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"Treehouse of Horror IV"
The Simpsons episode
Episode no. 86
Prod. code 1F04
Orig. airdate October 28, 1993[1]
Show runner(s) David Mirkin
Written by Conan O'Brien
Bill Oakley
Josh Weinstein
Greg Daniels
Dan McGrath
Bill Canterbury
Directed by David Silverman
Couch gag The family (as zombies) enter through the living room floor before sitting on the couch.[2]
DVD
commentary
Matt Groening
James L. Brooks
David Mirkin
Conan O'Brien
Greg Daniels
Bill Oakley
Josh Weinstein
David Silverman

"Treehouse of Horror IV" is the fifth episode of The Simpsons' fifth season and the fourth episode in the Treehouse of Horror series of Halloween specials. It originally aired on the Fox network in the United States on October 28, 1993, and features three short stories called "The Devil and Homer Simpson", "Terror at 5½ Feet", and "Bart Simpson's Dracula". The episode was directed by David Silverman and co-written by Conan O'Brien, Bill Oakley, Josh Weinstein, Greg Daniels, Dan McGrath, and Bill Canterbury.

In "The Devil and Homer Simpson", Homer Simpson announces he would sell his soul for a doughnut, and the Devil appears to make a deal with Homer. In "Terror at 5½ Feet", while riding the bus to school, Bart Simpson believes he sees a gremlin taking apart the bus piece by piece. Nobody sees it except for Bart, so he tries to remove it on his own. In "Bart Simpson's Dracula", Mr. Burns is a vampire and Bart falls victim to his bite. Lisa and the rest of the family go to Burns castle to kill Burns so Bart can return to normal.

As with the rest of the Halloween specials, the episode is considered non-canon and falls outside of the show's regular continuity. The episode makes cultural references to television series such as The Twilight Zone, Night Gallery, and Peanuts. References are also made to films such as Dracula and The Lost Boys. Since airing, the episode has received mostly positive reviews from television critics. It acquired a Nielsen rating of 14.5, and was the highest-rated show on the Fox network the week it aired.

Contents

Plot

In a homage to Rod Serling's television series Night Gallery, Bart introduces the show while walking through a gallery of famous paintings including Ascending and Descending, Sleep and The Scream. All three segments of the episode are based on paintings in the exhibit.

The Devil and Homer Simpson

At work, Homer states that he would sell his soul for a donut. The Devil, revealed to be Ned Flanders, appears and offers Homer a contract to seal the deal. However, before Homer finishes the donut given to him, he realizes that the Devil will not be able to claim his soul if he does not eat the last piece, which he decides to keep in his refrigerator. Unfortunately, while half-asleep and looking for a midnight snack, he eats the final piece, and the Devil instantly reappears to take possession of Homer's soul. Marge and Lisa plead with the Devil, finally getting him to agree to hold a trial the next day. Until then, Homer is sent to spend the rest of the day being punished in Hell by being forced to eat donuts (the punishment backfires because the Devil seriously underestimates Homer's capacity to eat donuts). At the stroke of midnight, the Devil brings Homer back to the Simpson household for his trial. When the Simpsons' lawyer Lionel Hutz flees after ruining his case, Marge makes a final effort to save Homer by displaying a photo from their wedding day. On the back, Homer has written that he pledges his soul to Marge; therefore, it was not his property to sell at the time of his deal with the Devil. The jury rules in favor of Homer and the Grim Reaper judge dismisses the case. Enraged, the Devil leaves, but curses Homer by forming his head into the very donut he ate and even picks at it while Lisa warns Homer not to go outside because a lot of policeman are eager to eat him with coffee.

Terror at 5½ Feet

After having a nightmare in which he is killed in a bus crash, Bart rides the bus to school one rainy morning. He panics when he sees a blue gremlin on the side of the bus loosening the lug nuts on one of the tires. Bart unsuccessfully tries to convince the other passengers of the danger. In desperation, Bart climbs halfway out the window to scare off the gremlin with an emergency flare. The gremlin catches fire and falls from the bus, bouncing off Ned Flanders's car, who decides to adopt the creature. When the bus finally stops, everyone sees the obvious damage, but Bart is still sent away to an insane asylum for the rest of his life. Bart is relieved at finally being able to rest, but the gremlin appears in the back window of the ambulance, holding Flanders' severed (yet still alive) head.

Bart Simpson's Dracula

After a news story about several vampire attacks, Lisa begins to suspect that Mr. Burns is a vampire, but the rest of the family dismisses her concerns. The family are invited to Burns's castle in Pennsylvania, where Bart and Lisa discover a secret staircase descending to an eerie basement filled with coffins. As they investigate, vampires emerge from the coffins and circle them. Lisa escapes, but Bart is captured and gets bitten by Burns. Later that night, Lisa is awakened by a now undead Bart and his vampire friends. When Bart is about to bite Lisa, Homer and Marge interrupt and discover that Bart is a vampire. Lisa claims that the only way to restore him is to kill the head vampire, Mr. Burns. The family returns to the Burns mansion, where Homer drives a stake through his heart, but Bart remains a vampire. To her horror, Lisa discovers that everyone in the Simpson family is a vampire, and that Marge is actually the head vampire. With this revelation, the entire family swoops in on Lisa, only to stop and wish everyone a happy Halloween. The segment then transitions into a parody of the Peanuts special A Charlie Brown Christmas, complete with Santa's Little Helper imitating Snoopy's dancing and Milhouse playing Schroeder's piano.

