The Simpsons, Season Two, Episode Three, “Treehouse Of Horror”

Oh, here we go! The Treehouse Halloween specials would become an iconic element of The Simpsons, and in fact would continue to be the most popular part of the show even when it went to seed: out-of-continuity episodes parodying horror stories, sometimes getting quite gruesome. Each episode would be made up of three smaller stories, a la so many children’s cartoons (though it was more inspired by horror comics from the 50’s). Halloween episodes have been a part of American sitcoms for decades, but as far as I can tell, they rarely went in for genuine horror and certainly didn’t show the character’s dying gruesomely the way this show did it.

In the very first run on the idea, we open on Marge awkwardly explaining that the episode won’t be suitable for children – another early meta gag, replacing the more typical warning with Marge-specific jokes (as well as getting potshots at the inevitable criticism they would get). We then go into Homer getting home from Halloween, overjoyed at the candy he got, when he decides to eavesdrop on his children telling ghost stories. After a few runs, the subseries would drop the framing devices – presumably, they took up time that the horror stories could have.

After all these years of Treehouse episodes being specific parodies of movies, TV shows, and short stories, it’s hilarious to me that the very first horror plot they did wasn’t a specific parody at all, but a straight-up haunted story. Of course there’s a few specific parodies of movies like The Amityville HorrorPoltergeist, and The Shinning The Shining, but the actual structure of the episode is just “The Simpsons move into a new house and it turns out to be haunted”, with the comedic twist being that the Simpsons react in character.

One of my favourite things about the Treehouse episodes is how the horror elements of the story are usually set up by the comedic elements. In most horror stories, we wonder how the characters could possibly be stupid enough to buy a haunted house and then choose to stay in there; here, we’re so used to Homer’s greed and stupidity that it’s obvious he’d buy a house so cheaply, then try and write off groans of “get out” as the house settling, before trying to convince Marge to sleep on it.

Most of the rest of the story is riffing on the haunted house concept, ranging from a portal to another dimension – “Quit throwing your garbage into our dimension” – to blood coming out of the walls. The house, whispering into the family’s ears, gets them all to grab knives and axes to kill each other, only to be undone when it turns out Marge was just making herself a sandwich and Moms them into playing nice. When the house openly makes its presence be known, Marge finally has enough and gets a rare belly laugh by yelling “sh-SHUSH!” – even when fighting a haunted house, she’s a square.

Having Mommed a house into submission, it no longer has any power over the Simpsons – Lisa discovers the Indian Burial Ground (classic haunted house cliche), and Bart tries taunting the house into doing cool shit again. Marge tries compromising with the house, asking if they can’t live together in peace. They give the house a minute to think on it, and it decides to destroy itself rather than live with the Simpsons. Remember: worst family in the world.

The second story is a more specific parody of that classic Twilight Zone episode, “To Serve Man”, which to be clear I’ve never seen. As they have a barbeque, the Simpsons are abducted by aliens: our first introduction to Kang and Kodos, as well as a third alien voiced with relish by James Earl Jones. They’re gigantic, revolting, slobbering aliens who do nothing but feed the Simpsons and act suspicious.

Lisa investigates the situation as we get a heap of scifi jokes, and the situation is resolved when Lisa believes she discovers a cookbook, proving the aliens plan to eat them – only it turns out she was wrong, they were just feeding the humans (and in fact were shocked at how much they could eat, a satirical nod at just how much Americans eat). This reveal is funny enough to overcome some story logic flaws – why exactly were they weighing the Simpsons, then?

Finally, we end on an adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven, replacing the lead with Homer and the Raven with Bart. It turns the poem into a kind of Looney Tunes slapstick, and is most interesting for how it reworks the poem’s text into jokes – the Raven’s “Nevermore” becomes less frightening and more annoying to the lead, and the bulk of the poem is replaced by a sequence of Homer chasing the Raven around. I enjoy the way Castellanetta reads the text as naturalistically as possible while James Earl Jones reads the narration faster and faster.

The episode ends with Bart complaining about the poem, and Lisa agreeing that people must have been more susceptible to horror back then. They go to bed and get a good night’s sleep, while Homer lies in bed, terrified.

Chalkboard Gag: N/A
Couch Gag: N/A

This episode was written by John Swartzwelder, Jay Kogan & Wallace Wolodarsky, and Sam Simon & Edgar Allan Poe. It was directed by David Silverman and Rich Moore. James Earl Jones cameoed as one of the aliens as well as the narrator of The Raven.

First Appearances: Kang and Kodos.
Biggest laugh:


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