‘The Turkey’s a Little Dry?!’: 34 Trivia Tidbits About ‘The Simpsons’ ‘Treehouse of Horror’
From lampooning horror classics like Poltergeist and Frankenstein to allowing Ned Flanders to live his best life as actual Satan, The Simpsons’ annual “Treehouse of Horror” installments have given us some of the best non-canon alternate universes filled with things that go bump in the night. With the latest (finally) dropping tonight, let’s hop inside that time machine toaster from “Treehouse of Horror V” and check out some spooky trivia about the making of these yearly specials...
The Guillermo del Toro Cameo
The famous monster movie auteur created the extensive couch gag for 2013’s “Treehouse of Horror XXIV.” “It’s often my favorite episode of the season,” he’s said. “Some of my favorite Simpsons images and moments over the years come from there.”
The Most Ambitious Episode
Former Simpsons producer David X. Cohen said that “Treehouse of Horror VI” was the most enterprising episode he worked on during his tenure. The 3D animation in the final segment, “Homer³,” was a high-wire act to pull off. “I wouldn’t rank this as the funniest thing that I’ve written because that wasn’t entirely the goal,” Cohen told Entertainment Weekly. “It was the most ambitious episode I’ve worked on, requiring the most people to suffer the most to get it on the air. I believe, at the time, that we ourselves were so dazzled by the graphics that we just wanted to linger on them with a little bit of suspenseful music and just kind of show off. We slowed down a little bit just to say, ‘Hey, world, we’re doing this thing that no one else can do right now!’”
Inspired by ‘The Twilight Zone’
“I found ‘Little Girl Lost’ (while flipping through a Twilight Zone companion book), and I somehow made the connection: ‘Hey, what if we pretended that the Simpsons were in the second dimension and they went into the third dimension?’” writer and producer Bill Oakley recalls about coming up with the “Homer³” story.
All the Background Math Jokes
Cohen, who has a Harvard degree in physics and a computer science degree from Berkeley, was tasked with adding a bunch of mathematical gags into the background of the 3D story. There’s the equation that the universe will one day collapse in on itself (which reflects what happens at the end of the segment), and there’s the P = NP equation that states a difficult problem has an unfounded easy solution that, according to Cohen, was a joke about their fancy 3D CG that others in television couldn’t do at the time.
The First Five Came With Disclaimers
To make sure viewers didn’t write “angry letters” to the studio, Marge appeared at the beginning of the very first “ToH” episode in Season Two to ask people with “sensitive children” to put them to bed. These disclaimers continued until the infamous “Treehouse of Horror V.”
It Was Matt Groening’s Idea
“(Groening) had an idea for an episode where the kids tell ghost stories in a treehouse,” writer Jay Kogen told MEL Magazine. “It wasn’t met with much excitement, but my partner (Wallace Wolodarsky) and I championed it over and over until Sam Simon, the showrunner, finally agreed. For Matt, the idea was kids telling stories. Sam decided it should be more about the archness of the stories themselves. It gave us a chance to be even weirder and break out of the sitcom form we were in most of the time. It was meant as a one-off, but it was so much fun we did it again the next year, and it became a tradition.”
Based on Old-School Viewing Warnings
Marge and Homer’s introductions at the beginning of the first few “ToH” episodes were a homage to the real-life “A Word of Warning” given before the screening of the 1931 James Whale classic Frankenstein.
“Treehouse of Horror V” was met with some shock thanks to its ultra-violence, but it was a deliberate move from Groening and company as they were tired of everyone complaining about the violence in their show-within-a-show, Itchy & Scratchy. In 1994, parent groups were starting to pressure Fox to remove the cat and mouse segments, spurring even members of Congress to lament the show’s use of violence, completely missing the satirical commentary. The Simpsons folk responded by giving Itchy & Scratchy their very own episode, while also making the sixth season’s Halloween special as bloody as possible.
