Treehouse of Horror III

By Gabriel, 21 Dec 21, 5

There is a fundamental connection between horror and comedy, and for proof we need look no further than the clown. It doesn’t even need to be a horror clown, with overt signs like a large machete or turning into a spider, genuine clowns without a hint of deliberate malice can become terrifying through miniscule shifts in appearance or posture invisible to all but our deeper instincts. Fractions of degrees on the angle of a big red smile, fractions that one would sound mad for trying to explain, and suddenly the tumbling fool is a nightmare stalker.

The preponderance of scary clowns makes this a common conversation these days, but equally true, and once more frequently discussed, is the opposite.

Good writing and quality acting can be expensive, debateable, and, worse yet, invisible when done well. It’s tough to promote the invisible, let alone stick it on a poster, and even if you managed there was still a chance people would not get your complex writing or subtle acting and leave feeling cheated. Horror became one of the pillars of low-budget cinema because a monster is a certainty. Get yourself one of those and all that fretting about your characters and plot ends. The poster designs itself.

Monsters became markers for films that, at the very least, weren’t confident in the rest of their cinematic expression if not a sign that they’d been abandoned altogether, so eventually people stopped trying altogether. This downward trend resulted in movies with such low budgets that even the monsters started to suck. But a few people kept going to see them, and for the complete opposite reasons the creator had intended. Much like a clown trying to being terrifying by failing to be funny, monsters that failed at being terrifying became hilarious.

The third Simpsons Halloween Special takes three monsters—a murder doll, King Kong, and zombies—and makes them fail at being scary. The results mostly work, but even the patchy elements serve as excellent case studies on parody and the relationship between horror and hilarity.

Clown Without Pity is named after a song, “Town Without Pity” that was written for a movie Town Without Pity about the trial of a German girl raped by American soldiers. I’ve a weird little interest in parody titles, and this is one stands out because, while Clown Without Pity is a great name for a story about a murder clown, there is absolutely zero relationship with the source material. I’ll make exceptions, but some form of connection is needed to keep from being a lazy cutaway. Without a rape, trial, or Germans, this is a superficial, disconnected reference.

A natural assumption is that this segment is based on Child’s Play, which had been released four years earlier, but it’s actually based on the things that inspired Child’s Play: a Richard Matheson short story then horror anthology short Prey then Amelia, and the Twilight Zone episode, “Living Doll”. A fact made obvious by these comparison shots, and some of Talking Tina’s lines.

Savalas is a near perfect realistic Homer as it is.

Combined, Prey, Living Doll, Amelia, and Clown Without Pity make for a perfect demonstration of the blurred line between horror and comedy. The Talking Tina of Living Doll is presented as a psychological threat. It moves, but only in the wind-up manner one would expect, and it talks, but only says unusual things to her owner’s father, Erich (Telly Savalas). Prey and Amelia’s doll is an armed and gruesome Zuni warrior fetish (of dubious authenticity as the Zuni are American, not the stated African) who is the functional opposite of Tina, as he runs around with a knife and attempts to physically kill the eponymous Amelia. Prey and Living Doll are genuinely, successfully creepy. Clown Without Pity is obviously funny, but then, so is Amelia.

Living Doll has a single central unreality, that of an evil doll, and even that could be a manifestation of Erich’s deteriorating mental state. The doll is seen through Erich’s perspective, and it never does anything it isn’t supposed to do—even its talking is technically an advertised feature—when anyone else is around. The fear this story deals in is a weaponised form of paranoia humans have about the uncanny valley nature of tiny replica people. Prey is about an ambulatory killer doll but exists as prose. We don’t see a killer doll, we read lines like, “A shadowy form was scurrying across the carpet toward the bed”, “Something that looked like a tiny head appeared”, and “Amelia heard a noise like the scratching of a rat”. Though the function of its threat is different, prose’s ability to place one in the mind of a character is used to create the same fear Living Doll does. The tiny head is just a marker, an unknown we see only in relation to the known fear of Amelia.

Amelia was part of an odd little telemovie called Trilogy of Terror which was adapted by Matheson himself, so let’s take a look at what that exact scene looks like when presented in live action.

Fucking hilarious.

We treat emotions as denotative markers of events or circumstances, but they are their own physical events in the universe. Generated by meat, electricity, and chemicals, an emotion can exist as a sensation independent of cause. Unknowns and unseens are effective horror tools because the ambiguity creates a big space that other tools—genre understanding, sound design, prior events—can fill with meaty sensation. Prose, with its perspective basis and incredibly tight information control, is perfect for this. The 8-page Prey barely describes the doll, telling us instead about Amelia’s sensations, while occasionally tweaking human fears about little unknowns scurrying about at the edges of our vision. Readers have neither the time nor directed inclination to consider how an 8-inch figurine is able to exert the physical forces necessary to turn a doorknob or attack a lady. There are ways to film this and maintain that approach, but Amelia went for the slasher style scare, leaving the viewer expected to be frightened of a funny little puppet man scooting about like Animal from the Muppets in blackface.

Clown Without Pity directly models the evil Krusty doll on the Zuni Warriror and not Talking Tina because of this, and, other jokes aside, is funny as a result. The teeth, the oversized kitchen knives, the harpoon he has in the bath for some reason, each of these is fundamentally silly, which is why it works for comedy.

With all this said, there is some quite odd structural sloppiness. The overt tension pattern of horror demands peak points of revelation or catharsis, with any denouement needing to be extremely short so as not to warp the pattern. The shaggy dog joke of the switch leading to the hug is a perfect cap point that the following weak joke sequence beaks. Even some different editing choices would have helped, as the use of a fade between the hug and the next scene suggests a closure that an edit, or continuing the servant Krusty action within the scene, wouldn’t. The result is a tag point, a drawn out reset with a perspective shift to the doll, and then another, weaker tag point. It’s minor, but then so is the fix, meaning it’s baffling that it’s been left like this.

King Homer and other giant monster films are only horror as a vestigial component of an earlier period’s limited genre vocabulary being unable to categorise them as comedy or drama. Colossi do not evoke fear exactly, but rather awe. A spider the size of a dinner plate is scary because it’s a big spider; a spider the size of a building is scary in the same way a hurricane or other natural disaster is scary. It’s a secondary effect, because at a certain scale a giant thing is categorised as a giant more than the thing.

Cloverfield is the only recent attempt at making a colossal monster movie actually scary, but it did this by swapping colossal monster tropes for horror creature ones. The monster itself went almost entirely unseen, miniature creatures were used for a scale-relevant threat, and the verité shot style of the phone camera created a sense of intimacy to heighten realistic character emotions. These changes are necessary, as the usual long, wide shots of monster destruction elicit more wows than shudders.

