Posts Tagged ‘Treehouse of Horror I


Reading Digest: A Tale of Two Cultural Uses

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“You know what would’ve been scarier than nothing?” – Bart Simpson
“What?” – Lisa Simpson
“Anything!” – Bart Simpson

It’s a shorter than average Reading Digest this week because two different Simpsons related things were clogging the tubes.  The first is the release of this new John Cusack movie where he plays Edgar Allen Poe and has to solve mysteries.  The second is the use of songs from Hot Chip and Animal Collective in last week’s Zombie Simpsons.  In the case of the movie, I lost count of the number of reviews that mentioned “Treehouse of Horror”; and in the case of the songs, I lost count of the number of blogs and websites (from very small to very large) that mentioned Zombie Simpsons.

There is one link to each below, but what was so funny about it was the way each was used.  When mentioning James Earl Jones and Homer Simpson doing Poe, the tenor of the articles was very much hey-remember-how-and-popular-it-was.  Whereas with Zombie Simpsons it was much more, so-that-happened.  It’s just another example of Zombie Simpsons being content with simply employing or referencing something where The Simpsons gave everything it used a unique and memorable twist.

There’s also the usual smattering of usage and fan made stuff.  And we’ve got a couple of way above average animated .gifs, a proper academic Simpsons citation, and a cool Homer Simpson workout t-shirt.


mmmm, beer – An animated .gif of Homer thinking about the time the beer truck crashed.  It’s in black & white, which makes it oddly more profound.

Existentialism – a return to the child? – A short article on existentialism through the lens of American Beauty and “Bart’s Inner Child”.  I enjoy the precision of the citation:

Meyer, G. (Writer) & Anderson, B. (Director) (1993). Bart’s Inner Child. In D. Merkin, The Simpsons. Los Angeles, CA: 20th Century Fox Television.

If you’re going to take The Simpsons seriously, that’s how to do it.

Lenny & Steve’s Excellent Adventure Through the 100 Best TV Episodes of the Past 20 Years: Part 7 – “Lisa’s Wedding” and “22 Short Films About Springfield” are on here along with “War Is the H-Word” from Futurama.  Looking like that he talked his way into Jill St. John’s bed.  ’Nuff said.

Buy a ticket to ‘The Avengers’ and see old friends – Excellent usage:

“Last night’s ‘Itchy & Scratchy’ was, without a doubt, the worst episode ever. Rest assured that I was on the Internet within minutes, registering my disgust throughout the world.”

That line, spoken by Comic Book Guy on “The Simpsons,” comes to mind for a couple of reasons.

First, it’s just a funny, well-written line delivered by Hank Azaria’s comic book shop owner character. Secondly, it hits just close enough to home that it’s one of the first things I think of when a big comic book movie, such as “The Avengers,” comes out.

Early Sketches of 11 Famous Cartoon Characters – I’m pretty sure I’ve linked the Simpsons one on here before, but there’s quite a few other cool sketches as well (Simba from The Lion King in particular).

Movie Review: The Raven – There were a lot of these this week:

I should begin by stating that I am not an expert in the works, life, or personality of Edgar Allan Poe. However, I have seen both the Lisa’s Rival and the original Treehouse of Horror episodes of The Simpsons at least 10 times.

The movie is apparently not very good.  (It’s sporting a 22% on Rotten Tomatoes as of this morning.)

Warning! Five classic shocker endings – Excellent usage:

“Planet of the Apes” (1968): The planet is actually Earth. As Charlton Heston laments, we’re maniacs, we blew it all up. Or as “The Simpsons” so brilliantly phrased it in the Troy McClure musical parody, “Oh my god, I was wrong/It was Earth all along.”

I love you, Dr. Zaius!

Pony Time: The Simpsons – Lenny goes Pony on the Simpsons.  But where’s Maggie?

Simpsons Sums Up: Desperate Housewives – Give that show credit, it started crazy and stayed that way.

