My friends and I witnessed the birth of the Simpsons. We saw them evolve from crude shorts shown periodically on The Tracey Ullman Show to a somewhat less-crudely drawn half-hour sitcom. But nothing in this evolution could prepare us for what we witnessed on a late October episode of The Simpsons. It was a Halloween special the likes of which we had never seen, a special that involved the Simpson family in even more outrageous adventures than normal, adventures that were not bound by the larger Simpsons continuity and therefore could go anywhere (yeah, that doesn’t sound so surprising now, but we had no idea back then how The Simpsons would habitually play with their continuity over the years). The special featured three stories within the larger story of Bart, Lisa, and Maggie telling scary stories to each other while Homer listens on. Since these stories were told in the Simpson treehouse, the episode was called “Treehouse of Horror”. There was another “Treehouse of Horror” the next year, and another, and another. And there are still “Treehouses of Horror” today (Treehouses which oddly have begun arriving after Halloween, sometimes several days after).
Now the Treehouses of Horror typically reference well known horror works and tropes. The stories have parodied and/or referenced The Shining, Poltergeist, A Nightmare On Elm Street, many, many episodes of The Twilight Zone, and countless other films. There has also been a Simpson rendition of Edgar Allen Poe’s The Raven (a rendition that is actually quite good) and a story that involved 3-D computer graphics and resulted in Homer Simpson arriving in our world. They usually feature Kang and Kodos, tentacle aliens, as well as an opening warning from Marge, Homer, or the Fox censors. And beyond that, they feature some of the absolute funniest lines in Simpsons history. You know all those Simpsons quotes you’re always tossing out? I’ll bet some of them come from the Treehouses of Horror and you don’t even know it.
It’s hard for anything to break into my long-established Halloween special canon of It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, The Legend of Sleepy Hallow, and Disney’s Halloween Treat, those specials that I watch every Halloween, that help me savor this season and that have in fact become a part of this season. But the Treehouses of Horror have done it, at least the first 8 (Treehouse of Horror I-VIII) have anyway. And I’m so glad they did.