Burning Down the Treehouse: Some Idiot Reviews Ninety THOH Segments in Thirty Days

tyler

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*clears throat* Hello everyone! It's that time of year again, to bring out your scariest movies, your tastiest candy and your most smashing pumpkin, and I thought this Halloween I'd finally commit to a massive project I'd been wanting to do for quite awhile, so if you're a bonafide yellow belly simpsonite who enjoys them a spook, a scare, or an untitled robot parody, then have I got a treat-sans-trick for you, because I'm going to be reviewing all of the THOH segments, all of them, for your reading pleasure. If you're someone who's used to my monolithic reviews you should know what to expect, and if you're not well uh my apologies, but given the smaller individual content it should be much easier to digest bit by bit. Think of these reviews like fun-sized candy bars, or if you're vegetarian, baby carrots I guess, but my reviews are more fun than baby carrots, and just as unhealthy as candy bars, and that's my solemn promise. So take a trip with me up to the treehouse, as we remember some of the greatest terrifying tales in toondom amidst the glow of the flashlight, before the only thing that'll be worth keeping it alight is fire, and lots of it, as I hit on every facet of horror history imaginable, and then try to figure out how we get to Mr. and Mrs. Smith parodies, in a wild, ill-advised, downright foolish and ghoulish journey through thirty years of Halloween segment history. Who else is fillin' your bag with this many free treats? Santa? That bitch don't even real.

Three reviews a day starting tomorrow. stay the Hell (scary place) tuned!
 
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Frankbags

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Looking forward to revisiting these.. THOH was always the last bastion of quality for me.. when they started being bad It really bummed me out.
 

tyler

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#1
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The spirit of Treehouse of Horror derived from sources such as EC comics of the 50s and The Twilight Zone, so there is a healthy dosage of schlock and pulp to be had, but this segment evokes a bevy of haunted house film source material with such immersion that it churns with a palpable unease that accentuates how unearthly these segments have a chance to be, a dense aesthetic amalgam of Poltergeist, Amityville Horror and other such psychologically askew flicks of the genre, draped in eerie autumnal colors and ever foreboding with Clausen's retro 70s horror synth soundtrack. The horror iconography is everywhere, objects and interdimensional portals hovering about, the walls constantly shifting as if alive and emotive, bleeding, breathing and changing colors at will and to match the scenario, a variety of sharp shimmering weaponry begging to be cradled in brain-warped Simpson palms and consequently enter flesh, and of course Native burial grounds, directly in the basement to hide none of the excess of the accursed residence. All capped off with Shearer's hushed but threatening voice as the house emanating as a dark influence on the Simpsons, everything about it is thrilling as a tightly-packed sendup that is both comical in just how blatantly haunted it is and yet still unnerving as it echoes the horror of its sources effectively, but the extra treat of this outing is the absurdity of it as a family story. This is all so Homer can save a little money on housing after all, and he's willing to make the sacrifice. While Marge has her reservations pretty quickly, overall they never really display an outright fear of everything going on around them, no matter how blatant it is, they do formal apologies and handshakes right after attempting to turn each other into minced meat, in case you didn't catch the WRITTEN BY JOHN SWARTZWELDER, and the more imposing the house gets, so too do the Simpsons each in their own ways to try and coexist. In the end, rather than succumb to the horrifying house, they are its demise, complete with bitchin' lighting effects. To be only the first, "Bad Dream House" could be the most genuinely frightening segment with all its unrelenting aesthetic brilliance as the Simpsons endure living inside a nightmarish organism intent on sealing their fates. It perfectly captures the artfulness of EC comics' Tales from the Crypt covers in its instantaneous and striking imagery and tone, it's hard not to get the chills, but for our titular family it's just another decision made out of their financial struggles turned into an inconvenience quickly shrugged off, a stunning balance of conviction and irreverence.
 
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owo

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honestly forgot that swartz wrote bad dream house and now im suddenly reminded of this excerpt from ortveds book:

GEORGE MEYER (to The New Yorker, March 13, 2000): The only rule was that the stuff had to be funny and pretty short … To me, the quintessential Army Man joke was one of John Swartzwelder’s: “They can kill the Kennedys. Why can’t they make a cup of coffee that tastes good?” It’s a horrifying idea juxtaposed with something really banal—and yet there’s a kind of logic to it. It’s illuminating because it’s kind of how Americans see things: Life’s a big jumble, but somehow it leads to something I can consume. I love that.

