Being old enough to remember when The Simpsons first started (I was nine years old at the time, though Our Favorite Family had originally appeared as characters in animated shorts on FOX’s The Tracey Ullman Show before that), I have fond memories of watching– and eventually memorizing– the annual “Treehouse of Horror” episodes every October in the years that followed. But that tradition didn’t actually start until the show’s second season, because its initial run of episodes (starting at Christmastime in 1989 with “Simpsons Roasting On an Open Fire”) was a mid-season replacement.
Regardless, after that “Treehouse of Horror” never missed a beat, even when FOX was forced to air the yearly Halloween special in November due to sports coverage falling on Sunday nights. But this year we get another frightfully fun installment a full three weeks before the holiday, with plenty of time left over to bask in the gory glow of another round of pitch-perfect parodies and delightfully devilish cartoon mayhem.
Even during the long-running sitcom’s weakest seasons, “Treehouse of Horror” has always managed to stand out among the ever-growing crowd of episodes (the series passed the 700 mark last spring), and this year’s installment is no exception. The first segment (after a quick cold-open Bambi parody that sees an anthropomorphic deer Homer turn the tables on a game-hunting Mr. Burns) is definitely the highpoint for me: a pitch-perfect simultaneous sendup of and tribute to Bong Joon-ho’s Best Picture winning Korean thriller Parasite. Despite the vast amount of critical acclaim it received, I still feel like a lot of people have not bothered to watch this incredibly well-made movie, so hopefully getting the Simpsons treatment will inspire more folks to seek it out. I especially appreciated Kirk Van Houten (as the wealthy Wolfcastle family’s discharged butler) trying to make heads or tails out of the multi-layered meaning of Parasite’s title, plus the idea of Homer and family living in that flooded basement just works so perfectly.
Other segments include “Nightmare On Elm Tree” (thankfully not a parody of A Nightmare On Elm Street, which “Treehouse of Horror” had already tackled decades earlier), a creature feature that hearkens back to the first-ever installment by imagining what would happen if Homer sought to put an end to Bart’s scary story telling by cutting down his treehouse– which of course gets struck by lightning and comes to life, seeking to end anyone who threatens his arboreal existence. Plus there’s “Dead Ringer,” a somewhat less-inspired take on 2002 The Ring (Why now after all these years? It almost feels like the writers are coming back through horror movies they may have skipped during the show’s 33-season run.) that sees Springfield Elementary School children dying seven days after watching a spooky TikTok video. A better highlight is a poetic interlude that features accomplished voice actor Maurice LaMarche (Kif on Futurama, Brain in Pinky and the Brain) playing famed horror maven Vincent Price, who reads a rhyming month-by-month account of Bart’s wickedly bad behavior over some heavily stylized animation.
“Treehouse of Horror” tends to work best when it uses The Simpsons’ deep bench of characters and tropes to point out the absurdity of the horror genre, not to mention the Halloween holiday itself, while also honoring their timeworn traditions at the same time. I think that still holds true for this latest outing, and frankly I’m fairly amazed that the show’s writing staff and animators have managed to keep up this level of quality for so long. The series may never again reach the dizzying heights of its first ten seasons, but it’s nice to know that fans can still tune in for some reliably entertaining tricks and treats once a year, at the very least.
The Simpsons – “Treehouse of Horror XXXII” airs this Sunday, October 10 on FOX.
Mike serves as Laughing Place’s lead Southern California reporter, Editorial Director for Star Wars content, and host of the weekly “Who’s the Bossk?” Star Wars podcast. He’s been fascinated by Disney theme parks and storytelling in general all his life and resides in Burbank, California with his beloved wife and cats.