Whereas Clown Without Pity was a parody of two things, King Homer is a parody of one obvious thing and the result is a structural tightness that its preceding story lacked. King Homer necessarily sticks to the plot outline of its source material, meaning the ending shift to a wedding, with another Love: American Style tag joke, works as it’s a twist within a structure rather than a broken structure.

A thing about parody, particularly genre parody, is that you still need to do the exact thing you’re mocking as parody needs contextual basis. With at least two concurrent communication tracks running at once, there is spare space between them for humour and reflexive commentary that doesn’t break the fundamental reality of the story, and this is the primary utility of parody. Cabin in the Woods uses parody to build and break a fake fourth wall, allowing it to be an incredibly self-aware horror without polluting its own narrative world. The result is a cohesive story that can use all the necessary tropes while still mocking them.

Clown Without Pity used parody to create a big shaggy-dog joke with the switch, a joke that works as a comment on the scariness of scary dolls. King Homer used parody to extend the logic of Kong’s infatuation with Ann Darrow to a ridiculous wedding, and to point out the underlying absurdity of exactly what Kong’s Broadway act was supposed to entail. Then there’s the third story.

The allegorical properties of poster-based monsters date back to our earliest myths and continues to this day as a species with no natural threats is prone to analogising its own self-destructive behaviours. When George Romero, John Russo, and the 1960s conspired to turn the malleable walking dead into social commentary, what they were doing wasn’t exactly new, but the way it took off was. Zombie films have two distinct tracks on which to operate, gore and commentary, with either or a mix being perfectly valid choices.

Romero and Russo split after Night of the Living Dead with the former taking the of the Dead part and the latter taking the Living Dead part, dividing the mythos along oddly clean lines. Romero’s remained the shambling monsters bereft of almost all their humanity. Russo’s could speak, operate tools, and plan traps. Like the children of divorcing parents, each of these strains took elements favoured by their directors and natural to their forms. Romero’s remained serious horror satire, and Russo’s became schlock comedy. Romero’s are the far more popular of the two and have remained the definitive zombie, though Russo’s one major contribution, “BRAINS” stuck around for a while. Much like how the existence of the Austin Powers movies meant the Bond series had to abandon any comedy lest the comparison taint their seriousness, the zombie division split the comic and social satiric elements until Shaun of the Dead repopularised the blend.

Dial Z for Zombies was made at a time when this divide was dominant and made a critical mistake when it chose the Russo side to imitate. The Return of the Living Dead series stands on the classic schlock pillars of gore and titty. You can’t take these out and be left with a functional film, because then you’re just watching a collection of scenes acted like the moment everyone in an improv team thought someone else was going to come up with the next idea. Later zombie films, like The Battery (2012), Ravenous (2017), and Maggie (2015) would substitute gore and titties for character, theme, and plot, but the Return of the Living Dead series doesn’t even try.

Had Z for Zombies been a parody of Romero’s work, there’d have been a space between the serious tone of one and the comic tone of the other, but Russo’s zombies are already a parody of Romero’s sombre shamblers. They make wise cracks, get distracted by scantily clad aerobics instructors, and are generally treated as equally funny as they are grotesque. The Simpsons is doing a silly version of an already silly thing, minus the gore or titties that carried the source. Without a meaningful parodic space, the jokes are mostly either superficial, like the hacky “living impaired” line; stupid, like Homer shooting historical figures at the school; or identical, like the “zombies on the radio” gag which actually occurs in Return of the Living Dead II or the “the real zombies are us” tag joke, which you may recognise as the theme of all of Romero’s work.

Even the story’s structure is gutted by the lack of parodic purpose. Bart lets the zombies loose at night and they swarm into town, killing Flanders in the process. The kids tell Homer that night, but because the story has no track to follow, it bounces to Bart sitting calmly in class the next day so we can get a joke about how brain eating zombies probably like smart kids. Then it’s back to the house via another pointless zombie Krusty bit, to pick up where any functional structure would have remained. The only good joke that actually requires the premise is Homer’s “He was a zombie?” line, with the rest a two-dimensional coast on the premise. At least the Death Star workers in Family Guy’s Star Wars parody can discuss the odd lack of safety railings in the giant laser room.

Treehouse of Horror III is a largely successful exploitation of the principle that a failed scare is a successful laugh. King Homer is the best of the three as it’s funny, structurally sound, and uses the parodic space to draw the logic of its source material into absurdity. Clown Without Pity has some great lines and emphasises the horror comedy relationship with an amusing murder doll but is let down by a poorly written tag. Dial Z for Zombies is just there. Whereas the parallels between Amelia and Clown Without Pity are almost structurally identical, the key is in that Amelia took itself seriously. The Return of the Living Deads (at least the first two) don’t, leaving Zombies little more than a poor copy with little more than a few stray lines to distinguish itself.

I hang my hat on the theory that humour evolved from calming signals following mistaken threat calls. It’s why people still chuckle awkwardly in threatening situations, why we laugh when people are hurt but not hurt hurt, and why a clown can delight a child while scaring an adult. It’s also why actors screaming in terror at a bad monster effect becomes hilarious. Calm down everyone, no sabretooth tiger here.

Yours in really having to eat fewer people, Gabriel. 

Breakdown.

00:04. This opening gag is based on Alfred Hitchcock Presents, an anthology series a bit like Twilight Zone but for darkly comic thrillers of the Hitchcockian style. The show was hugely popular, cementing Hitchcock into popular culture and making him quite rich. The commentary says that the joke is meant to be that Homer’s gut is bigger than the Hitchcock silhouette, which doesn’t make sense as the silhouette is already Homer’s.

00:24. Still doing the warning, not so much so the various loons can’t complain, because they do anyway, but so they can be ignored.

00:36. TVs used to turn off like this, though it was usually the crappier models. Sometimes the lingering dot was a compressed circle of still moving picture.

1:04. Drexell’s Class was a fox sitcom from ’91 that ran a single season and has a wildly negative rating everywhere you look. I honestly can’t tell it from most sitcoms of the era, though.

1:07. Sick burn on ol’ Bucky.

1:25. This glowing effect was apparently hard to do in old animation.

1:41. Martin, for a smart kid, you sure march into situations where anyone with quasi-functional neuron could tell you you’re gonna get hit. The existence of bullying thugs is a problem for broader society to solve, but while that’s going on maybe don’t mince up to the local homophobe.

1:43. Something I only noticed now, is that Nelson looks Martin up and down to really accurately assess the situation before him. Watching Martin’s eyes track the incoming punch is funny.

1:51. Nothing says, “America’s Bad Boy” like dressing up as a rapist.

1:54. Hoooeee, look at all these non-copyright Halloween costumes. I’m actually glad that seal’s been broken.