he did (and presumably still does i havent read his frank burly books) a really great job of taking stuff thats completely fucking insane and balancing it out with the mundane. every family member reacts believably to the shit theyre being faced with here, marge in particular being a highlight, which makes me actually give more of a shit about whats going down on the monitor in front of me. just really good shit overall, kind of an underrated segment
 

CousinMerl

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I always thought the very first segment was a great one. Love the dark and spooky atmosphere (like the sequence where the family is almost tricked into killing one another, yet still manages to be humorous in a sense with the Marge knife joke), has a lot of good gags (like Homer being hoisted up to the ceiling by the unseen force and screams until he falls) and an fun ending that mimics 'Poltergeist' (like a part of the episode itself). Bart blurting out "Bitchin'!" as the house implodes is icing on the cake. The first Treehouse episode is so good.
 

Financial Panther

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Bad Dream House grew on me a lot. Its atmosphere is truly spooky, and I’d say it’s one of the scariest segments they’ve done. It’s got some nice gags too. It’s not the best segment ever, but it might be the most quintessential example of what a segment should be.
 

tyler

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#2
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kang and kodos, like so many of the packed-to-capacity revolving door of the simpsons' trustworthy tertiaries, have been slowly diluted from their original purpose into trotted out props left to deliver their catchphrase and exit stage left. this should retroactively spell doom for their earlier outing by making them feel so overused and watered down as to be redundant and impactless, but thankfully this remains not the case, as this segment may be the only time they really feel alien. there's an importance set forth, our newly yoinked simpsons family staring a trio of towering, perpetually drooling greenboys in their glass domes, submitted to their word and wisdom, and of course their cuisine. not so much their video games though. james earl jones helps a heaping in terms of making the tone feel legitimate, its kinda hard to ever devolve into monotonic alien speech schtick and interminable laughter when one of the most signature voices in science fiction media is tagging along. the story here is a classic one, otherworldly beings ensnaring humans with a kindness that can only be the result of a deeply curious and insatiable appetite, and the subversion is equally classic, they were just trying to be nice. easy sure, but crafting another bite-sized family folly borne of lisa's intellect leading to skepticism of intentions - she's definitely seen these stories before if any simpson - and causing the simpsons to once again miss out on some great opportunity to live a little better, left back in their yard thinking of the meal that coulda been, feels like the right story. a forty human banquet for five. i'd be peeved at lisa too.
 

tyler

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#3
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matt groening called this segment pretentious. i have a feeling i'll be begging for pretension when i hit those double digit thohs. it would be enough to merely designate this segment as the greatest anomaly in the series, it's comedy nearly bereft of joke composition to keep the story flowing and instead relying on performance and character to juxtapose the material, but what makes it a stars-aligned masterwork is the divinely perfect way it fell on the timeline, amidst the show's most sophisticated season, and into the hands of a young but hungry david silverman, who in these few minutes essentially sent the quality standard of animated television as a storytelling medium to such a high ceiling that most television show's crew would have to totem pole atop each other to graze it. silverman and his animators would certainly seem to get the material, the silent hysteria engineered within one's dense loneliness, skyscrapers of bookcases intended to act as a cave beneath the world that birthed the loss within our protagonist. in the hands of homer, its a tome of escapism, yet surrounding him precariously as if they may tumble at any moment, snuffing out his form and suppressing his truth-telling shadow. surreal dream-like passageways meld with waking life in an expressionist architecture of escalating dread, a tale we have stepped in on far too late to properly distinguish the two in their elucidation of the spiralling illness. per the nature of iconic and oft-repeated poetry, the malleability inherent in performance allows the words to take unfamiliar shape. some audio versions of this tale allow for an arc of denial, but homer almost immediately swells with a stammering cowardice, so unhelpably frightened that his form faces its consequential breakdown in equal measures of pathetic blubbering and raving mania. castellaneta's performance is perfect, a theatrical eruption thats every bit as satisfying in the climaxing of mood as it is in the subtext of reading him and the raven as well, bart and homer, another squabble with the ever-stubborn boy, further accentuated by bart's cyclical "nevermore"s sounding less like a checkmark next to the box labeled dread and more like an eloquent nanny nanny boo boo, a good measure to incense homer to a rage that sends him chasing after the raven, to no avail. we end as we must, a collapsed shell trapped in the shadow of the corvid that made plain the darkness, its mantra the trigger that encases the poor soul, lost and lonely and in truth trapped in its own shadow, in its own self. the simpsons. now this story is a complex winding road of wordplay and rhythm i'm ill-equipped to tackle on that level, and as such it takes this level of dedicated deliberation to truly appreciate it, so when bart provides the comic relief peanut gallery asides it doesn't feel like fear to let the story happen, even if it was. as potently passionate as this pint-sized play is in performance and production, it's still the simpsons, and its worth remembering that despite all i've put into illustrating how masterfully silverman evoked the soul of this poem, or how wonderful castellaneta was in wrangling the material into a triumphant performance, in the end this is a fun scary story reading between bart and lisa, its meant to be a little playful, a little tongue-in-the-cheek-not-stuffed-with-candy. thankfully, you only need a few meta references here and a poke at the changing of times there and you've done your work without really intruding upon the tension, not that it'd be easy to do so. indeed, the fear within poe is not as horror has designated itself to work over time, a genre of volume, of intensity, of nifty tricks and ghoulish manifestations, but once you find its horror it sticks with you in its own way. regardless of how this segment sees itself, its nice to see the series give us a chance to see that, to take that risk. would i have ever put this much time into analyzing the poem without it? i would not have. so thank you simpsons, for your pretentious segment, here's a pretentious review to compliment it.
 

