Television doesn’t play as large a role in my Halloween as it does to Christmas time. Oh man… the Christmas specials that I need to watch each year come together into a substantial list. Halloween does not really fall into the TV heavy area, although there was a lot of time spent in front of a television. Halloween was more about the monster movie marathons and less about the actually Halloween television specials.
There are of course some exceptions, like the Great Pumpkin, South Park Halloween specials were awesome as well, and new favorite, the Community Halloween special where the zombie apocalypse breaks out at Greendale. These are a few of the specials that have become a part of my Halloween tradition but none more close to my heart really making me feel like Halloween is near than the longest running TV show in prime time history, “The Simpsons”
The “Treehouse of Horror” series usually came on a week or so before Halloween and it was the defining moment of the Halloween season. The graveyard and the “Treehouse of Horror” title made my brain twitch and truly believe that Halloween is upon us. I long to return back to the days of watching these horror anthologies where the Simpson writers had total freedom to do whatever they wanted to the characters without worrying about the canon of the show.
I get a little apprehensive when it comes to the TOH series. I don’t think I’ve seen the latest episodes and the last one I watched was just an anthology of movie parodies. Not horror movies, not even a scary cartoon, just a funny parody.
I think it was Treehouse XXI where I lost the will to follow the series. The first of three cartoons was about Homer being bitten by a spider and paralyzed only able to communicate through passing gas. The end of the episode sees him being bitten by a radioactive spider and becoming a paralyzed spider man. The second cartoon, the only one that tries to be a little horror-ish, is one where Ned becomes a serial killer thinking he’s doing God’s work, when in reality it was Homer speaking to him through a Bible-shaped radio. The third is simply an Avatar spoof. Yes, the blue alien, Steven Spielberg avatar.
It felt like they just stopped trying. I think I may go and watch the newest Treehouse tonight and see if they redeemed themselves last year but I highly doubt it. Al Jean just doesn’t have the same approach and style that James Brooks had.
That being said, there are some great moments past in this series. I really enjoyed how they were tied together. Unlike the recent episodes that just throws a few disconnected cartoons at you, in the past they were all held by a narrative. There was a Halloween party where each cartoon was a story that one of the characters was telling in an effort to scare the others, which paid off in the end with the kids all laughing and wondering “who could be scared of stories like that” and then a shot of Homer shivering with fear. Earlier series had a similar premise of the children taking turns telling stories except it was in their Treehouse (appropriate for the Treehouse of Horror).
One of the ones I liked from the more recent episodes is when the family falls asleep in church and each individual cartoon is a dream that one of the characters is having. They were religious type cartoon, even one parodying David and Goliath, which illustrates my “they are NOT horror anymore” ideas… but to save the episode the Simpsons wake up at the end of the service and everyone is already gone. They leave the church to reveal the apocalypse, complete with four horsemen and everything. The Flanders are saved and brought into heaven through a beam of light…. a light that comes on Lisa but as she’s being ascended Homer grabs her ankle bringing her back to the ground with her family.
The cartoons strayed but the overall tone stayed the same.
Also don’t get me wrong, parodies are a great way to celebrate the Halloween season and the Simpsons have done it masterfully in the past. Parodying movies like Dracula, Nightmare On Elm Street, The Lost Boys, The Shining, and even episodes of The Twilight Zone just to name a few, has become a staple of the series. When they start parodying Avatar because that’s what was popular at the time I lose my respect.
But despite of the qualms I have with the later offerings I cannot dismiss this series. Treehouse of Horror to any 25+ year old fan is as essentially to the full Halloween experience as Pumpkin carving and black cats. There’s just so much to love about this series, and even if I believe it has lost touch with the X-factor that made it great (which can also pretty much said for The Simpsons in general)
A tree house of Horror marathon is indeed in my future between now and October 31st.