2:07. Halloween’s only just really started to take off here, well after my candy age and frustratingly after my drinking age. Ah well. Games like this have no cultural relevance here, at least yet, so it will be interesting to see if forms get ported over or if something new develops.

2:37. This one scene reuses this bit of Homer saying “it was an evil game” twice. Once here, and once again when he says he has to go to the bathroom.

2:40. Lisa’s wall eyes are fucking something here.

2:50. There’s at least $580 in this box, and that’s just the visible notes, so this birthday that exists only in Lisa’s story is Bart’s best one by a mile.

3:01. “I’ll raise hell” basically how I feel about Patreon

3:09. This little moment with Bart and Homer is an oddity. Homer forgets special days all the time and has raced out to grab last-minute presents on numerous occasions, but here he reacts like he’s been caught hoping nobody would notice his lack of gift. In no other situation is the initial absence of a gift treated like a conscious act of malice. And rather than lie about it being just outside, he admits he forgot and swears to fix the problem.

I don’t think this was intentional, but it winds up being a projection from our diegetic storyteller, Lisa, about what she thinks of her father and what she hopes for him. Later Treehouses, 6 onward, leave behind any bracketing or storytellers, happy to exist as extra-universal anthology romps, so it’s easy to forget that what we are seeing is what Lisa is saying. Saying to an audience that includes the person she hopes will change, but who will completely miss this and not change in any way. It’s surprisingly tragic.

3:12. You know what covers up a tragedy? OLD MAN JOKES! Grampa’s reaction to Homer swearing on his grave is a great comic interjection.

3:16. They still do the footsteps to door to car sound tag, though, because it’s a classic. Though there’s something I only just noticed, Homer doesn’t actually leave. You can still see the edge of his shirt as the frame gets frozen for the bit.

3:17. There used to be loads of these sorts of stores that sold crystals and various other pre-Paltrow lumps of imbecile bait. It would have been lovely, and I’d argue very profitable, had one of them branded itself as the evil one.

3:19. Love the jar of Simpson universe eyeballs and seemingly awake voodoo doll.

3:20. The books under the jar in the foreground say “Bottom 12” and something “Words”, looks like “Mad” but possibly “Magic” cut off. Odd.

3:24. Little cameo from the Monkey Paw.

3:26. The Simpson version of Mr Wing from Gremlins. I’ve been a few places like this in Chinatown, while as densely packed they are usually better lit.

3:30. Ah, the frogurt dispenser, such a beautiful tone-shift joke. The term is listed on a variety of Simpsons websites but predates this by about 20 years. Dairy concern H.P Hood brought it out around 1972, though a lot ascribe the creation to the entrepreneur H.P. Hood, which is unlikely as he’d died 72 years prior.

3:41. I’d be more weirded out by a curio store that had pumping hearts and eyeball jars also having regular toys than I would be about just the floating organs. There was a Radio Rentals in Fortitude Valley that kind of reminds me of this a bit. These places are meant to be lit by that omnipresent fluorescent blaze, but this one was dark and staffed entirely by buff dudes who didn’t ask me if I needed anything. There’s a buff-dude state vector that’s always just a few details away from collapsing into threatening and “dark angry appliance store” ticks all of them.

3:44. Lovely compositional triangle with the mouths here, wonder if it was deliberate.

3:49. This bit with the free frogurt is based on an old Vaudeville routine called “That’s good. No, that’s bad” that had a later run on Hee-Haw of all places. The routine is structured around a comedian telling a story to a straight man, where the straight will always assume an obviously good thing to be good and vice versa. The teller will correct him by explaining that “No, that’s bad” and come up with a wilder deviation to the story to explain why the good thing is bad. It’s like a concertina of shaggy dog jokes that would go a couple of minutes. Not exactly gutbusting, but I’d be curious to see it work as a kind of improv game.

Speaking of, potassium benzoate is a preservative in a lot of heavily processed foods made by combining benzoic acid and potassium salt under heat.

4:06. God I love Milhouse getting bonked by the door.

4:08. The donkey tail drifts from behind the door and comes to a rest, all but entirely obscured by Sherri or Terri’s head.

4:12. I like that it’s in a box now because it suggests Homer got one on his way home somehow. That or Mr Wing boxed his display model.

4:19. The lines from the Krusty doll that sound like actual doll-talk are all direct quotes from Talking Tina.

4:25. Love this shot of Grampa looming with the doorframe.

4:28. These angles really make him look like a pinhead, which helps the moment’s positioning him as a crazy prognosticator.

4:35. This positioning is immediately capitalised on for a great tone shift joke that robs Grampa of his dignity, and potential social cache as All-Knowing horror movie elder. Marge’s gentlest of admonishments makes Grampa buckle immediately and state outright a reality that was tragic enough to begin with but is truly bleak with added self-awareness. Another beautifully composed shot drives this home, as Grampa’s need for attention overwhelms his shame’s desire to leave. His sad little quarter turn a subtler version of his statement.

4:43. At this rate, there’ll be some bit on future twitter about how The Simpsons predicted the state of Earth’s atmosphere.

4:57. Pointed teeth can be scary, but the Zuni Fetish’s line of serrated white fit perfectly into the mouth of the Evil Krusty because they were cartoonishly silly to begin with.

5:02. There’s a lot of character in Homer responding to the doll’s threat with the typically masculine self-assertion of “Oh yeah?” without even thinking about the greater implications of a living doll. Even Telly Savalas’ insecure, thuggish character in Living Doll had a mind to be blown.

5:15. “What pressure?” from his own son is damn funny.

5:24. This joke with the pull string foreshadows the story’s end, as it basically fucks up the scene for a weak gag. The next scene of Homer in the bath has no logical connection in content or tone to the previous one. Granted it’s using an ad break, but the doll was an immediate threat the break doesn’t deal with. Leaving it slumped with the family not believing him would have fixed this and the string joke could have easily been put in later.

5:41. I do love the tiny harpoon the doll has found for the bathtub attack. The best fat jokes are the real circumspect ones.

5:50. “There goes the last lingering thread of my heterosexuality” is a great line and compliments the wide-eyed food drop well. People will cite this as evidence for Patty being gay, but A: this takes place in a story Lisa is telling, and B: lesbian isn’t a meter you fill by being exposed to ugly dicks. This is just a good line to have when you’ve just seen a terror flaccid penis being sprint-waggled by two thighs fighting over a fupa.

5:51. The Krusty Doll with the Malibu Stacey reminds me of a really terrific horror short from the Creepshow series on Shudder called The House of the Head. It’s one of the most creative approaches to a horror idea I’ve seen and is tremendously creepy as a result.

6:09. “They are making me dizzy” is a great line because dizziness is such a open symptom.

6:21. The great thing about Springfield as a character is that things like a bottomless pit, or at least what the townsfolk consider one, fit it perfectly.

