Treehouse of Horror episodes are a series of episodes in the animated series The Simpsons. They are Halloween specials, each consisting of three separate, self-contained segments. These segments usually involve the Simpson family in some horror, science fiction, or supernatural setting. They take place outside the show’s normal continuity and completely abandon any pretence of being realistic.
The first “Treehouse of Horror”, aired on October 25, 1990, as part of the second season and was inspired by EC Comics horror tales.
The plot revolves around three scary stories told by the Simpson children in the family’s treehouse. The first segment involves a haunted house that is based on various theatrical haunted houses, primarily The Amityville Horror and Poltergeist. In the second segment, Kang and Kodos are introduced when the Simpsons are abducted by aliens. In the third, Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven” is adapted. James Earl Jones guest starred in all three segments. The episode was received positively, being included on several critics’ “best of” lists. Critics particularly singled out The Raven for praise.
The episodes are known for being far more violent and much darker than an average Simpsons episode. As of 2015, there are twenty-six Treehouse of Horror episodes, with one airing every year. Several of the episodes have won awards for animation and sound editing.
References to films, novels, plays, television shows and other media are commonly featured, and many segments have been parodies of a specific work in the horror, science fiction or fantasy genre.
Many segments are spoofs of episodes of The Twilight Zone and entire segments will be based on a single episode. Some of the Twilight Zone episodes parodied include “A Kind of a Stopwatch”, “To Serve Man”, “A Small Talent for War”, “Living Doll”, “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet”,”Little Girl Lost”, and “The Little People”.The “Bart’s Nightmare” segment of “Treehouse of Horror II” parodies the episode “It’s a Good Life” and is even presented in a format similar to an episode of The Twilight Zone.
The Halloween episodes also regularly parody horror and thriller films such as The Exorcist, The Amityville Horror, King Kong, Night of the Living Dead, The Shining, A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Fly, Psycho, Paranormal Activity, and Dead Calm.
Robert Englund, who portrayed Freddy Krueger in the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise, had a cameo appearance in “Treehouse of Horror IX” as the character.
Science fiction films have also occasionally been used as inspiration for segments, and in later episodes many of the segments were based more on science fiction than horror. Science fiction works parodied include The Omega Man, the novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and Orson Welles’s The War of the Worlds radio broadcast. Recent parodies have included films and television specials in more varied genres, including Mr. & Mrs. Smith, It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, Transformers, Sweeney Todd, the Twilight film series, and Jumanji.
The 2013 episode featured an epic three minute intro specially directed by Guillermo del Toro that features cameos of creations from his own films such as Hellboy, Pan’s Labyrinth, Blade II, Cronos and Mimic alongside stacks of traditional movie monsters.
Episodes contain several trademarks, including the alien characters Kang and Kodos, “scary names” in the credits, a special version of the opening sequence, and parodies of horror, science fiction and fantasy films. The show’s staff regard the Treehouse of Horror as being particularly difficult to produce as the scripts often go through many rewrites, and the animators typically have to design new characters and backgrounds.
There has been a variety of merchandise based on the Treehouse of Horror episodes, including books, action figures, comic books, video games, DVDs and a “Treehouse of Horror” version of Hasbro’s board game Monopoly.
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Although every Treehouse of Horror episode until “Treehouse of Horror XV” has been released along with its season in a boxset, in 2003, The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror DVD was released. It includes Treehouse of Horrors V, VI, VII and XII.
A Treehouse of Horror comic book has been published annually since 1995, and collected into several books, including The Simpsons Treehouse of Horror Fun-Filled Frightfest, Bart Simpson’s Treehouse of Horror Spine-Tingling Spooktacular, Bart Simpson’s Treehouse of Horror Heebie-Jeebie Hullabaloo and The Simpsons Treehouse of Horror Hoodoo Voodoo Brouhaha.
Several video games based on The Simpsons include levels with a Halloween theme, including The Simpsons: Hit & Run and The Simpsons Game. In 2001, Fox Interactive and THQ released The Simpsons: Night of the Living Treehouse of Horror on Game Boy Color. The entire game has a Halloween theme as the player tries to save the Simpson family from the Treehouse of Horror.
Many of the special character designs featured in the episodes have become action figures.
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