Treehouse of Horror IX
Original Air Date: Sunday, October 25, 1998
Regular Opening, Halloween Twist
In a surprising first for their Halloween episodes, it took all the way up to number 9 for them to simply do a Halloween twist on the show's regular opening. Bart writes 'The Simpsons Halloween Special IX' on the chalkboard, and the driveway bit has the family having one-by-one deadly accidents, all except for Marge and Maggie, who crash into Homer when they'd normally just chase him out of the way.
This is followed by one of my personal favorite couch gags, only due to fanboy reasons. Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees are sitting on the couch waiting for the family, and decide to start the show without them because they're "running late" (or all dead in the driveway). The beautiful part about this bit is that they got Robert Englund to lend his voice to Freddy, while Harry Shearer lends his voice to Jason. This marks one of two famous appearances Robert Englund makes on TV as the character - the other being 'The Goldbergs'. I'm not counting 'Freddy's Nightmares' here.
The segment opens with Apu, Snake, Moe and Bart in the Kwik-E-Mart, where Snake carelessly smokes a cigarette. Wiggum enters the scene busting Snake for smoking in public, and for his third strike, he's sentenced to death (perhaps a jab at smoking laws in 1998 - we've come a long way).
Once he's fried, Snake is taken away for organ harvesting. One such "organ" is his hair, which Homer claims. But the hair comes with a curse, which has Snake's spirit taking things over, and going after anyone who witnessed him smoking in the Kwik-E-Mart. This narrows one of his potential victims down to Bart - his easiest target, residing in the same house. The plot takes from several sources, including an 'Amazing Stories' episode of the same name, the 'Dead Man's Shoes' episode of 'The Twilight Zone', and the movie 'Shocker'.
An interesting but sad fact about this segment was that Try McClure was supposed to originally moderate the execution of Snake, but voice actor Phil Hartman was tragically killed, himself, before he had a chance to record any lines for the episode. The segment itself has never been anything special to me, though, and I've always thought it to be kind of lame, especially the way it ends on a really bad Dad joke. It has its moments, but it's barely passable at best, plus the whole Phil Hartman thing puts a bit of a downer on it.
'The Terror of Tiny Toon'
This is Another one I think is a little underrated. I appreciate the fact that they do something very different here and involve 'Itchy and Scratchy'. On top of that, it's another segment that has Halloween attached to it, instead of just being another spoof, making it only the second segment to really do that in all this time.
Here, in a rather brilliant stroke of writing, Marge turns off the 'Itchy and Scratchy' Halloween special, and claims that if she lets them watch those gruesome cartoons, she wouldn't be a very good mother - that's our little nod to earlier episodes that came with a warning. She even goes so far as to take the batteries out of the remote when she leaves with Maggie for some trick-or-treating. This results in Bart locating plutonium way too easily, and trying it out for battery power to the remote. Soon, Bart and Lisa find themselves interacting with the TV on a very real level - which includes the gory violence of 'Itchy and Scratchy'.
This one comes complete with a cameo from Poochy the rockin' dog, as well as a real-life cameo from Regis and Kathie Lee. Things end in a pretty weird way here, but up until that point, it's a pretty whacky segment of cartoon violence as Itchy and Scrathy chase Bart and Lisa around for laughing at their pain. It's a sort of non-thinker, and you're pretty much in it for the whackiness of it all, above all else. Not their best, but still a lot of fun - especially when it breaks the fourth wall.
Maggie is experiencing the painful process of teething, and her first tooth appears to be a grotesque fang. Soon, she also sheds her legs, and grows tentacles. We learn faster than the reveal that Maggie appears to be one of the tentacled aliens that became popularized through these Halloween specials.
We learn that Kang is Maggie's real father (only here), and Marge was inseminated when she was abducted. This all leads to one of the more truly ridiculous yet hilarious moments when the Simpson family, along with Kang head onto the 'Jerry Springer Show' to settle their disputes. But although I say this moment is hilarious, it still stops the whole segment in its tracks in order to crowbar in a cheap laugh. This was back in a time when the violent outbreaks on 'Springer' were all the rage (pun intended), and that's all this seemed to be made for. The only other thing the segment really farces is 'Starship Troopers' in its name.
This is a pretty funny segment at times, but the overall execution of it is a bit of a mess. It goes from an interesting concept about Kang being Maggie's real father and ends with something from pop culture people were bound to laugh at. It feels somewhat cheap, but at the very least, they got Jerry Springer to play himself in this segment. For me, this marks the first one that's actually kinda bad, and things start to dip from here on out - at least for a while.
My closing statement, or "Final Thought", if you will, is short. I probably consider this episode to be the real tipping point for the Halloween specials, and what follows is pretty consistently weak, if memory serves correctly. The credits roll when Maggie surprises us by talking in a Kang-like voice, and saying "I need blood" real quick (which I admittedly laugh at every time). But hold onto your hats, because these reviews are about to get a bit worse as I continue this marathon. Don't worry though, there's the odd goodie here and there, and I still haven't seen anything past Season 20, so there's hope, right?
Overall Episode Rating: 60%
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