Well Played, Simpsons – The late stages of “Homer’s Barbershop Quartet” and the Beatles picture that inspired it.

On “Proactive” – The origins of a word with excellent usage.

Fun Facts About The Simpsons – From the blog of the theater that’s putting on the post-apocalyptic Simpsons play:

The play opens soon after the apocalypse hits—there’s no TV, no radio, no Internet.  A group of survivors sit around a campfire and recall an episode of The Simpsons to escape from despair. From their collective memories, a new industry struggles to be born: a crude theatrical re-creation of the digital culture we can’t possibly live without.

Their Twitter feed is here, the hashtag is #WoollyBurns.

Mmmmmmmm! CFL DRAFT DAY! – Apparently the Roughriders were terrible last years:

Way back in 1992 during Season 3 of the long-running Fox series, The Simpsons, there was a CFL draft gag in the memorable episode when Ned Flanders briefly opens a store exclusively for left-handers, The Leftorium.

As a bored-looking Homer Simpson looks on from his couch, a crude graphic of a football emblazoned with a maple leaf and the words ‘CFL draft’ appears on his television, dissolving into a shot of two announcers seated in front of a CFL draft board divided into Eastern and Western Divisions.

Welcoming viewers to more “exciting 15th-round action at the Canadian Football League draft,” the announcers go on to note with some concern that “the Saskatchewan Roughriders only had four rouges all last year.”

The Roughriders can only wish their biggest problem heading into the 2012 draft was their lack of singles production in a disastrous 5-13 season in 2011 in which they were dead-last by a mile in points scored (51 points behind seventh-place Toronto and 169 points behind first-place Montreal).

He actually says “the Saskatchewan Roughriders who scored only four rouges all last season”, but I’m still calling it excellent usage because the front of the quote is right and for actually knowing about Canadian football.

A Homer Simpson t-shirt I’d wear to the gym from 80sTees – Heh.

Sideshow Bob by ~Rufina72 on deviantART – Two Sideshow Bobs, one popping out of a birthday cake.

Alucard, Sideshow Bob and kitties by =jesterry on deviantART – More Sideshow Bob, this time in more of a Japanese style.

Crabby Golightly: Chicago Silkscreen Artist Seeks ‘Kickstart’ For Gig Poster Gallery – Scroll down for a cool looking off color Marge.

FYI – YouTube of Maggie axing Willie in the back.  It is indeed disturbing.

Simpsons – Mr Sparkle (gif) – Exactly what it says.  I like the way only the background changes, makes it look like a street sign or something.

Newt Gingrich…In 10 Words – And kudos for bringing the public back to the Republican Party.

Animal Collective and Hot Chip appear on The Simpsons – And finally, the only link about last week’s pair of songs agrees with us:

Like most people in this day and age, you probably don’t watch the wacky hijinks of the Simpsons anymore, mostly due to the unerring fact that the show just isn’t very good.

Indeed it is not.  There’s video of the songs there, if you’re so inclined.


Compare & Contrast: Halloween vs. Bad & Baseless Storytelling

“Fine, then you tell one scarier.” – Lisa Simpson
“Flashlight please.” – Bart Simpson

Ever since its beginning, the Treehouse of Horror series has depended on parodying, satirizing, and outright stealing from movies, television shows, and other stories.  When The Simpsons was still itself that meant taking familiar ideas, themes and stories and remaking them in the style, language and irony of Springfield.  That sounds simple, but it’s an extremely delicate process.  They had to inject enough original ideas and twists to keep things from feeling stale or rehashed, while at the same time not changing the original source material so much that it became unrecognizable.  On top of that, they needed to tell a coherent story that didn’t require any knowledge of the source material from the viewer.  Oh, and the whole thing had to take place in just a few minutes of screen time.

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This is harder than it looks.

