Last week, it was noted that this season has a lot of sequel episodes, and this is one of the few more explicit sequels, the very second “Treehouse Of Horror” special. The tradition hasn’t been quite refined yet; it begins again with Marge coming out onto a stage warning parents that this is a scary episode before conceding that if they didn’t listen last time, they won’t listen again, and it has another wraparound segment. This time, the Simpsons have come back from a successful trick-or-treat, and stuff themselves with candy; Marge warns them that this will give them nightmares, but they don’t listen, and the dreams of Bart, Lisa, and Homer form the basis of the stories this time.
(A different show – say, Rick And Morty – would have these dreams be symbolic representations of what each character is like, and if you turn your head and squint you can kinda see it, but for the most part this isn’t that sort of show)
Two of the sections are direct parodies of specific stories – Lisa’s nightmare parodies The Monkey’s Paw by W.W. Jacobs, and Bart’s story is a parody of an episode of The Twilight Zone, “It’s A Good Life”. Obviously, what unifies these stories and makes them both into something special is that they use famous horror premises as a jumping off point for their absurd characters and absurd world. When late-era Simpsons parodies Avatar, it’s a joke on Avatar’s premise, production, and reception – all jokes that had gotten old by the time the show was being worked on, let alone released; when Homer wishes for a turkey sandwich, it’s a joke on Homer, which stays fresh forever.
Lisa’s dream begins with the family visiting Morocco, and Homer finds a shop with a pan selling a gnarly monkey’s paw; it’s true to Homer that he’d commit to buying it despite warnings that it carries a terrible curse, considering how easily he can be talked into buying things, and he gets the best joke about “the little shop that suddenly disappeared” because it’s equally true that he’d be dumb enough to look in the wrong direction. From there, it’s a pretty straightforward set of ironic wishes.
Bart and Lisa’s wishes are predictable, but work because they take place in the show’s unique world – fame and fortune turning on the Simpsons is a good-but-not-great gag on The Simpsons mega-popularity (though I suppose being sick of the Simpsons gets more true every year), and world peace leading to Kang and Kodos invading is one of those things that works because all the characters involved can contribute jokes. It’s Homer’s turkey sandwich wish, though, that crosses into pure genius – that he would waste a wish on a turkey sandwich is funny, that he’d waste a wish on a turkey sandwich specifically to spite the paw is hilarious, that the turkey is a little dry is gut-busting, that this would send him into a “woe is me” rant he clearly ripped out of a movie leaves me rolling on the floor.
(While it’s rarely quoted as much, I think you can really feel the vibe of that rant in a lot of our humour here)
The wrap-up for the whole thing is great too – Homer tries pawning off the paw to Flanders, just to see the wishes backfire, only for that itself to backfire when everything works out perfectly for him. The solution to the alien invasion is the best part of it (“He’s got a board with a nail in it!”), paying off with Kang (or possibly Kodos) giving a hilarious parody of a Rod Serling speech about how humans will inevitably destroy themselves.
Which leads us into Bart’s dream, a parody of the Twilight Zone episode “It’s A Good Life”. It’s an inspired choice for a parody, because the original choice is indeed spooky as hell – a town is held hostage by a young boy with omniscience and omnipotence – and giving it to Bart gives the show the chance to riff on its own premises, as we see what the show would be like if Bart had complete control (e.g. his calls to Moe would be, uh, less inspired).
And, of course, the fact that the show is animated means that it can come up with twisted visuals like what happens to the cat, or Homer becoming a jack-in-the-box (which actually came from the original Twilight Zone episode). The most inspired touch, however, is the ending, when Homer and Marge decide to send Bart to therapy and Dr Monroe suggests that Homer show him more affection. We then get the corniest, most feel-good set of scenes, climaxing in Bart happily turning Homer human again, a complete subversion of the show’s cynicism… Which of course sends Bart catapulting awake, screaming.
The final short, Homer’s dream, is the least inspired of these, being a Frankenstein-esque story of Mr Burns putting Homer’s brain in a robot; the uselessness of the plot is saved by the fact that it’s basically five minutes straight of Mr Burns monologuing (favourite part: Burns weakly describing his decreasingly fatal symptoms as he dies). It does, however, have a golden ending subverting both the out-of-continuity status of the Halloween specials and sitcoms cliches in general, when Burns is apparently permanently attached to Homer’s head.
Couch Gag: N/A
Chalkboard Gag: N/A
This episode was written by Al Jean, Mike Reiss, Jeff Martin, George Meyer, Sam Simon, and John Swartzwelder, and directed by Jim Reardon. There’s one shot where Smithers and Burns walk past a set of lab bottles, causing them to be concave and convex; this was a pain in the ass to animate but everyone agrees it was totally worth it. Originally, the animators wanted the monkey’s paw to finish with the middle finger up, but it was decided this would be too much a pain to get through the censors.
The Peanuts gang can be seen trick-or-treating in the opening. Marge’s costume is a reference to Bride Of Frankenstein. The plot of Lisa’s nightmare combines The Monkey’s Paw with The New Twilight Zone episode “A Small Talent For War”. Bart turning Jasper into a dog is a reference to Invasion Of The Body Snatchers (1978). Homer spending time with Bart is a reference to an old anti-smoking PSA, combined with a Normal Rockwell painting. Homer’s nightmare combines Frankenstein with The Thing With Two Heads. Burns hums “If I Only Had A Brain” from The Wizard Of Oz as he scoops out Homer’s brain, and references a line from the movie when talking about the robot.
First Appearances: The Halloween credits having scary variations (scariations? No).
Biggest Laugh: This is getting harder and harder, but victory goes to “The turkey’s a little dry?!”