This week marks a different direction for Simpsons Saturdays – both previous episodes, ‘Homer’s Enemy’ and ‘Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire’ have rightfully gone down as classics, but the Treehouse of Horror episodes often don’t receive as much plaudits – yet ‘Treehouse of Horror VI’ deserves its place as one of the best Simpsons Halloween specials. Even from the outset, it goes for a distinctly dark tone – the family hanging from nooses as the couch gag – and the episode goes on not only to convey this darkness amazingly, but truly push the fabric of the Simpsons formula.
Attack of the 50ft Eyesores
The first segment of this episode is arguably the weakest, with the large statues and billboards across Springfield coming to life to tear the town apart – all because Homer wanted Lard Lad’s donut. There are some nice references here – Lard Lad doing Godzilla’s iconic scream is a particular highlight – and the episode is a clear reference to 50s and 60s creature features such as the old Godzilla and King Kong films. Yet the episode doesn’t pay homage to these movies in a particularly Simpsons-esque way: there’s jokes, but it doesn’t have the comedic flair that makes their parodies so successful. There are some funny lines – Otto thinking he’s in ‘another acid flashback’ upon seeing the vengeful Red Devil Realty devil, and Homer saying ‘He came to life. Good for him’ in a very dryly funny way upon reuniting with Lard Lad, but aside from that, this segment only feels good for the sheer visual enjoyment of seeing Springfield torn to shreds by oversized advertisements. Similarly, the resolution to the problem seems a little weak – simply just not looking at them – and doesn’t feel satisfying once they’re defeated. It’s an enjoyable enough segment, if not just for the dystopian Springfield, but it’s definitely the weakest here.
Nightmare on Evergreen Terrace
A good old-fashioned Simpsons horror parody, this segment takes Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street and gives it the Springfield charm. As a Freddy Krueger parody, Groundskeeper Willie was the perfect character to choose: he comes across as genuinely menacing here; so aggressive and vengeful, with his origin story in particular – burning to death in front of a disgruntled PTA meeting – takes on a surprisingly chilling tone. They capture the tone of the film especially well, with Willie’s striped clothing reminiscent of Freddy, and the synth additions to the score only increase the tribute paid to the horror classic. Yet it doesn’t stay bogged down by bleakness, and has some great gags too – Martin’s dream of being the ‘wondrous wizard of Latin’ is brilliant, and his dancing in front of a blackboard of verb conjugations while being killed by Willie is the perfect encapsulation of Treehouse of Horror film parodies done right. A great segment that pays homage to classic horror while putting a Simpsons spin on things.
This segment was the main reason this episode has chosen: not only is ‘Homer³’ a well-written tribute to The Twilight Zone – with Homer saying it reminds him of ‘that twilighty show about that zone’ – but its bold creative decision to introduce 3D animation and live-action is the perfect epitome of why peak-era Simpsons was so great: its willingness to experiment with the formula in ways we couldn’t imagine. The plot, while interesting and featuring many great characters, certainly takes a back seat to the sheer visual wonder of seeing Homer rendered in 3D. It’s fascinating to see, and even if just for 10 minutes or so, totally changes the DNA of The Simpsons to great effect. There’s some great self-aware dialogue – ‘Man, this place looks expensive. I feel like I’m wasting a fortune just standing here,’ – and the segment goes further than most Treehouse of Horrors in how much it deviates from the show’s traditional style. Obviously, the CGI is now 25 years old and doesn’t look amazing, but that’s hardly the point: it’s the sheer experimental flair behind the segment that makes it so special. Even the ending is brilliant: it’s so surreal seeing Homer in the real world, and the way people react to him, and his self-conscious reactions to people, are perfect – it’s such a weird and wonderful moment that feels totally in line with the daring nature of this segment. Overall, the best segment here, that elevates this Treehouse of Horror to one of the show’s best.
Favourite quote: ‘Bart, don’t you realise what this means? The next time we fall asleep, we could die!’ Grandpa – ‘Welcome to my world!’