That intricate, multi-step dance is why the Treehouse of Horror series is so rightly famous.  The Shining is two and a half hours long, but they got all of the major scenes and most of the ideas into seven minutes and worked jokes and humor into every piece of dialogue.  Those classic episodes of The Twilight Zone take twenty minutes or more, but The Simpsons retold them in a third of the time and made them hilarious.  They chopped “The Raven” down to five minutes, preserved the mood, the unrelenting bleakness, and the bottomless despair of the ending . . . and made it funny.  As Zombie Simpsons has so often demonstrated, that isn’t easy to do, and screwing it up even a little can spoil the entire thing.

The craftsmanship and cultural span of those episodes is stunning, but they all have three things in common.  The first is incredibly strong source material.  The second was a remaking of that material into something that is recognizable to people familiar with the original, but still coherent, accessible and funny to people who aren’t.  The third is the way the whole thing is both funny and scary, with moments that, if taken seriously, are truly terrifying, but that never lose their sense of humor.

Consider the very first “Treehouse of Horror”.  The source material is incredibly famous from start to finish.  The opening segment cribs from Poltergeist (a movie that directly spawned two sequels, indirectly spawned a television series, and is currently being remade) and a number of other classic American horror and haunted house tropes, including the ubiquitous “ancient Indian burial ground”.  The second part takes its cues from The Twilight Zone, one of the most well known and critically acclaimed television series of all time.  And the third retells a poem so famous that a couple of years later they named an NFL team after it.

That alone isn’t enough, of course.  Each segment goes beyond what spawned it to give it that special Simpsons twist while remaining clear to people who’ve never encountered the originals.  You don’t need to have seen any haunted house movies to get that the demonic house wants the Simpsons family gone, nor that it’s funny that Bart thinks his conscience wants him to kill his family.  The suspicion that Kang and Kodos are planning to eat the Simpsons is baked into the entire story, but throughout it there are jokes about the family, about space dust, about cable television costs.  Thanks to the clever wraparound with Bart and Lisa discussing “The Raven” in the context of modern times, we get both the poem itself and the idea that poems don’t carry the same weight they once did.  The Simpsons mocked and retold the originals, and did so in a way that rewards you for knowing them but doesn’t penalize you for not knowing them.

Poe Books

You don’t need to have read these, but it’s nice if you have.

Finally, Treehouse of Horror episodes contain genuinely scary and gory moments, but they are always leavened with plenty of knowing asides and gags, often right in the same scene or even the same shot.  This means that we see the alien spaceship abducting the pitiful humans, but we also see the beam that sucks them up fail to lift Homer until it gets some additional help.  The walls of the house bleed profusely, but Marge just takes it as a sign that the house needs a woman’s touch.  Accompanied by swelling and ominous music, Homer lies defeated in the inescapable shadow of the raven, but the black hearted creature laughs the same way Bart does when he gets one over on his dad.

You can see those three characteristics throughout the good years of Treehouse of Horror.  You can also see the complete failure of all three of them throughout “Treehouse of Horror XXII”.  Let’s start with #1: strong source material.

Dexter is a decent little show, but it’s also confined to premium cable and doesn’t have what you’d call a mass following.  The same is true of 127 Hours and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.  Both of those are well regarded independent movies, neither of them is famous.  Avatar is certainly famous, but what, if anything, it has to do with Halloween or even Halloween related themes is a bit of a mystery.  But that just brings us to Zombie Simpsons’ failure on point #2: making the story derive from the original while adding enough to make it your own and keeping it entertaining for people who aren’t familiar with it already.

Even people who elected not to see Avatar are probably familiar with the basic story, if only because the marketing and media coverage were everywhere and the premise of “white guy goes native” isn’t exactly novel.  But Zombie Simpsons didn’t do anything but recreate a couple of disconnected scenes and props.  For it to even qualify as a parody it would have needed to have some kind of plot or resolution, which it manifestly doesn’t.