As mentioned earlier, it’d also be the final episode to feature a Simpson character introduce and warn parents of the content their kids were about to watch — only this time with the addition of saying that the episode’s so scary, “Congress won’t even allow us to show it.”
It Wasn’t Originally Called ‘Treehouse of Horror’
Simply called “The Simpsons Halloween Special” for the first five installments, the “ToH” episodes would only be officially labeled as such following that violent fifth entry. All titles have been changed since then.
About Kang and Kodos
The two alien creatures who were created exclusively for the “ToH” episodes were based on an EC Comics cover. “The idea of it to parody EC Comics was really original and kind of shocking for a cartoon on network television,” Al Jean told Entertainment Weekly. It almost immediately became an unofficial rule among the writers that Kang and Kodos had to appear in every Halloween special.
On Kang and Kodos’ Gender
As for their gender, Jean once said, “We’ve implied androgyny, we’ve implied that one might be a woman — we never said that both were, but why not? Who knows?”
The Grand Pumpkin Scene That Got Cut
“It’s the Grand Pumpkin, Milhouse” from “Treehouse of Horror XIX” originally had a scene where Lisa yells at Milhouse the way Sally yells at Linus in It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. It was cut for time but later added to the DVD.
So Many ‘ Twilight Zone’ Inspirations
While “Little Girl Lost” from The Twilight Zone inspired “Homer³,” it’s not alone in drawing from Rod Serling’s classic series. “Hungry Are the Damned” was inspired by “To Serve Man,” “The Genesis Tub” is similar to “The Little People,” “Terror at 5½ Feet” clearly parodied “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” and “The Bart Zone” was an obvious play on “It’s a Good Life” to name a few.
The Iraq War Joke That Got Pulled
While the ending of “The Day the Earth Looked Stupid” clearly alluded to what the U.S. went and did to Iraq, the original sequence had the direct line, “This sure is a lot like Iraq will be.” Jean told ABC News back then that he wasn’t sure whether the line would be added to the broadcast since many writers wanted it cut.
The Writers Had the Freedom to Go Full Gore
“You were allowed to go way outside the bounds of what we normally were allowed to do, both in terms of gore and scares but also in terms of being faithful to the characters and relationship status quo in Springfield,” Oakley told MEL.
The Only Treehouse
According to the sitcom’s DVD commentary, the very first “ToH” episode was the only one to include an actual treehouse as a setting.
The first “Treehouse of Horror” episode was the first time the show ended with an alternative version of the theme playing over the credits.
The Alternative to the Alternative
The special end credits theme was originally going to be played on a theremin, but the creators explained on the DVD commentary that they weren’t able to find one that could hit all the necessary notes.
‘Wiz Kids’ Almost Didn’t Happen
The segment that parodied Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in “Treehouse of Horror XII” was almost pulled from the roster because the writers were worried that not enough people had read the book yet. Writer Carolyne Omin said on the Season 13 commentary that, at the time, only four writers on The Simpsons staff had read the book themselves, but it was decided to go ahead and do the story anyway.
Ahead of the ‘Harry Potter’ Release
Wiz Kids would end up airing 12 days before Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone premiered in 2001.
The Origin of Roy
Roy from “The Itchy & Scratchy & Poochie Show” was a rejected “ToH” character. The segment Time and Punishment from “ToH V” had a deleted scene where that magical toaster revealed Homer’s teenage son, Roy. In the Season Six commentary, Groening said that the idea of Roy came from someone outside the show. When Fox suggested adding another character to the Simpsons family, they remembered Roy, who eventually got some screen time in the very meta “Itchy & Scratchy” episode.
Which Family Member Dies the Most?
Which Family Member Dies the Least?
Maggie, which makes sense since she’s the baby. She has, however, died a dozen times so far — more than Krusty, who sits on 11.
When voicing Serak the Preparer for the first “ToH” episode, James Earl Jones ate a cookie to perform the drooling sounds while recording.
