The Attack of the 50 Ft' Eyesores,' Homer launches an attack of 50' foot advertising icons (a la the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man) who reek havoc on the city of Springfield. The attack is rich in irony, as Mr. Peanut rips the top off of a car and pops the passengers inside like a peanut, and Bart sits on the Devil's shoulder urging him to do evil. With three short vignettes, each episode may be a bit shorter than it could be, but is nevertheless enjoyable. Next on Episode VI is the Simpsons' send-up of Nightmare on Elm Street involving a mad groundskeeper (Willie) in Full Freddy Krueger regalia.
Finally, in the single most daring episode of the Simpsons to hit the airwaves, Homer3, Homer's efforts to flee his sisters-in-law land him in a 3-D computer animation world, before Homer is sucked down a black hole and ends up in the real live-action world. Only to be enticed by the draw of an Erotic Cake shop. Although it is frustrating that we are never find out how Homer gets out of the Erotic Cake shop, this episode is truly a treat.
Episode VII- Leading off this Halloween special is an episode in which the truth comes out - Bart has a twin brother. Sustained on fish heads and confined to the attic, Bart and Lisa discover Bart's supposedly evil twin. The highlight of the episode is clearly as the viewer is informed that Marge and Homer mistakenly believed the wrong child to be the mischievous one and that Bart, not his brother, should have been confined to the attic.
The Genesis Tub - Lisa's science experiment creates a micro-world that soon evolves into an advanced world of the future. As the world evolves, they develop a shrinking ray and bring Lisa into the city she created to worship her as God. Although this has a few funny moments, such as a tiny Martin Luther ("I've created Lutherans!") the real highlight of Episode VII is "Citizen Kang."
In "Citizen Kang," space travelers Kang and Kodos finally have their time in the spotlight. As they abduct Homer and ask that he take them to their leader, Homer explains the details of the upcoming Clinton / Dole election and Kang and Kodos decide they need to kidnap both candidates and clone them and impersonate them. Using a rare Treehouse of Horror moment to provide social commentary on the '96 election, "America Flips a Coin!" As Kang takes the form of Bob Dole and gives a speech, he proclaims "Abortions for all! (Greeted by a round of boos) Very well, no abortions for any one (Greeted by another round of boos), Abortions for some, miniature American Flags for others (Greeted by raucous applause)" Does it get any better?
Episode XII - In "Hex in the City," Homer is cursed by a gypsy after destroying her tent and his family is quickly transformed as Marge grows a beard, Bart becomes elastic, and Lisa develops horse feet. After Homer's drinking buddies are killed, Homer seeks the assistance of a leprechan to get the curse lifted. Although things don't go as planned, the crowd and officiant at the leprechan / gypsy wedding are quite amusing.
Next, in "House of Wacks," Marge gets a House-a-Matic 3000, voiced by Pierce Brosnan. Although the House-a-Matic affords the Simpson's every luxury and causes Homer to proclaim "Trusting every aspect of our lives to a giant computer was the smartest thing we ever did!" Nevertheless, the Simpsons' dream turns to a nightmare as the House-a-Matic tries to eliminate Homer to get closer to Marge. Although somewhat amusing, the only real laughs come at the end of the episode as Pierce Brosnan and the Leprechan walk out of their star trailers with various parting gifts.
Finally, in "Whiz Kids," the Simpsons send up Harry Potter with a visit to Springwarts School of Magicry. Bart and Lisa's sibling rivalry plays out as Montgomery Burns' Lord Montymort tries to capture Lisa's essence for his own use. Sadly, this episode doesn't quite meet the level of the other Halloween Specials and the here, they fail to reach the level of parody demonstrated with The Shinning, with only a few Harry Potter jokes to be found.
All in all, the Treehouse of Horror DVD has some real gems and is a nice addition to any Simpsons' fans collection. For the casual fan, the box sets from Seasons 1, 2, and 3 are probably a better initial purchase and not as dark and macabre, but especially around halloween, this DVD is truly a treat.
"The Simpsons" is presented in full screen with the aspect ratio of its original television exhibition. (This makes sense in that the frames of animation are designed for television display). The colors are noticeably more vibrant than they appear on even the best televisions and they are a joy to watch, especially with respect to the 3-D computer animation in Homer3. While there are occasional imperfections and some degree of shadowing, these are unquestionably part of the original episodes rather than part of this digital transfer.
Again, because these episodes were made for television, the audio qualities are not necessarily what one might expect from a film. Nevertheless, Treehouse of Horror is presented in a 5.1 Dolby Surround Transfer that does enhance the enjoyment of these episodes on DVD. It's not the theatrical surround sound DVD aficionados are used to, but these episodes are nevertheless enjoyable.
This is the one area of disappointment on the DVD. Gone are the inventive, active menus and the wealth of bonus materials. Sadly, these episodes are not given the commentary treatment the other box sets are given. The only special feature provided is a Special Featurette with Kang and Kodos. Running only a couple minutes long, this featurette is really a montage of their appearances and doesn't really add much to the DVD. Although the episodes themselves may warrant repeat viewing, this featurette likely will not be seen again.
While not receiving the treatment that the season box sets receive, the Treehouse of Horror DVD is nevertheless required viewing for all die-hard Simpsons' fans. The episodes are a lot of fun and showcase the creative talents behind the show. Definitely worth watching.