Original Air Date: Sunday, October 30, 1994
A Jab at Congress
An opening disclaimer brings Marge back out on stage. This time around, however, she's handed a note that suggests Congress won't even let them air it, and instead, they were going to show the fictional 1947 classic Glen Ford movie, '200 Miles to Oregon'. Apparently this was a real jab at congress, who at the time considered it to be too violent and wanted to censor too much. In response, Producer David Mirkin decided to try to make it the goriest Halloween Special yet; whatever they could get away with.
The Glen Ford movie is immediately interrupted, by a radio broadcast parody of 'The Outer Limits' featuring Bart's and Homer's voices. In a neat little visual, the sound wave on screen morphs into the outline shapes of the Simpson family, and a new intro with one final tombstone gag, "Amusing Tombstones" and more humorous visuals begins. Moe drops hanging from a tree, Rev. Lovejoy burns Patty and Selma at the stake, Bart guillotine's Skinner's head, falling into a basket of School authority heads, and the couch gag is the family coming in as Frankenstein monsters, stiched together using each others body parts. This episode was not messing around, and it was awesome.
This segment has been widely regarded since it aired as one of the all-time best segments of 'Treehouse of Horror'. It has since gone down as most likely the most quotable of the bunch, as just about every single line uttered here is funny. It seriously doesn't even stop for a few seconds. It was like they knew exactly what they had, and it's pure gold as far as these segments go.
It's rather obviously a parody on 'The Shining' in which Bart is the kid, Willie is the caretaker who shares his gift, Marge is Wendy and Homer is Jack. Lisa and Maggie are just there as part of the family. They are hired on as winter caretakers, and Mr. Burns cuts off the beer and cable supply to try to ensure honest work out of them. This however leads to "No TV and no beer make Homer go crazy", and in a super messed up way, the way it's scrawled all over the walls here is a touch more disturbing than the typewriter and many pages in the actual 'Shining' movie, which in and of itself is very disturbing and an all-around horror classic.
That scene was such an accomplishment that Madame Toussaud's in Niagara Falls has a whole room in their horror characters section dedicated to it. At the bottom of the page, you'll find a picture I took of myself in there. But that just goes to show how strong this segment is. I have my favorites, and this is definitely one of them, but this is also the only one that I would indefinitely say people need to watch if they're trying to getthrough the good stuff. It's at the tip top of anyone's list for these, and I'm no exception. It's brilliant from beginning to end.
'Time and Punishment'
When Homer gets his hand jammed in the toaster, and it electrocutes him while it's unplugged somehow, he decides to take a crack at fixing it. He accidentally creates a time machine, goes back to the Prehistoric era, and learns of the Butterfly Effect very quickly after squishing a mosquito.
Throughout the segment, Homer keeps trying to go back to try to fix the future, but keeps failing at it. For some reason, despite it's funny moments of dialogue and funny visuals, this one was never really my favorite. I will give it the fact that it's completely original, however, with its inner parodies being very subtle. At best, it can be said that it parodies the concept of butterfly effect. It's funny, but often confusing, especially the line about being the first non-Brazilian to travel through time, which was originally written as "non-fictional character" It's said that even Matt Groening, himself, didn't understand what that line meant.
However, the segment is not without a few great lines and moments nonetheless. My favorite was always Homer coming back to a world where he essentially hits the jackpot on his quality of life, but flips out when no one knows what a donut is. It then cuts to it raining donuts outside, which would have been an veritable Heaven for Homer. It's one of the all-time best "FML Moments" out there (when someone just barely misses out on something potentially life-altering). It's still fun for what it is though, and has that classic feel in its own right. It was just one of the weaker of the strong.
When the troublemakers of the school start getting out of hand and constantly sent to detention, it causes overcrowding enough to start filling out the cafeteria. Meanwhile Lunch Lady Doris is down to using low-grade meat for the cafeteria food. As a solution to both of their problems, they start cooking the trouble-making kids and serving them up.
The segment is mostly inspired by the twist at the end of 'Soylent Green', where it's discovered that they've been eating people the whole time, but it's much more direct. Much like the 'Terror at 5 1⁄2 Feet' segment, I remember this one being scarily relatable at the time. The idea of strong authority figures killing and eating helpless children was disturbing, and the final chase actually still makes me squirm a bit. There's something between Skinner drooling, and Doris being covered in blood with a beater, that's just unnerving.
In all three segments, Willie tries to play hero and fails in the same way. I believe it's the only time a Halloween episode has a running gag like this, although I could be wrong. By the time we get to 'Nightmare Cafeteria', we kinda see it coming, but it's topped off with a hilarious punchline from Willie that we really don't see coming. He really adds the cherry on top of this episode.
The episode has one of the strangest endings. Bart is jolted awake from a nightmare, but now suddenly has to worry about a fog that turns people inside out. It seeps in, and sure enough, the Simpson family all horrifically turn inside out. But then out of nowhere, they perform a musical number that lightens it all up, as they sing 'One' from 'A Chorus Line'.
The fog was based on a radio segment of 'Lights Out' called 'The Dark', which apparently scared writer, David Cohen as a kid. But due to 'Nightmare Cafeteria's potential intensity to kids, he decided to use it to end with the episode with an upbeat musical number while maintaining the gore factor, as though to prove that we can be gory and still have fun
Overall Episode Rating: 80%