6:24. Assuming “Goodbye, dolly” is a “Hello, Dolly” reference, but either way, the childishness of the [i] sound contrasts the murder doll threat in a way that’s thematically relevant.

6:27. The rarely seen Godfather of Springfield’s organised crime family, seen here getting his hands dirty.

6:31. I recognise the character with the Whoopi Nudes from some other episode, but I cannot for the life of me remember which one. At first I thought it was Chuck’s father from his scene in Duffless, but it’s not him. Kind of a hard zing on Goldberg, but she is like a black hole of sexuality that neutralises anything remotely erotic. The gag reverses the footage of the box dropping for the box flying back out, which makes me chuckle a bit.

6:39. The first of The Simpsons references to the 1991 version of Cape Fear. It’s an idea that works well as a scary concept, and even verges on criminally cunning, but requires the car to be absurdly boosted in the film to work.

6:43. Love the sounds of scrambling as the doll climbs Homer. This is the kind of thing that works as scary, both because of the unseen element and because it tickles human fears of creepy crawlies scuttering about behind us.

6:49. LOVE this use of tilt and perspective in the hallway here. Warping and twisting the normal contributes to horror moods.

6:51. “The doll’s trying to kill me and the toaster’s been laughing at me” is a masterpiece of layering.

6:54. I was getting a haircut at a barbershop in the Valley mall once when there was a sudden loud commotion outside. There was a fraction of a second where I had no idea what it was, as I’ve a fairly extensive catalogue of “Valley Commotion” sounds, and this comported to none of them. What it was, was about 15-20 high-school students galloping through the mall, which I’d have never guessed as I was seldom out when schoolchildren were. What my brain thought in that fraction of a second was, “ZOMBIES!” and then “MY HAIR” as I was at that point in the haircut where I looked like a Witcher 1 NPC. For a moment, I was sure that zombies were happening, and that I was going to have to spend the initial days of the outbreak looking like a loose imbecile. I think about this whenever I see Homer complain about the dog water the killer doll is drowning him in.

7:05. The show has a good run of joke hold songs, but this one actually fits within the story as a believable one for a clown doll company hotline. The song is Everybody Loves a Clown by Gary Lewis and the Playboys. Gary Lewis is the son of Jerry Lewis and the song was brought to the airwaves on Jerry’s show. Jerry zings his kid, who wanted beautiful models on set with him, by making all those models 8-year-old girls, resulting in some troubling images.

Great, now I know what a horny 8-year-old looks like

7:12. This is an example where the fade’s suggested time lapse fits with the comic intent of highlighting that a murder doll isn’t really dangerous. It’s been a few hours, and all it’s doing is tugging on Homer’s tongue. Speaking of, that’s a beautiful choice as it affords an amazing shot, is very funny, and actually pretty unpleasant when you think about it.

7:23. There’s a gag in the idea that the doll was set to evil and loved Bart, but it would have cluttered something this short.

7:26. Huh, different painting behind the couch.

7:29. The fade and the abundant, eaten snacks imply some time has passed like before, but here it’s working against the structure of the narrative. The story was about a killer doll, and that’s been resolved. The switch joke was the resolution. Had the switch happened almost immediately, and had the story shifted toward the doll being driven to kill Homer again, not because of the switch, but because Homer is that big a jerk, that would have been fine and a solid story. This extra 29 seconds is like someone forgetting the punchline to a long joke, then finding you later on in the party to tell you it.

8:00. Homer fucking up his horror twists is funny but forgetting to set up that the wife was dead is a real look into his mind. Like, what were you thinking about that wasn’t the core part of the story?

8:21. “I’ve coughed up scarier stuff than that” is a goodun from Grampa as it has the tone of a hyperbolic comparison but is also almost certainly true.

8:26. “You’ve led an interesting life” “That’s a lie and you know it” is a great little exchange and the following line about movies is one of the better in-universe justifications for one of these little animated parodies.

8:57. I love the way the crude and uncouth sailors lean in at each other while both saying “Arrr” as though there were some escalation in the communication we’re missing.

8:59. “I think women and seamen don’t mix” is the kind of line that bawdier animated shows would trot out all the time, but it works here as that kind of joke is seldom used and fits the moment’s second meaning flawlessly. Shearer’s humourlessly blunt delivery coupled with Smithers’ frown lends the moment a seriousness that adds to the absurdity. Burns’ line “We know what you think” is a great follow-up as the “we” engages the viewer in dismissing the line but with suggested prior knowledge that maintains the adultness of Smithers’ comment. Tying it to Burns’ need to finish the conversation he’s having about Marge in front of her adds a speedy motivation to change the subject. Structured like this, the very adult nature of Smithers’ line is allowed to stand out while still being covered up.

9:22. This bit with Candyapple Island having apes feels Vaudevillian, very structural but still very funny.

9:35. There’s a naturalness to the cameos, like Otto the boat captain, that comes from letting them exist as the characters the short needs them to be, rather than a conspicuous joke.

9:47. “I covered that up pretty well” I really like Burns’ little asides where he gives away the very thing he’s trying to cover for in front of the person he needs to remain ignorant. I think this is the first time too, feel free to comment if you can remember an earlier one.

9:56. People thinking they’re hidden when they’re not is always good for a chuckle.

9:59. The line here, “Mosi Tatupu” is the name of a Hawaiian NFL player, seen here probably undergoing a concussion.

10:09. The little singsong “HmmMmm” that Burns does when Marge is yoinked away is another thing that pops up with him occasionally. I love them as these wordless vocalisations can communicate a lot without the logical clutter of specific meaning.

10:17. The Homeric grunts as King Homer fights the dinosaur are great as they are both very Homer but also very giant gorilla.

10:29. This shot that gets reused a few times is a recreation of one of the movie’s famous ones.

10:39. The Broadway Kong show would have to be way more lucrative than a one-off monkey stew sale.

10:47. It was legal to just sniff women in the 30s.

10:55. Burns is a great vector for simple lines that are funny through a dry specificity that runs counter to the madness of the moment. “Groin and belly” is a perfect example.

11:05. Lenny talking to Homer here as though he’s Homer and not King Homer is an interesting choice. I could see it in the context of this being a dramatic visualisation of a staging of Kong as a play, with a fade revealing Homer actually trying to consume Lenny. It’s not that it doesn’t work, just that it feels like it’s working for something that isn’t happening. That said, the bit with Carl shooting him is a funny tone-shift into the almost mundane. Complaining about being shot in the shoulder while a giant monster eats you.

11:11 Lenny’s muffled screams combined with the chewing sounds make this very PG human consumption into a near audio body horror.

