42. Treehouse of Horror II

(originally aired October 31, 1991)
This second installment of Treehouse of Horror confirmed these specials to be yearly, an outlet for the show to be as absurd, preposterous, and violent, as they could not be in the show proper. But even when the segments would be wrapped in parody or a bunch of spooky stuff, it never lost sight of the characters. I feel later Halloween shows would just do parodies just because they seemed relevant or could get some recognition laughs, like seeing a Transformer, Harry Potter or the Twilight vampires. But recognition of a pop culture item is not a joke (Family Guy fans might beg to differ). We get no better example than these early Halloween shows, which are filled with references and entire story lifts from old scary stories, Twlight Zone episodes and other sources, but feel entirely original and their own, taking their unique spins on these tales.

Our first segment is a classic example, based upon the age-old spooky story The Monkey’s Paw. Again, the joke isn’t that the Simpsons are in this story, it’s just the story. There’s even a psychic awareness of the story itself within the story, with the merchant stating right of the bat it could cause grave misfortune (upon experiencing it himself, Homer later muses, “I thought he was just trying to be colorful.”) Of course, the family’s wishes backfire in spectacular ways, perhaps the most ingenious being Bart’s wish for the Simpsons to be rich and famous. This leads to an amazing meta moment where the family’s fame and fortune in-show mirrored the real-life uber-merchandising giant the show had become at that time. The citizens of Springfield go from amusement to boredom to just plain irritation. The products shown are also great send-ups, like the classic Bart Simpson T-shirts, and as strange as The Simpsons Sing Calypso seems, it’s every bit as bizarre as The Simpsons Sing the Blues. Believe me, I’ve heard. Lisa’s wish for world peace brings back Kang and Kodos, cementing them as Halloween regulars. We also get the first instance of their endless laugh, perhaps their greatest trait, confirmed the comedy rule that extending something for just the right length makes it even funnier.

Segment two is an alteration of a Twilight Zone segment “It’s a Good Life,” where a child with psychic powers and the ability to read minds bends a town to its every whim. As Bart was larger than life at this point, it only made sense for him to fill the role. Childhood is painted as cruel and self-serving as Bart terrorizes his family, his school and just about everything else to tend to his every desire, from changing national history in accordance to his test answers (making America now ‘Bonerland’) to morphing the family cat into a crudely constructed nightmare creature. There’s even a particularly grim sequence showing that Bart has forced his idol Krusty to stay on the air for days straight, pushing him to insane levels of exhaustion (hilarious for us though, with some great snappy poses). As in the original, Homer is turned into a jack-in-the-box by thinking negative thoughts toward the boy, but here our wrap-up is more jovial, but still sarcastic as Bart’s hostility toward his father is defused by a super sappy father-son montage, made even more funny by Homer’s altered state. Bart waking up screaming after Homer kisses him goodnight is the icing on the cake, the moment his wonderful dream turned into a nightmare.

The third segment may be the weakest, a sort-of riff on Frankenstein where Burns believes he can create the ultimate worker by instilling the undying spirit of the working man into an impenetrable robot. All he needs is a brain, any will do, so of course, Homer is chosen. There’s some great bits of animation in Burns’ lab, with some portions mimicking closely to shots and visuals from the original film. There’s some great Burns-isms of course (though a pull from Wizard of Oz, calling the robot a “clinking, clattering cacophany of colligenous cog and camshifts” feels so very Burns), but I haven’t much to say on this one. I will say that this segment probably has the first genuinely disturbing moments in a Halloween segment, in slicing Homer’s head open and Burns violently ripping the brain from his skull. I always felt these specials should be somewhat jarring and disturbing, but not in the way of senseless and gratuitous violence as some later specials (and even regular episodes) would show. Here, it fits the story and the tension of the scene, but of course it’s played off immediately with Burns plopping the organ on his head, exclaiming, “Look at me! I’m Davy Crockett!” Brilliant example of the show having it both ways.