tyler

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#4. LISA'S NIGHTMARE

yo thoh II thanks for friggin up my title card motif. anyway,

by and large, the highest quality treehouse of horror segments have been rightfully canonized and held up alongside full episodes of similar greatness to such substantial visibility that their reputation begins to precede them, or their essence becomes boiled down to their key moments. i'll have more to say on that later, inevitably, but for my personal pleasure, this one deserved that treatment more than any other classic era segment not quite allowed to climb the highest pedestals, though perhaps it's better it didn't. another dynamite morsel of family comedy gone surreal and awry, giving the simpsons four wishes and watching it crumble is almost a freebie for good times, but this one really is such a riotously fun ride, packing a full episode's worth of clever twists and turns into about five breezy minutes. we get to dabble in the meta of the simpsons as a brand monolith, at about the exact right time before it becomes obvious or reads smug, after all it's more about how sick the world is of the simpsons after being inundated with them, and just how soulless and absurd the products can be. then just before the joke stretches so far it snaps, we're wishing for world peace, which after a delightful montage of gun-melting and hand-holding sends our story into its most unfortunate loophole yet, leading kang and kodos to enslave the earthlings now defenseless. they're still imposing and actually alien-like here, we good. so we've bounced from flawless self-parody to alien invasion with delightful results and brisk effortless pacing, now all that's left to do is really lean into the absurdity of the monkey's paw premise, give homer a turkey sandwich that for all his insistent specifications to avoid the inevitable remains a little dry, leading to a theatrical performance akin to last year's "raven", only more believable from homer, and toss the paw to flanders who, of course, gets his wishes undisturbed by twists of fate. so we've just pulled a subversion of the source material, a meta commentary, an absurd leap in conflict and halloweeny surrealness, and just for flavor a little homer/flanders rivalry. brilliant. so why isn't this one talked about with the same fervor as the big acclaimed segments? the simplest answer i can provide is that rather than indulge and explore a tone that's entirely otherworldly, this one uses an otherworldly plot device to explore many avenues, some more tonally distinct than others, some just comical fantasies. it feels much more normal even with its escalations, but it's that elasticity of its premise that makes it so engaging for me, and it knows the characters perfectly to keep it rooted to them all the while aliens are being chased with boards with nails in them, and to a degree its ANOTHER glimmer of financial freedom. it's exactly what early thoh excelled at, family stories within bonkers scenarios, and the cruelest horror of all for our family, fates that refuse to serve them, not because they're particularly cursed but because even the most fantastical scenario cannot change how as the avatar of the american family, status quo wont leave their doorstep, fortune of all flavors provide a passing glance. at least maggie got a new pacifier out of it.
 

Homer Samson

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Hey, do you think you could put your rating out of 5 or 10 at the end of these posts in case people don't want to read the whole review?
 

tyler

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i understand i write alot and its gonna be a huge amount of words at the end and im not forcing anyone to read or to do so in a certain amount of time, but the words are the entire point, if they fail to present my viewpoint thats the true issue. thatll be my last word on the subject and last non-review post in here.
 

Homer Samson

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I wasn't saying not to write the whole thing. I was saying to write a full review and put a rating at the end.
 