11:18. The gas bomb bit is a good example of how to take something predictable, Burns being unable to throw very far, and buff it a little by leaning into each part. Firstly, the bomb falls out of his hand before the throw is even complete. Secondly, there’s a linger on the gas explosion and great use of audio with Burns’ groan as he succumbs to the gas’ effects. The repeated animation from earlier puts a note break in and we get the great bit of Burns’ little song-and-dance routine, which is an over-the-top piece of animation made up almost entirely of great fames that lasts all of three seconds. It’s dense and brief, making it a surprise twist on the expected twist while still being the same twist.

11:47. Burns’ response to Smithers being eaten is a great mix of shock and callous disregard.

11:51. “Chubbiest kickline in town” is a big claim and I’m here to verify it.

12:07. I’ll grant that I come from an era where the internet has made seeing wild shit something I do in the privacy of my own loungeroom and that I would probably pay to see something on the level of a King Kong, but I also maintain that it would get old after 30 minutes, let alone 3 hours.

12:11. I love things that aren’t technically racist while being definitely racist, like calling it “Ethnic Comedy”. Dugan and Dershowitz were made up for this, which is a bummer as I’d be curious to see a 1930s “ethnic comedy” act.

12:21. “In his native land he was a king, but he comes before you in chains for your own amusement” is another great use of Burns saying something in an almost anti-euphemistic way.

12:28. Huh, the guy beside Barney looks a lot like Phillip J Fry. His outfit and look is entirely anachronistic, too.  

LOAD THE HEADCANON

The Simpsons predicted Futurama

12:31. This Barney line is a great example of the basic use of expected audience knowledge in humour. I love these as they’re internally sincere, being silly only through our expectations generated by the context.

12:45. Setups as obvious as Shutton’s here are less setups and more jokes themselves.

12:49. To be fair, if I’d been unable to scratch my ass for ages then it’s the first thing I’d do too.

12:55. A lot of these shots are directly from the 1933 film.

13:04. I do love jokes about missing the point of a moment or a minor concern overriding a colossal one, and Barney’s “I said one!” complaint is another goodun.

13:14. This audience shot in the Shirley Temple bit always cracks me up. It’s entirely unnecessary and none of the expressions fit. These aren’t people enjoying a Shirley Temple show, each is either horrified, bored, or looking in the wrong direction. Inserted as it is, it becomes a kind of sarcastic statement cutaway, made even more absurd by how little it fits. The fact that none of the outfits or looks are period accurate tells me it was probably leftover footage being reused, but that only makes it stranger.

13:20. The noise King Homer makes as he picks up little Shirley is a favourite as it combines the mindlessness of a giant, angry animal with the mindlessness of hungry Homer. The result is a noise of raw sensation so bereft of thought that it can only communicate a kind of savage antithesis to evolution. A similar sound gets barked by Other Abraham in the movie Us.

13:23. It’s probably the expensive audio set I use to watch these on my work computer, but damn these munching sounds are grotesque.

13:29. “I’m dreading the reviews; I can tell you that”

13:33. Another shot directly from the film.

14:06. The series of obvious jokes about King Homer being as out-of-shape as his namesake is well structured to build into he reveal that he’s not even 5 storeys up.

14:30. Male and female lead pairings, unless aggressively specified otherwise, have a thing where they’ll cross over with elements of romances both as an emergent element of the narrative parts and as side-effect of cultural expectations. This odd problem still pops up when the lead pairs aren’t of the same species, which King Homer extends to a wedding as a joke and can still be seen in movies like Bee Movie.

14:41. Some rare footage of Clancy Bouvier at the wedding.

14:54. Love: American Style is an horrendous piece of television, but the reference works here as it relates directly to the whole plot.

15:01. There was a kid up the road from my dad whose parents always gave him carob for easter, and his parents used to pull the same “fruit is nature’s candy” nonsense.

15:02. The look on Grampa’s face here makes me think this is when he’s actually wetting his pants.

15:15. There exists a kind of sad loser in Australia who oppose Halloween as a foreign import in some comically misguided attempt to maintain what passes for local culture. They are valueless rejects as A: everything but the didgeridoo is a fucking import and B: it’s the only time of year where it’s socially acceptable to terrify children and dammit I need this.

15:23. Love that Grampa stays frozen like this.

15:37. The thing about a lot of Bart’s poor schoolwork is that it isn’t universally poor. Criteria sheets assess a variety of things, and Bart’s presentation is always on point. The purpose of assessment is to find a child’s strengths and weaknesses that they can be cultivated and built as needed. Encouraging him for what he’s good at is a good way to draw energy toward the things he’s not, like self-motivation and organisation.

15:47. Case in point, the “Well, most of it” line is one that builds its joke from the idea that Bart couldn’t read even the popup book, but he manages to read the black magic book just fine. This tells a teacher that his capacity and comprehension are fine, which leaves motivation and organisation as the areas to focus on.

15:55. Another good example of making an obvious joke funnier by going overboard with it. The giant, focal Waldo, waving at us like we’re taking the photo is obvious. The less noticeable child who, if noticed, is only again drawing our attention to the one thing we couldn’t possibly miss is the wonderful little overboard.

16:00. “Never noticed that before” is a goodun. Lines like that can be used to crudely patch over plot issues.

16:05. All the book categories being 666 is a nice touch.

16:09. Soon, places like this are where American schools will keep all the accurate history books.

16:15. Huh, never noticed the Time Life sticker before.

16:24. The joke of the ghostly faces getting slammed by the book suggests the idea is one that already existed, but I can’t for the life of me remember what it’s from.

16:26. Snowball 1, seen here with incorrect black fur.

16:46. We never see Clovis, though you could argue it’s who Quimby is talking to when the entire family is walking toward Moe’s.

16:49. Wanting to bring Snowball 1 back from the dead would make a bit more sense if you hadn’t already gotten another cat. That said, this is a good motivation for zombie hijinks. Bart’s rundown of the rules is interesting as it veers into vampire territory a little, though there are other undead traditions that don’t see much distinction. The classic Hong Kong movie Mr Vampire is about the hopping Chinese zombies, for instance.

17:15. Fish Police, Capitol Critters, and Family Dog were all less than a single season attempts at getting in on The Simpsons prime-time animated series action and each was an abysmal failure.

Family Dog is interesting because it was first a 1987 episode of Amazing Stories, making it an actual contemporary of The Simpsons whose first short was the same year, and was created by Brad Bird who was a creative consultant for The Simpsons years later. In 93, an attempt at a full series was made without Bird, but with Stephen Spielberg and Tim Burton producing. Expectations were high, but the series was terribly animated, poorly written, and filled with loathsome characters. Only 10 of the 13 episodes ordered were completed and the series was ditched, though there was a SNES game made of it.