Groening Didn’t Get ‘The Shinning’
Groening admitted on the commentary that since he’s never watched The Shining, the jokes in the “The Shinning” were “entirely lost on him.”
‘Treehouse of Horror III’ Was Almost the Last One
The third Halloween special was so poorly received during a preview screening that around 100 lines had to be cut, and, according to the commentary for Season Seven, it almost led to the cancellation of the Treehouse series.
Moe Has Died More than Groundskeeper Willie
Despite Groundskeeper Willie’s death serving as a kind of running joke in the Halloween specials, he’s only bitten the dust 14 times so far, whereas Moe has kicked the bucket 16 times and counting.
Some Gems in the Comics
The “Treehouse of Horror Comics” stories are as great as those featured on the show. There’s the one where Lisa is turned into the titular character of Stephen King’s Carrie, one that’s a Harry Potter meets Dante’s Inferno entry and then there’s Nosferatu: A Simpsony of Horror, in which Bart is forced to sell his treehouse to Lord Burlock, aka Mr. Burns.
The ‘Merrie Melodies’ Cartoon
In the “Treehouse of Horror IV” segment, “The Devil and Homer Simpson,” Homer is forced to eat all the donuts in Hell as a supposed form of ironic punishment.
The scene parodies “Pigs Is Pigs,” the 1937 Merrie Melodies cartoon.
Why the Tombstone Gags Were Dropped
For the first couple of “ToH” episodes, the tombstones in the intros would sport all kinds of funny jokes about things deceased in the year past (RIP, “Subtle Political Satire”), but they were ultimately cut to save time. Oakley also said they “were notoriously hard to come up with.”
More Characters in ‘Homer³’
There was originally going to be a third character in the scene where Bart tries to save Homer from the third dimension. “The (portal) had a 40-inch circumference, and (Chief) Wiggum couldn’t fit through that, so they had to look for somebody skinnier,” Cohen told Entertainment Weekly. So they tried adding Ned Flanders. Marge was also floated as an idea — “Marge’s hair will look great,” read Cohen’s notes — but in the end, they only had time to render two characters for the sequence.
Guys like Tim Johnson, the head of the computer animation production company (Pacific Data Images), welcomed the decision. “In Homer’s case, he had one zig-zagging line for hair,” Johnson explained. “And in Bart’s case, it was some type of atomic Brillo pad on top. But if we had to do Ned’s mustache, I think it would’ve killed us.”
The Not-So-Perfect Crane Shot
“They gave me the oldest crane that you could possibly find and not enough people to control traffic, or even the permits to control traffic, so it was very down and dirty,” former showrunner David Mirkin remembers about filming Homer being dropped into the real world for “Treehouse of Horror VI.”
“Normally, for something like that, you’d be able to periodically stop traffic for a single shot on one side of Ventura Boulevard, but that would have been too expensive, so we could only stop traffic in one lane for a short period of time. It really compromised the crane shot because normally, the crane would have to swing out into the street to get back far enough to make it a very cool and interesting shot. Instead, it has to very unnaturally swing out and back in as it goes up. I’ve talked to people about this for years; I said, ‘Do you notice that shot?’ and they said, ‘No, it looks fine.’ But to me, it’s a comedy in itself.”
New Zealand Banned an Episode
New Zealand’s Network TVNZ banned “Treehouse of Horror XXVII” from its 7 p.m. time slot, citing too much violence — referring, of course, to the recreation of that church shooting in Kingsman: The Secret Service. The episode was eventually aired at a later date in a later time slot.
The Scariest Segment of All?
“I know the Groundskeeper Willie as Freddy Krueger segment did indeed scare a lot of people — mainly kids who hadn’t seen Nightmare on Elm Street,” Oakley told MEL. “Because even to this day, someone tells me about once a month how that segment scared the shit out of them as a kid and how they had bad dreams about it. In retrospect, I don’t think I would have toned it down, but I do feel a bit bad about terrorizing all those children.”