The beginning is Bart in a wheelchair before becoming an alien, but that entire idea is forgotten as soon as he steps into the tube.  The middle is taken up with a love story and pregnancy (huh?), which are promptly dropped when it comes time for the goofy battle at the end.  That little action piece consisted of one thing over and over again: an animal you’ve never seen doing something to generic background figures you don’t know.  The whole scene has nothing to do with Simpsons and resembles Avatar in only the vaguest way.  The segment is so disjointed, senseless and irrelevant that it actually doesn’t matter whether or not you’ve seen the movie, which is conceivably the only positive thing about it.

Avatar 2 - Flaming Ant Eaters

Was this in the director’s cut?

Even that small mercy is absent from the other three segments, however.  If you didn’t know what 127 Hours was about, what would you have made of that opening?  Homer driving to the desert and falling into a canyon only makes sense if you know the story beforehand.  The same is true of seeing Flanders do things like tie his laundry bag and spread jelly on his toast.  If you haven’t seen the opening sequence of Dexter, none of it makes any sense because there is nothing there besides Flanders repeating it.

Obviously, the title sequence isn’t the only part of the Flanders as Dexter segment, but that just takes us to #3: managing to be both funny and scary at the same time.  The basic premise there was that Flanders thinks God wants him to kill people, and he starts by decapitating Burns:

Lifeless Gore

This scene is, quite literally, bloodless.

Even though it involves two of the show’s biggest secondary characters, there is nothing scary, gory or funny about this.  If it were going to be funny, there’d need to be a joke.  If it were going to be scary, there’d need to be some tension or suspense.  None of those things are present, and we’re left with a scene that has no impact.  Compare that to another removed head, this one in Season 5:

Treehouse of Horror IV12

Funnier and gorier, much better.

Here we’ve got a joke (the disembodied head of Flanders being his usual cheerful self) as well as some nice dramatic irony (Bart not being able to escape from the gremlin).  It’s scary and funny, which is what makes it so good.  Flanders as Dexter has none of that, it just trots out a few pointless murders before running out of ideas so completely that it has to have God and Satan show up out of thin air.

The paralyzed Homer skit suffers from the same problems.  Its basic premise, Homer gets paralyzed and communicates by farting, is so thin, stupid and tension free that it’s impossible for any part of it to be scary or funny.  After that quickly runs its course, they’re left with dropping something vaguely Halloween-y out of nowhere.

Sky Spider

They ran out of things to do in a segment that’s only four and a half minutes long.

When the apparently radioactive spider finally does reach Homer, it crawls in and out of his head for a while.  Again, this is neither scary nor funny.  Homer’s in no danger (he’s already paralyzed after all), and even if he was in danger we in the audience wouldn’t know it because this spider, unrelated to everything else in the segment, just showed up from nothing.  It isn’t funny for the simple reason that there is no joke.  Creepy?  Maybe.  Funny?  Nope.

The Treehouse of Horror series was meticulously based off of brilliant material, given a Simpsons shine to make it work for anyone, and managed to be scary-funny and funny-scary all the while.  You don’t need to have seen Poltergeist or any other haunted house movie to get “Bad Dream House”, just as you don’t need to have seen The Twilight Zone or read any Poe to get the other two segments from “Treehouse of Horror”.

In “Treehouse of Horror XXII”, on the other hand, the audience would be lost without knowing the original material, which itself mostly came from things only a few people have seen.  Even that wasn’t bad enough for Zombie Simpsons, though.  They took their weaker source material and ignored it where possible, crammed it into nonsense where they couldn’t ignore it, and generally spent their time doing their usual routine of jumping from one lifeless scene to another.  Ultimately, this was less a Halloween episode than it was one of the “storytelling” episodes where they just have three (or four) unrelated segments, and even those were nonsensical and boring.