Fish Police, based on a comic of the same name, is exactly what it says on the tin, a kind of hardboiled detective show set underwater done by Hanna-Barbera. The comic largely works, but the series is an unpleasant mix of serious with Saturday Morning, exacerbated by Hanna-Barbera’s art style. Capitol Critters starts with the main character’s mouse family being gassed whereupon he goes to live with his cousin, a mouse who lives in the White House. It has a more focused concept and attempts actual satire but is still plagued by the eras inability to balance disparate tones. Both were cancelled within months.

The Critic and Duckman, both released in 94, were the first to be remotely successful. The Critic is actually funny but only ran two sorta seasons. Duckman is sloppier and has that Klasky-Csupo animation style, but at least managed 4 seasons.

17:19. I don’t exactly know why Bart is wearing the Michael Jackson album on his head. The commentary mentions that it’s something baby boomer kids used to do, so I have to take their word for it.

17:23. All the magic words are jokes by being groups of things, these ones are gameshow hosts and then stores.

17:45. Lisa’s voice is particularly well suited to shouting “Zombies”

17:52. The joke of Willie’s reaction to the zombies and repeated “Pretty as a picture” line is good, but the moment does make me wonder as to why there are two corpses on school property. I’m inclined to believe Willie had buried those bodies not moments earlier.

18:01. Bart and Lisa racing home as the zombie threat is right behind them and they know it. Showing the viewer that the spell had awoken zombies but keeping Bart and Lisa ignorant of this would have been better. You can do as many stray kill jokes as you want without forcing the issue of what your protagonists are doing during all this.

18:05. The zombies pile up in front of one house, turn toward it, and are then marching toward a completely different house. I’d thought for a moment, due to the direction Bart and Lisa are going compared to where the Flanders house is relative to the Simpson home, that maybe we were facing the opposite side of the street, but it’s just a continuity error.

18:10. Flanders wholly unaware he’s facing a violent death is really enhanced by his framed Jesus “Love” picture behind him.

18:20. This Flanders scream is a goodun. Cuts like this would happen in movies back when they were saving the effects shots or monster reveal for later.

18:22. Look, it’s Bart and Lisa at night, in a panic, telling their father that they raised the dead!

18:35. Look, it’s the next day, at school, having dropped a vital narrative line! When a serialised show that has an arc and self-contained episodes, it can be a bit jarring if this isn’t handled in a way that explains why our protagonists aren’t dealing with, or at least talking about, the bigger issue. WITHIN a single story, it’s a critical mistake. Though at least this shot gives us a look at Vanilla Doevid on the left, there.

18:43. To be fair to Martin, I’d probably whimper too if my principal had just summoned me to the office and audibly licked his lips over the intercom. It’s a great whimper, layers of fear in it.

18:51. Some nice shots of Krusty being dragged into the box by Mel here. Really, all that had to happen was Bart and Lisa are sad that it didn’t work and head home, while the shot shows us a hand burst through the dirt. This opens up the narrative to do a string of jokes about the zombies overrunning the town, having Bart and Lisa discover this at school, and then doing the “did you wreck the car” stuff as usual. Really easy to fix.

19:07. “Homer did you barricade the door?” “Why?… Oh, the zombies, no”

19:18. The joke of the zombies rejecting Homer because he has no brains is obvious, but what makes it is how offended Homer is about this. It reminds me of Homer’s “Making People Happy” routine from Flaming Moe’s where the movement is exaggerated but not cartoonishly so. This balance can be tough to strike, but Homer’s intelligence level allows whatever emotion he’s experiencing to dominate him without clashing with the broader narrative. The zombies overtaking the town and threatening his family have implied that he has no brains, and hey, fuck you guys for that.

19:26. “I thought dabbling in the black arts would be good for a chuckle. How wrong I was”

19:53. “He was a zombie?”

19:57. There are a few “zombies on the radio” jokes in the first two Return of the Living Dead movies. The “send more cops/paramedics” moments from the first, what looks like zombie Ryan Stiles not knowing who the president is from the second, and basically this exact joke minus the station read, also from the second.

20:05. The Kang and Kodos cameos are a functionally mandatory Halloween tradition.

20:25. I feel like zombies playing soccer with a head is something I’ve seen somewhere else but can’t for the life of me remember. Either way, this is a nice little moment that fits this style of zombie character well.

20:32. What was he doing in there?

20:34. Who’s stuffing zombies in lockers? Ah, zombie bullies.

20:41. Barney not being a zombie but eating an arm anyway is funny and why you build up utility characters like wacky drunks.

20:58. Homer shooting the historical zombies is a bad sequence but works as a comparative learning tool. It’s the same joke—historical figures distant from their time and place and Homer’s lines about them—repeated three times, but with no pattern, pattern break, or layered meaning. The purely superficial can be fine, but the focus sets higher expectations and the three of them engages the rule that then goes unused. The most a pattern like this can manage is a joke about how bad the joke is, which it isn’t, the writers just thought lines like “Eat lead, Einstein” were worth it.

21:08. These magic words are TV detectives, although Kolchak was a newspaper reporter and not a detective, private or otherwise.

21:14. Lisa turning into a snail is a good little sight gag and Bart’s way of lying his way out of her noticing it is both funny and efficiently covers the plot element.

21:19. The last run of magic words are condom brands.

21:28. “Still pushing that boulder” is a Sisyphus reference. I wonder what that zombie did to wind up in Greek hell. Probably didn’t offer correct sacrifices.

I can’t think of a zombie film off the top of my head that has a magic fix like this. Night of the Living Deb had a cure for the zombies that undid the disease provided you weren’t too far rotten or otherwise shot up, but the decaying element of the visual horror of them generally makes the idea of some cure a difficult sell.

The Return series had largely the opposite idea for endings, too, with the trioxin often being shown seeping into groundwater or blasted into rain clouds only to begin the horror anew.

21:47. This scene with Quimby is a better example of the fundamental idea behind Homer and the historical zombies. His line about corpses rotting in the streets is funny with its dry delivery contrasting the tiny group of survivors emphasising the rampant death, but it’s also sensible within even the wild stretches of a Halloween story and it moves the plot forward.

21:50. Huh, the edge of this shot of the house isn’t finished and you can see Springfield suddenly ending in a void. This reminds me of Dellamorte Dellamore, released in the US with the uninspired name Cemetery Man, which is a solid zombie film whose metaphysical elements peak at the conclusion in a manner similar to this.

21:52. This is another abysmal joke. Firstly, the show abandons the Halloween story framing device for it, which is a dumb mistake that puts a lot of weight on this moment to work. Under this focal pressure, all that happens is a similar problem to the historical zombies, in that there’s no evolution or leaning into the joke, it’s just the one joke said three times. Adding to this is that it’s a hacky joke to begin with and it’s probably one of the worst tags in the series so far.

The First Annual Gabriel Morton Awards for Outstanding Achievements in the Field of Simpsonness.

BEST LINE.