Production

Conan O'Brien was one of the writers of the episode.

"Treehouse of Horror IV" was directed by David Silverman and co-written by Conan O'Brien, Bill Oakley, Josh Weinstein, Greg Daniels, Dan McGrath, and Bill Canterbury. It is the fourth episode of the annual Treehouse of Horror Halloween specials.[1] As with the rest of the Halloween specials, the episode is considered non-canon and falls outside of the show's regular continuity. O'Brien worked on the "wraparounds" of Bart introducing each segment to make sure that they "pulled" the episode together.[3] The wraparounds are based on Rod Serling's television series Night Gallery, in which Serling appears at an art gallery and introduces each episode by unveiling paintings depicting the stories. Executive producer James L. Brooks loved the show as a child, so it was "great fun" for him to do the parody.[4] Show runner David Mirkin thought the Treehouse of Horror episodes were the hardest episodes to do because the staff had to fit in all three stories in only 22 minutes. Mirkin said, "Things had to happen really fast. They're really just crammed with jokes and story beats and everything."[5]

The first segment, "The Devil and Homer Simpson", was written by Daniels and McGrath.[6] The first time Devil Flanders appears, he looks the same as the Devil at the end of the 1940 Walt Disney produced film Fantasia; Silverman particularly admitted the animation in that sequence.[7] Oakley loved the idea of Flanders being the Devil because he is the one you would least expect. He also thought Harry Shearer did a good job of playing Flanders in a much darker way, while remaining very true to the character.[8] Many scenes had to be cut to shorten the segment, including one that showed Homer's severed head being used as a bowling ball by a demon in hell. This scene later appeared in the clip show episode "The Simpsons 138th Episode Spectacular", which aired in the show's seventh season.[5]

The second segment, "Terror at 5½ Feet", was written by Oakley and Weinstein. It was inspired by an episode of The Twilight Zone called "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet", in which William Shatner's character is inside an airplane watching a gremlin tear apart the wing. Silverman watched the episode to get inspiration for Bart's facial expressions.[7] Oakley said there was a lot of work put into the design of the gremlin in "Terror at 5½ Feet" to make him scary "within The Simpsons universe".[8] Silverman designed the gremlin based it on The Grinch.[7] Mirkin said he felt the gremlin was well-done because he looked scary and "yet it looks like a completely organic Simpsons character". Üter, a character from Germany, also makes his first appearance on the show in this segment; he was conceived as a one-time joke, but reappeared in later episodes because Mirkin felt he was "such a perfect stereotype".[5]

The third segment, "Bart Simpson's Dracula", was written by Canterbury. It is based on Francis Ford Coppola's film Dracula. Mirkin was a big fan of the film and pushed for a segment about vampires inspired by the movie. He liked the final result and felt Mr. Burns was perfect in the role as Dracula.[5] Dracula and his castle was designed by Silverman. Mirkin, a "big" Peanuts fan, came up with the idea for the ending of "Bart Simpson's Dracula".[7]

Cultural references

Rod Serling's Night Gallery is referenced in the episode

The wraparound segments are a reference to Rod Serling's television series Night Gallery.[2] "Terror at 5½ Feet" is a parody of The Twilight Zone episode "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet".[1] The title and a majority of the plot of "Bart Simpson's Dracula" is a parody of the Francis Ford Coppola film Dracula.[1] The ending of "Bart Simpson's Dracula" is a reference to A Charlie Brown Christmas.[2] The title "The Devil and Homer Simpson" is a reference to the short story "The Devil and Daniel Webster" in which a farmer sells his soul for prosperity but is then defended in court against the Devil with a jury of the Devil's choosing. The jury at Homer's trial consists of John Wilkes Booth, Lizzie Borden, John Dillinger, Blackbeard, Benedict Arnold, the starting lineup of the 1976 Philadelphia Flyers, and Richard Nixon.[1] The first time the Devil appears, he resembles the demon Chernabog from Walt Disney film Fantasia.[6] The scene in Hell where Homer is fed all the doughnuts in the world, and asks for more, is a direct parody of the cartoon Pigs is Pigs, in which a generic pig character known for being a glutton is taken in by a scientist and forced to eat all the food in the world.[7] At Mr. Burns castle, Lisa notices a tome resting on a stand in the basement. She runs over and reads the title: "Yes, I Am a Vampire, by Monty Burns. Foreword by Steve Allen," a reference to American actor Steve Allen.[5] In "Bart Simpson's Dracula", Bart is seen floating outside Lisa's bedroom window. This is a parody of The Lost Boys as well as Stephen King's novel 'Salem's Lot. The family's plan to kill the head vampire is also a reference to both the film and novel. In particular, the twist revelation that Burns is not the head vampire is also a reference to the twist ending of The Lost Boys.[7] The closing credits of the episode features a version of the Simpsons theme that is a combination of the instruments used in The Munsters theme song and the harpsichord and clicking from the Addams Family theme song.[5]

