‘The Simpsons’ Treehouse of Horror – A scary watch, or 30 stupid gags?

A classic in TV show Halloween gags, have The Simpsons gone too far with The Treehouse of Horror series?

Lauren Reid
25th October 2022
Image: IMDB
As the longest running animated series of all time, producers of The Simpsons have managed to broadcast 33 ‘Treehouse of Horror’ Halloween specials, with the 34th set to air on October 30th.

Packed with pop-culture references, each episode includes 3 different segments focusing on popular literature, movies, or television shows. Therefore, the potential to reach a wide audience is definitely there.

Episode one throws viewers right into the literature deep end with a parody of Edgar Allan Poe’s 19th century poem, The Raven.  

Image: IMDB

The Raven’s troubled protagonist takes the shape of Homer; perhaps the horror lies here… This is not to indicate that the adaptation was in any way bad. In fact, writer Sam Simon stuck pretty close to Poe’s original poem as James Earl Jones, best known for providing the voice of Darth Vader, narrates the lines. Jones’ slow, clear, and chilling tone adheres to a haunting diction of the classic poem, exactly what (theoretically) The Simpsons needed for some horror value…

And yet, perhaps it is the literature student in me that believes when considering The Raven is in fact a mellow, heavy poem depicting the grief of a lost lover, it is hard to watch Homer Simpson in place of Poe’s tortured narrator.

Horror, angst and the type of intensity to have viewers hooked on screen

Should we really view an animation with a suggested target audience of children aged 8-14 through such a critical lens? Perhaps not.  Yet the notion of a Halloween special suggests horror, angst, and the type of intensity to have viewers hooked on screen – three notions I am not sure the producers offer enough of.

Take the more modern episodes; in 2021, The Simpsons released their 33rd episode in which there was a skit involving the social media app TikTok. The show has gone from attempting eerie adaptations from some of the highest respected literary figures, to including 20 second segments about watching a cursed 15 second video.

Image: IMDB

Yes, they’re keeping up with the times, but it’s hard to view such a modern pop culture reference as ‘scary’ and not just plain stupid. The decline of content offered in ‘Treehouse of Horror’ stands parallel with the decline in general viewing and ratings - ratings have dropped more than 80% since the beginning of the show.

Are the Treehouse of Horror episodes frightening? No. Are they stupid? Subjectively, yes. But are they entertaining…it’s hard to say no. Even if I’m trying to wrap my head around the inclusion of the ‘cursed’ TikTok, I am definitely still engaged with the content.

So, watch an episode this Halloween. Maybe watch two. Broaden your pop culture knowledge through the medium of childish animation. Watch thirty-three? Please, do not trick yourself into thinking that would be a treat.

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