Whatever else I may say about this episode, the lines are plentiful and on point. Burns’ “I’m dreading the reviews; I can tell you that” gets a nod for its absurdly dry content and mundane delivery against the backdrop of colossal ape attack. Bart’s “What pressure?” utilises his flexible maturity to deliver a scathing burn to his father, though probably via his storyteller sister. Next up is Homer’s response about whether he’s barricaded the door, “Why? Oh, the zombies. No”. Writing it does it no justice and it’s an example of something that needs either a perfectly developed sense of character voice or truly stellar voice acting to get to work. Each piece is a joke, and lots of other deliveries would work fine, but Castellaneta makes each fragment perfectly fit some other, perfectly normal moment.

There were two moderately adult examples that stood out. “I think women and seamen don’t mix” and “There goes the last lingering thread of my heterosexuality”. Smithers’ line leaps out at you but is a gag so old it has whiskers. Patty’s is simpler but that lends it a natural quality, as though she said it to be amusing to the people around her and not an audience.

“The toppings contain potassium benzoate” is a mixture of circumstance, delivery, and absurd technical specificity. Through this, it’s a lesson on how comedy can be entirely structural. There is nothing funny about this sentence yet it’s one of the most quoted moments from the episode. “He was a zombie?” is another runner-up. It doesn’t have the technical wizardry of some of these others, but in its moment it’s a great joke, excellently delivered. But the winner is…

By itself, the line “The doll’s trying to kill me” is pretty funny in its absurdity, but the absurdity of the line is made natural by the absurdity of the situation, which is itself another layer of absurdity. This is folded back on itself because the obviousness of the doll trying to kill him makes specifying that fact unusual. If a lion is in the room, people scream “HELP!” not “THERE IS A LION IN MY ROOM!” as the specificity needs thought the moment prevents. By itself, this would have been merely okay and probably an early runner up if anything, but then Homer adds, “and the toaster’s been laughing at me”

The scene is already very busy. Homer is midway through a handless cartwheel through the kitchen, being ridden by a murderous clown doll, and is screaming for Marge to see that he’s been telling the truth this whole time. There is no spare room for any more information, so adding even an “and” to “the doll’s trying to kill me” is clever, as the mere suggestion there’s any other relevant information is funny. A counterpoint gag of something mundane could have worked but adding something even crazier functions like a zip drive the line explodes in your brain. Has the toaster been laughing at him? Is he making that up? The doll is trying to kill him. There are a dozen questions, each enough to distract you from a murder doll, and that’s only if you managed to catch the line in the first place. It’s a masterpiece of classic Simpsons that such great work can be put somewhere it could be missed, another thing that only makes it better.

 

BEST SIGHT GAG

The even more flexible reality of the Halloween episodes makes for some great sight gags too, and part III has a fine selection.  The simplest are some of the Halloween costumes, like Martin’s Calliope or Bart’s Alex de Large, though the latter works best if you’re only vaguely familiar with A Clockwork Orange. Most of what makes the Krusty doll visually funny belongs to its Zuni inspiration, but the sight of him joyfully popping up out of the bathwater with a tiny harpoon is a great creative addition. Similarly, him standing in Homer’s open mouth, wrenching on his tongue is a fantastic lean into the cartoony, but with a near body horror counterweight that makes it an incredibly funny sight.

Burns’ gas dance is an interesting one. Most of the joke is technically his song, and the dance lasts around two seconds, but in those two seconds the animators went hard and gave Burns a complex routine with about 3 focal moments.

The absurdly noticeable occult section, the nude pictures of Whoopi Goldberg being returned, and Homer falling from the 3rd storey are good chuckles but are also mainly payoffs for other elements within the moment. The Where’s Waldo gag is in the same category but stands out through the great addition of the pointing child. The child is so innocently smiling that his inclusion can’t be taken as some slight on your intelligence, but that condescending niceness then becomes a slight on your intelligence. It’s a lot in a little.

But the winner is…

Milhouse getting whacked by the door

Milhouse getting bonked by an opening door is almost predictable given the lead in time and lack of meaningful eventfulness in this moment, but it’s made sublime by the staggering force of the blow, Milhouse’s trademark grunt-wail of pain, a delightfully cartoony coconut bonk sound, the delayed sound of him slumping to the floor, and the fact that Bart and Homer don’t even react to it.

The three smear frames alone are gems of comic artistry and the kinds of things I’d like wall hangs of. The first, a mere single frame, shows the front door warping in the centre, emphasising the speed at which Homer drives a door into Milhouse’s entirely undeserving forebrain. Milhouse’s face is already obscured, not because the sight of it would cause us to empathise with him, but because making him anonymous in his own punishing sight gag adds even further suffering. The donkey tail floating above reminds us that the tiny joys he reaches for must always be close because it is only through hope that we can truly suffer.

The second image clocks in at a mighty two whole frames but is another marvel worth discussing.

There are a lot of paintings of Icarus as the myth has a fantastic visual quality to it and old-timey painters loved the idea of a ripped teen boy wearing nothing but wings. The staggering majority, if not effectively all, of the paintings depict the drama of the plummet with a centrally framed Icarus, twisted in terror as he grasps wildly for anything to save him.

Then there’s Pieter Bruegel’s (probably the younger) Landscape with the Fall of Icarus.

The thing about a once flying boy now plummeting toward the water is that it’s a pretty big deal. Even in 2021, with our modern understandings of aerodynamics and wingsuits, such a sight would captivate onlookers and no doubt be the focus of social media for a day. Ovid’s original poem has the angler, shepherd, and ploughman all gazing at Icarus and believing him a god, as who else could fly? Don’t feel bad if you weren’t even able to find Icarus in Bruegel’s painting, as he reinterprets the event to make an obviously amazing sight into an easily missed moment of human tragedy.

W.H. Auden’s later poem inspired by the painting, Musée des Beaux Arts, uses it to explore human indifference to suffering and there is similar inspiration in this frame. The foreground children and Bart’s gaze draw the eye to where Milhouse once stood, though now Homer’s dynamic and amazingly eye-catching smear frame is where viewers wind up. But Homer is slightly off-centre, not having truly replaced Milhouse’s position to line up with where the children were focusing us. All that’s left of Milhouse is a tiny, anonymous hand and the tail of a blindfold. Easily missed things like a flailing leg or some stray feathers in the sea.

The coconut bonk sound is cartoony, but the grunt of pain and sound of a ten-year-old child slumping to the floor are realistic. The composition of this frame insists we think about where Milhouse was, while pulling our eye and attention toward other focal content. Each of these elements works in concert with the other to remind us of Milhouse while simultaneously distracting us from him, giving viewers the ability to feel the life of Milhouse Van Houten in one twenty-fourth of a second. Vitally important for only the instance of your suffering, but immediately forgotten so you don’t even get that as an identity. Milhouse, as Auden said of Icarus, is not an important failure.