Reading Digest: “The Raven” Edition

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“Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!” – Homer Simpson

This week we’ve got four different links mentioning the final segment of “Treehouse of Horror”.  Some people are mentioning it as part of television history, other’s are using it for lesser purposes like educating children.  In addition to that we’ve got some non-IGN synergy, lots of Halloween related YouTube, and a couple of cool Simpsons Halloween costumes. 


Come along, Bort! – This is Smooth Charlie’s Click of the Week.  It’s a fine job, both by Universal Studios for wasting precious retail space, and to whoever took this picture. 

Apple Newton – Fifteen years later and the Apple Newton lives through mockery. 

Simpsons get the vinyl treatment (again) – IGN may be out of the fake review business, but there’s plenty of other News Corp. properties out there.  Here’s The New York Post pimping Simpsons collectables. 

David Mirkin to adapt Richard Branson’s memoir – The headline tells you pretty much everything that’s in the article.  Richard Branson’s getting a biopic. 

I Work From Home … and I Homeschool – You can learn everything you need to know from The Simpsons:

There have been many pluses to teaching Christopher at home. Along with studying the actual literature, we watched The Simpsons version of The Ravenand the BBC production of Austen’s Emma AND IT TOTALLY COUNTED AS CURRICULUM. Which is more full of WIN than I can adequately express.

Where else can you see Darth Vader reciting one of the most famous poems in the English language?

Spooking, slaying and egging: 10 classic Halloween TV episodes – There’s that poem again, this time at the top of a long list which goes all the way back to Bewitched

J-M students feast on Poe’s ‘The Raven’ – Ninth graders and fourth graders coming together to learn about Poe with The Simpsons.

Quote the Raven, NEVERMORE! – Several YouTube versions of Poe’s most famous poem, including the one from “Treehouse of Horror” and a slightly overproduced version read by Christopher Walken. 

Plus jamais sans mon donuts ! – Even in other languages people can’t talk about donuts without at least mentioning Homer Simpson. 

Cartoonism – Positing some cartoon-religion pairs that make a lot more sense than the Simpsons being Catholic.

The Making of The Simpsons… Halloween Costumes – How to make excellent Homer and Marge costumes.  Sadly, none of the pictures show the completed work, so we’ll have to check back after Halloween. 

Do the Bartman! – Australian street art of Bart fending off a giant Snowball II.

Battle of the (Fake) Bands: The 10 Best TV/Movie Musicians – Bands from movies and teevee, lots of good YouTube here, including shaky-cam Be Sharps. 

The Shinning – Speaking of shaky-cam YouTube, anyone want to watch The Shinning?

Song Of The Day: 10/26/2010 – There’s still more YouTube here, in this case it’s the Stonecutters song.

Help Vampire Mob Reach Their Goal For Season 2 – Marcia Wallace’s side project needs some money.

The Simpsons Theme Played on Toys – This has a million and a half views despite being barely a week old, and it totally deserves them:

Fox Ratings Reign Endangered by 17% Drop in Audience – Someone else noticed that the ratings for Zombie Simpsons suck.  Maybe they should cancel it. 

The Simpsons Costume – Cool Simpsons costumes, Marge, Lisa and Flanders (via). 

Best talk ever – A short recap of the appearance Mike Reiss made in Minnesota last week. 

‘Mo’vember is incoming; the greatest TV moustaches ever! – A list of great moustaches, with lots of pictures, including one of a rather distressed looking Flanders. 

Happy Treehouse of Horror Day – I’m not just mentioning this because it links to us.  It’s a general paean to the Halloween specials that comes with a question at the end:

Finally, what’s your favourite Treehouse of Horror segment? I think “Dial ‘Z’ for Zombies” (from season 4) is usually my favourite — though in my opinion it’s the standout in an otherwise weakish special, where you can sort of tell that the other two segments came out poorly and were saved by endless redubbing and re-cutting. A close runner-up is “Time and Punishment” (season 6), which has led me to expect Mr. Peabody to tell Sherman “Quiet, you!” whenever I see a Rocky and Bullwinkle rerun.

