Let me paint you a picture. It’s the early 90’s, and a young Jon, 10 or 11 years old, is returning home from a solid night of Trick or Treating on Halloween. Pillowcase full of candy, I pull off a plastic mask, face and hair sweaty, and collapse on the sofa and turn on the TV. After a commercial or two advertising horror movie marathons, The Simpsons begins. But the intro sequence is totally re-done, with an eerie, theramin-heavy version of Danny Elfman’s theme playing over scenes of graveyards and thunderstorms. It’s the Simpsons Halloween special, and for a young Jon there was literally no better way to end Halloween night.
There’s no doubt about it – The Simpsons Halloween specials (“Treehouse of Horror” officially) are not just treasured Halloween memories for me – I would go as far as to say they significantly shaped the way I think of the holiday. Here’s a list of totally random memories and observations I have from the years of watching these, over and over.
Note: As with all of my Simpsons-related discussion, I refer to Golden Years only – Season 8 and earlier.
The intro/closing sequence
I already kind of covered it up above, but the Treehouse of Horror intros were flawless. They were so perfect at setting the mood that I actually used the music from it to open my Halloween playlist from 2008. The camera moves through a stormy graveyard with amusing inscriptions on the headstones, like “irony”, “TV violence”, “Walt Disney” (with icicles on the tombstone referencing the cryogenic freezing legend), and eventually “amusing tombstones”. The couch gag would be something horror-related too, like the family being built out of spare parts like Frankenstein’s monster and swapping limbs with one another.
In the early years of the show they experimented a lot with different formats. Some episodes had no official intro or closing sequence, but went right into the episode. The best ones, and the ones I treasure the most, are the ones that start with Marge Simpson standing in front of a red curtain giving a sort of disclaimer about the episode being “too scary” for children. Of course this was never true but it totally made you feel that ting of rebellion that’s so important in horror movies to a kid.
The closings were usually just the credits in a spooky font with a “Halloweened” version of the theme song playing, but they contained arguably my favorite aspect of the whole Treehouse of Horror “wraparound”. All the major cast and crew names were changed to Halloween puns, like “Morbid Matt Groening”, “The Estate of Bill Oakley”, and so on. I loved it. And just to throw one last dash of Halloween in at the last second, the Gracie Films jingle after the credits was always done with a church organ. I still get chills from that dumb little tweak.
“You’ve got ‘The Shinning!’ You mean ‘Shining’? SHH! Wanna get sued?”
The Shinning still remains possibly the most famous Simpsons Halloween special. They managed to cram a ton of great gags into a super truncated version of The Shining’s basic plot. And remember, Simpsons Halloween specials were split up into three separate sequences.
My favorite joke in the whole episode is when Mr. Burns is giving the family a tour of the haunted hotel, and the famous “blood pouring out of the elevator” scene happens from the movie. As the family looks down horrified at the knee-deep pool of blood, Mr. Burns says “That’s odd. The blood usually gets off on the second floor.”
Kang and Kodos factored heavily into one of the sequences in the first Treehouse of Horror special, and ended up becoming kind of the mascots of the special every year. The appeared somewhere in the episode, usually for just a few seconds, and often ended up laughing maniacally for a few seconds longer than reasonable. It was a really simple gag, but it always gave me something else to look forward to in each episode. Where will Kang and Kodos show up?
Homer’s The Raven
Another one from the very first Halloween Special, it’s still one of the best sequences in the history of Treehouse of Horror. James Earl Jones narrates Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven with Homer as the main character, Marge as Lenore, and Bart as the raven. It’s simple, and some of the jokes are corny (quoth the Raven: Eat my shorts), but to my knowledge they’ve never done anything like this since in the history of Halloween specials.
Fox drops the ball
Starting with the 12th season, well after the show itself went downhill, Fox started airing the Halloween special after Halloween. Usually November 1st or 2nd. By this point I wasn’t staying up on the show too much, but I still was totally incensed when I heard this news. Here’s a pro-tip for you: Never, ever hold a Halloween-related event after Halloween is over. If your choice is between doing something before Halloween or after, ALWAYS go before. This is why I always have my parties on the Saturday before Halloween, even if Halloween happens to fall on a Friday. After October 31st, people are just mentally “over” it, and that includes me.
Years later, I found out that baseball was the reason Fox pushed the Simpsons Halloween specials into November. So once again, sports and I just don’t see eye to eye.
Dial Z for Zombies
So as not to end on a sour note, I’ll share what’s possibly my absolute favorite joke in all of Treehouse of Horror history. In Dial Z for Zombies, Bart discovers the “occult” section of his school’s library, finds a book of curses, and ends up raising the dead. As the family fights its way out of their house trying to get back to the school, Zombie Flanders appears.
Flanders: “Howdy Simpson, I’m feeling a might peckish. Mind if I chew your ear….?”
(Without hesitation, Homer blows Flanders away with a shotgun)
Bart: “Dad! You killed the zombie Flanders!”
Homer: “He was a zombie?”
Actually, this might be my favorite joke