BEST OVERALL JOKE.

Much of the runners up here are covered by Best Shot and Best line, with a few odd little exceptions worth mentioning. Willie’s “Pretty as a picture” moment was too much a line for the sight gag section and too much a sight gag for the line section, but it fits as a runner up here. The basic gag is Willie caring more about his tended grounds than the zombies. Twisting this a little is that his reaction to the zombies is screaming terror, meaning his reversion back to repeating “pretty as a picture” is even sillier. Adding to this is the easily missed question of why the zombies were there in the first place. It could be that Willie just buried some dead bodies or that Springfield Elementary was built on an old graveyard to save money, either is pretty funny. Then there’s the way the lines have distinct, rhythmic silences between them. This highlights each moment, which acts as a depth adding support structure for the main gag.

But the winner is…

The Curse Conversation.

The patterns of humour evolve in a way that can repurpose old jokes. Anti-jokes are good examples of this, where hacky setups with well-known answers become funny again by surprising the expected surprise with something mundane, which is now surprising. The basic 1-2 joke is easy enough to repurpose, which is why the skill on display with the intricate rewiring of the old Vaudeville helps it stand out.

Firstly, Homer and Mr Wing are used to enhance the point/counterpoint structure. Homer’s bright yellow colour and loud happy voice match his upbeat responses, whereas Mr Wing’s sickly green skin and grim raspy voice complement his grim negations. This adds depth to their comic roles and brings out the scene’s theme of juxtaposition between goofily bright and darkly threatening, a theme shared by the plot and murder clown concept.

The Hee-Haw­ bit was a long slow escalation, but this scene breaks it down to a three-beat which, while engaging the standard joke structure, runs the risk of wasting the bit by simply repeating the same curse three times. By itself, this would work fine enough, but that’s what makes the artistry of the choice stand out. Nobody knows what potassium benzoate is, and if you asked someone to think of someone who should you’d get told “scientist”. Mr Wing shifting from curses to the accurate pronunciation of a chemical food additive subverts the established pattern of his stereotype, the broader story theme, and the joke structure all at once, while adding a spurious rigour absurdity and dumb Homer gag on top. It’s an incredibly dense moment which is what gives it its timeless quality.  

 

BEST SHOT.

The Halloween episodes are a challenge for this category as, while there are plenty of excellently constructed examples, they are almost always conspicuous references to other texts. While it certainly takes more skill than one would think to artfully recreate or repurpose other material, the shot must be judged on its own merits and when the shot is explicitly someone else’s it can’t be considered. Moments like the Krusty doll coming up over the couch or basically all of King Homer are great but fall into this category.

Edge cases are shot styles, compositions that are not explicitly from a reference material but common to a referred genre while being unusual to a sitcom. Moments like Bart entering the Occult Section or Dutch tilt shots of zombies in front of a home are well composed but aren’t acts of creative shooting so much as necessary genre pantomime. The fact is, though, that stylistic imitation takes a lot of skill. Someone who can perfectly imitate a master painter may not be a creative genius, but they are still an incredibly impressive artist. While they may not win, the stylistic imitations are in the pool.

First runner up is Homer walking through the House of Evil, as the layering of items and lighting variation give a cramped feel to what turns out to be a fairly open store plan. Bart entering the Occult Section is another beauty. The angle and focus makes the misaligned and warped bookshelves seem natural though creepy, the lighting emphasises the classic movement from safety to danger, while the stretched Bart shadow suggests the warping of intent or morality. The last runner up is this wonderful shot of zombie Skinner. You’ll see compositions like this outside of horror, but the authoritarian low angle and imposing desk slab combine with Skinner’s warped, almost fish-eyed lean toward the camera for a deeply unsettling sense of perverted authority.

But the winner is…

These are her eyes.

It’s in these bookend moments that a Halloween episode is technically just The Simpsons without the excuse of genre parody to motivate more interesting mise-en-scène, so it’s here I found myself half-heartedly reviewing. But I’m glad I did. A shot’s a shot, it can be looked at irrespective of narrative weight or relevance and that is something I’ll have to be mindful of as this pointless moment is wonderful to look at. The layers of shadow already make it stand out, but its composition feels like a comment on the clichéd still-life. Her legs disappear into a dark, textured carpet leaving her foot and shoe a near abstract. The bowl of food is in the middle ground, highlighted against the purple of Marge’s dress but partially obscured by a bright yellow foreground, holding two of the bowl’s grapes up even closer for our inspection. It makes me think, but I can’t tell you about what.

Freeze Frame Fun

Gabriel

gabrielenguard

5 replies to Treehouse of Horror III


pocketbelt on 22 Dec 21 said:

Comparing the split-second suffering of Milhouse to classical, high-art depictions of ancient Grecian myth that use it to make statements on the nature of the individual's tragedy in the wider churning sea of existence. This is the classiest Simpsons critique around, easily. Also easily the best run in any of these columns so far. Keep working your magic, Gabe, that was itself art.

Unrelated, but seeing Family Dog come up was a surprise, as I played the SNES game as a kid (it was a bit shit). Even as a kid with no knowledge of the game beyond what it contained (as a ROM on a floppy disk for a Wildcard floppy reader you plugged into the SNES' cartridge slot), I always got the impression that it was a game "of" something, based on something, or at least made like it was. Trippy to see that question answered here ~20 years later.


Larger, More Powerful Alex on 22 Dec 21 said:

I enjoyed the sequence of events that unfolded between your Twitter, KeC, and this article. Complaining about thinking you were done the article only to remember about the awards on Twitter, mentioning your new obsession with Milhouse's suffering on KeC, then concluding it with this article's award section having a short essay dedicated to why we should enjoy Milhouse's pain.


Cliff Excellent on 23 Dec 21 said:

I always enjoy when a weak parody accidentally reuses a joke from the thing it's supposed to be making fun of. The zombie radio isn't nearly the worst (that would probably be the one from Epic Movie or whatever doing exactly the same Wolverine joke that the X-Men films had already done) but it's still such a inarguable example of failure.

Parodying things that were already trying to be funny is possible but potentially very embarrassing if you fuck it up.



Every time I see a bad zombie parody (of which there are plenty) I'm reminded of how impressive it is that Shaun of the Dead took something that had already been parodied to death and made it funny again.


MrWishart on 23 Dec 21 said:

The "Whoopi nudes" guy might be the furniture salesman from the space coyote episode?


alldreamsfalldown on 02 Jan 22 said:

I always thought Bart wore the Thriller album sleeve because Thriller has zombies in it.

Could the Whoopi nude guy be the 'Insolvent' guy from The PTA Disbands?
https://frinkiac.com/img/S06E21/722003.jpg

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