Bart's treehouse

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If ya can’t talk about something without just attacking an arbitrary number (everyone’s system is different!) you don’t need to talk about said thing
 

tyler

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#5: BART'S NIGHTMARE

similar to the last segment, this one doesn't set off into the otherworldly quite to the degree of the first episode's segments, and overall i would say this one is less successful at finding a satisfying niche for itself to thrive than the last segment, but what can i say, they still know their characters well enough to make this more than an on-the-nose parody. first off, for all it's serling-style setup, narration and worldbuilding of a town evidently terrorized by the little dude with the gnarly powers, bart's bad-doings align with his actual kid desires, he's still bart here, using his strength over the will of others to drive the school bus, get good grades, make prank phone calls from school where moe just openly insults himself, and best of all force krusty to run his show ad infinitum. on a character level i find all this reasonably fun, but its hard not to be a little split on the premise given these results. it makes thematic sense, everyone too terrified to say no to the tyrannical boy so he gets his way and has his fun, this is exactly what bart would do with amazing power, he's a mischievous child. so it works, but if this was all it was, it would be easy to be disappointed at the thinness as a halloween experience.

i'd be hard pressed to say the consequential twist makes this one suddenly great, but it helps. the jack-in-the-box twist is from the original twilight zone, but after that everything is pure simpsons. we get to make it yet another actual simpsons story in truncated form where homer has to learn to nurture the attention seeking out of his son, but mostly we get to do a deliriously cheeky montage of precious father/son bonding all the while homer is still a jack-in-the-box. it doesn't necessarily help establish consistent or purposeful tone to turn this one into a pisstake, but i can appreciate the violent swerve into slathered-on sentiment for the sake of its own shock. ultimately this is still my least favorite to this point, really it does feel like its entire purpose is that thickly syrupy ending and bart awakening in horror, but while i think it could have played with its premise in more inventive ways, it continues to maintain that these stories no matter how wacky still retain the spirit of the characters. these aren't just incidental dress up sketches, not yet.
 
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Frankbags

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if I could give some criticism, could you format the text a little better? the blocks of text are hard to read.
 

tyler

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my apologies, i write on phone and am never sure how big they actually are on comp monitors. i will make them more palatable
 

tyler

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is that one more easily readable im bad at formatting i need to chisel down a consistent process of doing it so these arent a pain. i dunno if one space is enough or
 

CousinMerl

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A little more paragraphs would be nice if possible (though as the posts are done on a phone I understand it beingtricky). Aside from that I like these so far. A different way of tackling these segments.
 

tyler

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#6. HOMER'S NIGHTMARE

given the wealth of untapped horror history to pluck from, the early thohs got to take their stabs at many of the most popular subcategories and seminal works of the genre, while it was all still fresh, and the simplicity of slotting your characters into these vaunted haunted stories leaves alot of room for playful parody. the story of victor frankenstein and the power he desired over mortality is one of tragic romanticism, lifelong search for the answers to how one can retain and even create life, only to be reviled by what he has made, all the passion lead to an end of horrific tragedy by his hand. the story of the creature is one of dissonance between the kindness and intelligence of the being and the ghastly visage he is cursed to wear so as to blind the world to that beauty within. the real monster is man yadda yadda.

some thoh segments reshape the material just enough to launch its characters into the scenario and see what happens, this one stomps all the sentiment into the sediment and parallels its own story to emphasize the parody itself. burns' dr. frankenstein is not a tragic soul gripped by a desire to challenge the horror of death, he's an iron fist of capitalism disgusted that his workers are having any semblance of fun in the company showers. his cold calculated impulse is so unromantic it could be taken as cynical, but its true to peak s2-3 era burns, ever the slavedriver who sincerely cant seem to understand why the people don't love their work, and it renders a story about the control of mortality into uh well, another story about the control of mortality. burns is of course a riot, battering poor homer in a sack, "look at me im davy crockett", "that fellow at radio shack said i was mad!", his whole performance is perfectly well...mad!

so we have successfully sucked all the victor frankenstein out of the story, now for the creature, and what better way to eschew the sensitive and emotional original than with uh, homer, who regardless of vessel could care about little else than donuts and beer. of course this being a brain in a robot shell kinda withers those parallels, but it's enough of a subversion to accomplish what alot of these early thohs do, arrive right to the point of the climactic event, and whiff it for laughs. robo-homer may be stunningly obvious, but if burns' frankensteinian desire is rooted to constructing the perfect bootlicker, nothing would strike within him the error of playing god ala the original like building a new homer.
 

goodfella

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"did i mention the monster was a ten year old child, heh- bet u didn't see that one comin'"

loving the reviews, bart's nightmare is acually one of my favourite OAT, love the whole premise is bart's worst nightmare is telling homer he loves him
 
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