Original Air Date: Thursday, October 25, 1990
The Treehouse the Simpsons Built
Back in the early days of these Simpson Halloween Specials, two things were consistent. The episode would start with a disclaimer, and the first one is as simple as Marge warning the audience that some of the following material might be scary for some kids. It was largely played off as a gag by us naive fools, but in actuality, it was put in for its purposes. It was James Brooks' idea due to the idea of the episodes parodying EC Comics 'Tales from the Crypt', and at the time, it was a bit much for network television.
The other thing these episodes had going was a narrative between each segment. It made the segments a bit shorter, but it added to the Halloween mood much more than a lot of them have since then. After a while, I suppose one can only do so much, but I'm sure they could have fueled more than just 4 seasons worth. The first narrative is Homer coming home after trick or treating, and eavesdropping on Bart and Lisa in the tree house, telling each other scary stories. This all eventually leads to Homer being the one who gets scared, and it was a friendly reminder to yours truly at the time that if it sounds scary, maybe you shouldn't stick around. The first two stories are told by Bart, and the final one by Lisa, with guest star James Earl Jones narrating.
'Bad Dream House'
For an incredible cost, the Simpsons family moves into a new, creepy looking house. Before long, strange stuff starts happening, and Lisa senses an evil presence within the house that wants them to leave. Although Marge wishes to do the smart thing and heed the house's warning, Homer insists they sleep on it. Soon they get more than they bargained for when the house attempts takes things over.
This was a great opening segment for the Simpsons Halloween specials, whose antics still carry through to this day. With so many hits and misses alike, there's something very special that stands out about 'Bad Dream House'. It's modelled after so many different things, and it brings it all together as one - kinda like a 10-minute 'Scary Movie', way before 'Scary Movie' was a thing. It parodies several well-established classics like 'The Haunting', 'The Amityville Horror', 'The Shining', 'Poltergeist' and 'House of Usher' and to add a nice little cherry on top of it all, the house is modeled after the 'Addams Family' house.
The segment is short, but crams a lot into it, providing its audience with a true love letter to classic horror. To this day, it remains one of the most solid segments in 'Treehhouse' history, hitting all the marks that make a great Halloween segment; it's spooky, it's edgy for the time, it harkens back to horror movies (as so many have failed to do since), the music is good and creepy, setting the tone, and it still delivers the laughs throughout. It's one of the segments that helped bring me into the idea of liking horror/comedy. It's still one of the best of the collection.
'Hungry Are the Damned'
While having a family barbeque, the Simpson family are abducted by now famous aliens Kang and Kodos, who we're introduced to for the first time. We also get Serak the Preparer, and one whose name would take pulling out your tongue to pronounce correctly. The aliens explain to the family that they are headed to Rigel IV, a world of infinite delights. The only strange thing is that they constantly feed them with their favorite foods.
When asked why they never seem to eat, the aliens explain that they don't want to ruin their appetite for the great feast, once they land on Rigel IV. This makes Lisa suspect that the aliens may very well be fattening them up so they can be eaten at said feast. There's a whole "don't judge a book by its cover" analogy going on throughout, and the segment is a parody of a 'Twilight Zone' episode called 'To Serve Man' - now very famous for the outcry of "IT'S A COOKBOOK!". Although that has a much darker and creepier ending than this, remembering that some kids may be watching, and this was already a touch risque for 1990.
It's not really my favorite, but it definitely holds up for what it is. The idea of an alien race seeing you as cattle is a very disturbing notion, and though combined with comedy, this segment does a good job with making us squirm. Remember, this is the first time we see these aliens who are constantly hovering around the family, staring and drooling, looking so eager to eat. It was one of the things that fed into my irrational fear of alien abduction back in the day, although it was 'X-Files' that really sealed the deal on that in 1993. It's still a classic in its own right.
The final segment of the first 'Treehouse of Horror' episode ends things on a somewhat classy note, and to this day, this is one of my favorite of their Halloween segments. In short, it's Edgar Allen Poe's classic poem narrated by the great James Earl Jones. The segment is told from the perspective of the narrator, portrayed by Homer Simpson, and comparing the two polar opposites of Jame Earl Jones and Homer Simpson, that adds a fun spin of humor to the whole thing.
When the Raven is introduced, he's played by Bart, and when the first "Nevermore" is altered in Bart's favor to "Eat My Shorts", it always gets a laugh from me. The whole quarrel between the man and the Raven gets cranked up a little here, reflecting the usual dysfunctional relationship between Homer and Bart, but still using words from the poem. Homer belting out a line from Poe at the top of his lungs is funny, and the humor here balances an otherwise surprisingly dark setting.
What really makes this a personal favorite is that between Jones' deep and haunting voice, the music, and the way the long shadows are animated make this an oddly disturbing segment, and one I consider one of the best suited for Halloween. There's even a bit when Homer opens the door to nothing but darkness, and for some reason, the way it looks seems haunting - it's just a long dark hallway with moonlight shining in. This whole segment is just another fine example of how subtle things surrounded by humor can still be creepy.
The episode ends with Bart and Lisa calling it a night and heading to bed, claiming that they'll have no trouble sleeping. However, Homer, who has been just outside the tree house, listening to these scary stories, ends up shivering in fear from it all. When Marge tries to reassure him that they're just stories, Homer looks out the window to see the Bart Raven perched on a tree, adding a fun little creepy twist to it all. This episode is Halloween all over, and has its own element of genuine creepiness to it. A true 'Simpsons' classic!
Overall Episode Rating: 93%