This leads to people discussing their favorite segments in the comments and, wouldn’t you know it, Zombie Simpsons comes up only once.  And even that person just says that that the Halloween parts haven’t gone south (implying that the rest has), and then mentions a Season 14 bit before talking about two segments from the good old days. 


Quote of the Day (Updated)

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“I’m not going to live in a house of evil just to save a few dollars.” – Marge Simpson
“Don’t be so stubborn.  We’re not talking about a few dollars, we’re talking about a few thousand dollars!” – Homer Simpson

Happy 20th anniversary to “Treehouse of Horror”!  At least, I think today is the 20th anniversary.  Wikipedia, IMDb, and even SNPP all have it as October 25th, not the 24th.  In 1990, October 25th was a Thursday, so that makes sense.  However, epguides has it as October 24th, 1990, which was a Wednesday.  Curious, I dug out the booklet from my Season 2 DVD collection and, lo and behold:

[Aired October 24, 1990]

Now, it’s possible that’s a typo.  And I checked on the disc itself and the airdate isn’t on the menu, nor were they reciting the airdates during the commentary in Season 2.  If this were just a regular episode I’d assume the booklet was wrong, but it was originally presented as a Halloween “special”; it’s at least possible that they moved it up a day for whatever reason.  So I’m really not sure, but since this is the date on the DVD set, it’s the one I’m going with. 

[Update 12:32pm: On Twitter our old friend Ryan came through with pretty definitive proof that the original “Treehouse of Horror” did in fact air on October 25th 1990:

TOH Airdate Proof

I’d say that pretty well clinches it.  The Season 2 DVD booklet has a typo and tomorrow is the real 20th anniversary.  Thanks Ryan!]


Quote of the Day

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“On this cable system we receive over one million channels from the furthest reaches of the galaxy.” – Kang
“Do you get HBO?” – Bart Simpson
“No, that would cost extra.” – Kang


Nameless Here Forevermore

“Lisa that wasn’t scary, not even for a poem.” – Bart Simpson

My favorite tag to use on this site is the “Fan Made” one.  I love nothing more than seeing the different ways talented people use Simpsons to create cool stuff.  Sometimes it’s just some little drawing somebody did on their computer, sometimes it’s epically awesome.  Today we have a painting (or should I say paintings) that are way on the “epically awesome” side of the scale.  Behold the real life Marge as Lenore painting:

Marge as Lenore (James Hance)The Dead Homer Society accepts no liability if your monitor just exploded from “triumph overload”.

It’s a little hard to tell from the above image but you can seen plain as day from this “in progress” picture that yes, it is indeed in two parts.  Fan-fugu-tastic. 

This was done but a guy named James Hance.  He’s got a ton of other great stuff at his website running the pop culture gamut from painting a TIE fighter into a Hitchcock movie to having Jimi Hendrix play Guitar Hero.  In response to an e-mail query he wrote this about “Lenore”:

‘Lenore’ was something I’d been wanting to paint for a long while. The first ‘Treehouse…’ episode is my favorite. Nestled in the ridiculously funny lines there’s a certain strange sadness in the ‘Raven’ segment which stuck with me.

The Poe segment of “Treehouse of Horror I” is a testament to just how creative and innovative the show was.  To take a poem that desolate and turn it into something funny while doing little more than quoting the text (while at the same time having Bart point out that poems like this are dull to modern kids) was a hell of a thing.

If you happen to be in or around Jacksonville, Florida in the middle of next month Hance and another artist are putting on a “Childhood & Nostalgia” show where this will be displayed.  Also in the show will be high school yearbook photos of Chewbacca, Predator and others.  Sweet.  Hance has promised to send us the details when they become available, so we’ll have those in the future. 


Quote of the Day


“There were monsters on that ship, and truly we were them.” – Lisa Simpson
“Lisa, see what we mean when we say you’re too smart for your own good?” – Marge Simpson


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