Sunday night brought the latest (lamentably post-October) edition of The Simpsons‘ annual Halloween special. Granted, after thirty-four years, the “Treehouse of Horror” shows signs of serious aging, but there is enough in the episode to convince fans that all the wicked fun isn’t exhausted just yet.
TofHXXXIV opens with “Wild Barts Can’t Be Token,” easily the weakest of the episode’s three segments. A lame satire on the NFT craze, the short is long on unfunny cameos (by the likes of Kylie Jenner, Rob Gronkowski, and Jimmy Fallon) and forced pop cultural references (e.g. Snowpiercer). Digitized Marge massacres a batch of “Cuddle Kittens,” but such scene of cyberspace violence doesn’t strike a distinct note of horror. The passing gag involving “Ralph-House” (a Brundlefly-style monstrosity created when both Ralph and Milhouse are crowded into the same scanning pod) nearly redeems the entire segment, though.
If “Wild Barts” hurtles toward derailment, the subsequent segment, “EI8HT,” quickly gets matters back on track. This vintage Treehouse piece (spoofing classic horror/thriller films such as Se7en and The Silence of the Lambs) also hearkens back cleverly to “Cape Feare,” a canonical Simpsons episode from three decades earlier (here given an alternate ending in which Sideshow Bob succeeds in murdering Bart with a machete). The wackily graphic violence that viewers have come to expect from the annual Halloween episode is in abundant evidence: the flayed Dermott Spuckler’s skinsuit hung on a clothesline, and the meathooked Nelson Muntz’s body looking like a Cenobite centerpiece, to cite a few examples of unrestrained gruesomeness. All told, a bloody entertaining segment.
Finally, in “Lout Break,” Homer precipitates the fall of civilization by consuming a radioactive donut. Apocalypse (or in Homer’s estimation, “me-topia”) results when those who come into close contact with the mutated doofus are infected and promptly morph into crude facsimiles of him. The “Homerizing” of Springfield’s residents via lyncanthrope-like transformation produces a stunning heap of eye candy, as well as some memorable bon mots (“Donut Stu has Diabetes Type 2”). Yes, this COVID-19-evoking parody (Homer’s plague is spread by “burp-borne transmission”) might be deemed tasteless and done-too-soon by certain viewers, but there is no denying the humor permeating the segment’s bonkers scenario.
An uneven but ultimately enjoyable episode, TofHXXXIV keeps the weathered Treehouse intact for another season. It also furnishes a reminder that The Simpsons’ Halloween special works best when it plays off of iconic horror properties and not when it gets caught up with offering snide commentary on modern (techno)cultural trends. Riffing on the horrific always was, and still remains, the key to providing terrific fare.