Tidbits and Quotes
– Marge returns at the opening for another warning about the content, this time expressing exasperation over no one having listened last year, then conceding that no one will probably listen this time too. I wonder if people did complain about the content in the first special… Probably got some letters, I suppose.
– The wrap-around of the stories being bad dreams Lisa, Bart and Homer get after a suger-induced high is fair enough, which all builds to the final bit just fine.
– Brilliant bait and switch with Homer pointing the vendor out to Marge, only to find he has disappeared… We’ve seen this so many times that we accept that that might be the case, but then Homer points over to the left to show the vendor waving happily (“You’ll be sorry!”)
– On top of the, of all things, Midnight Express reference, it’s funny in hindsight to see an American being held up by airport security in the Middle East.
– I love Homer’s annoyance after Lisa wishes for world peace (“Lisa! That was very selfish of you!”) as well as the sequence of tranquility after it, and the human peace sign signaling the alien invasion.
– I guess here we introduced Kang and Kodos as an actual menace (sort of) as opposed to their generous nature in the first special. They’re great out of the box here (“Your superior intellect is no match for our puny weapons!”) Kang’s final monologue is so great and delivered with such seriousness, it’s been stuck in my head for years: “That board with a nail in it may have defeated us. But the humans won’t stop there. They’ll make bigger boards and bigger nails, and soon, they will make a board with a nail so big, it will destroy them all!” Followed of course by lengthy laughter.
– I’m saddened I can’t come up with anything for the second segment. I do like the very quick shot of the bus smashed up in front of the school, the bridge between Bart driving the bus and in the classroom. Classic example of telling a lot with a little, and keeping the story going.
– I love the design of the giant robot, to begin with, looks a lot like Homer, with wires extending on the sides of his head like Homer’s hair, and a muzzle-like metal mouth. Even without Homer’s brain, you expect him to laze about eating donuts upon activation.
– Always love Burns’ pronunciation of “Booooogerman.” Also disturbing moment of Burns vicuously bashing a live Homer in the sack with a shovel. Mollified in that he thinks Homer is dead, and the great delivery, “Bad corpse! [hit] Stop [hit] scaring [hit] Smithers! [hit]”
– Upon finding Homer is still alive after reinstalling his brain, Burns tells Smithers he owes him a Coke. In a later installment, The Shining parody, Burns promises Smithers the same if they return to his vacation home to find Homer has massacred his family. Didn’t think that small thing would be a runner, albeit a small one.
– I do love Burns’ inability to run out of the way of the slooooowwlly falling robot, and his dying breaths of describing his major aches and pains.

4 responses to “42. Treehouse of Horror II

  1. Nice to see you back. Nice review.

  2. For the record, this was also the first TOH to feature “Bat Groening”, “Chains Hell Brooks” and other so-called “scary names” in the credits.

  3. Bart’s Nightmare is my favorite of the trio. I love the whole concept behind Bart making everyone treat him like a god.

    Atlhough, Lisa’s Nightmare is equally good. I do love the riffing on the popularity of The Simpsons, but my favorite moment is when Homer points to the shop he got the monkey paw from, only for him to realize he was pointing in the wrong spot. lol

    I do agree that the third segment is the weakest, however, it is still fun. The bit when Burns beats Homer up in the cemetery for scaring Smithers is great.

    Now the ending had some great trickery that was played on me. This was the first episode of The Simpsons I actually watched all of the way through (caught a little of Krusty’s father episode the previous week). As such, I seriously thought the episode was supposed to be continued into the next show with Burn’s head attached to Homer, but I ended up missing the following week’s episode. As such, I seriously thought I missed the continuation of the story. HA!!!

  4. Plenty of great stuff in all three segments. The subtle self-mockery with people being sick of seeing the Simpsons everywhere is great. I remember how big the show was in its earliest years. Plenty of hilarious jokes abound elsewhere, such as the vendor supposedly disappearing, and Burns hitting Homer’s “corpse” again and again. Not my favorite Halloween special, but still very solid.

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