Reception

In its original American broadcast, "Treehouse of Horror IV" finished 17th in the ratings for the week of October 25 to October 31, 1993, with a Nielsen rating of 14.5, translating to 13.6 million households. The episode was the highest-rated show on the Fox network that week.[9]

Since airing, the episode has received mostly positive reviews from television critics. The authors of the book I Can't Believe It's a Bigger and Better Updated Unofficial Simpsons Guide, Warren Martyn and Adrian Wood, said the episode included many notable sequences and was "probably the best" Treehouses of Horror episode. They particularly liked the scenes in Hell where Homer is punished by the Devil, and Chief Wiggum's attempts to deal with Dracula (who he thinks is a mummy) in the "Bart Simpson's Dracula" segment by ordering the Egyptian wing of the Springfield museum to be destroyed.[2] DVD Movie Guide's Colin Jacobson thought "Terror at 5½ Feet" was the best segment of the episode. Jacobson praised "The Devil and Homer Simpson" as clever funny, and described "Bart Simpson's Dracula" as "easily the least effective", claiming it, "presents some good moments but never quite takes flight".[10] Patrick Bromley of DVD Verdict gave the episode an A grade and called it "one of the very best" Halloween specials, although said "Treehouse of Horror V" was better.[11] Central Michigan Life's John Thorpe named it the tenth best episode of the series, and wrote: "The best part comes when Homer decides not to eat the last part of the doughnut, thus saving him from hell. Hilarious."[12] DVD Talk's Bill Gibron gave the episode a 4 out of 5 score.[13]

Kim Nowacki of Yakima Herald-Republic named "Treehouse of Horror IV" her "all-time favorite" episode. She praised the parodies of The Twilight Zone and A Charlie Brown Christmas.[14] The episode's reference to Bram Stoker's Dracula was named the 32nd greatest film reference in the history of the show by Total Film's Nathan Ditum.[15]

References

  1. ^ a b c d e Richmond, Ray; Antonia Coffman (1997). The Simpsons: A Complete Guide to our Favorite Family. Harper Collins Publishers. pp. 124–125. ISBN 0-00-638898-1. 
  2. ^ a b c d Martyn, Warren; Wood, Adrian (2000). "Treehouse of Horror IV". BBC. http://www.bbc.co.uk/cult/simpsons/episodeguide/season5/page6.shtml. Retrieved 2007-03-21. 
  3. ^ O'Brien, Conan. (2004). The Simpsons season 5 DVD commentary for the episode "Treehouse of Horror IV". [DVD]. 20th Century Fox. 
  4. ^ Brooks L., James. (2004). The Simpsons season 5 DVD commentary for the episode "Treehouse of Horror IV". [DVD]. 20th Century Fox. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f Mirkin, David. (2004). The Simpsons season 5 DVD commentary for the episode "Treehouse of Horror IV". [DVD]. 20th Century Fox. 
  6. ^ a b Daniels, Greg. (2004). The Simpsons season 5 DVD commentary for the episode "Treehouse of Horror IV". [DVD]. 20th Century Fox. 
  7. ^ a b c d e f Silverman, David. (2004). The Simpsons season 5 DVD commentary for the episode "Treehouse of Horror IV". [DVD]. 20th Century Fox. 
  8. ^ a b Oakley, Bill. (2004). The Simpsons season 5 DVD commentary for the episode "Treehouse of Horror IV". [DVD]. 20th Century Fox. 
  9. ^ Moore, Frazier (November 4, 1993). "Prime-Time TV Ratings". Rocky Mountain News: p. 18D. 
  10. ^ Jacobson, Colin (2004-12-21). "The Simpsons: The Complete Fifth Season (1993)". DVD Movie Guide. http://www.dvdmg.com/simpsonsseasonfive.shtml. Retrieved 2009-01-24. 
  11. ^ Bromley, Patrick (2005-02-23). "The Simpsons: The Complete Fifth Season". DVD Verdict. http://www.dvdverdict.com/reviews/simpsonsseason5.php. Retrieved 2009-01-24. 
  12. ^ Thorpe, John (November 15, 2000). "Top 10 Simpson's episodes ever". Central Michigan Life. http://media.www.cm-life.com/media/storage/paper906/news/2000/11/15/EtCetera/Top-10.Simpsons.Episodes.Ever-2475956.shtml. Retrieved 2008-12-21. 
  13. ^ Gibron, Bill (2004-12-21). "The Simpsons - The Complete Fifth Season". DVD Talk. http://www.dvdtalk.com/reviews/13784/simpsons-the-complete-fifth-season-the/. Retrieved 2009-01-24. 
  14. ^ Nowacki, Kim (October 15, 2004). "Howl of Fame - Dedicated to the Younger Set". Yakima Herald-Republic. 
  15. ^ Ditum, Nathan (June 6, 2009). "The 50 Greatest Simpsons Movie References". Total Film. http://www.totalfilm.com/features/the-50-greatest-simpsons-movie-references/page:18. Retrieved 2009-07-22. 

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