Halloween, such a simple concept yet something that has bought countless years of joy to me. There is something about taking all of societies standards and throwing them out the window for 24 hours that is just so absurdly fun. Children going to strangers houses and taking candy from them, something that would be barred any other time of the year is suddenly standard. It is one of the only times where you could be in an elevator with Captain America, a sexy nurse and a zombie and no body bats an eye.
However there is one Halloween tradition that has stuck with me my whole life. That is the annual Simpsons Treehouse of Horror specials. Nothing combines the fun and fear of Halloween quite like Homer recreating the Raven or Ned Flanders prancing around as the devil. They were a staple in my household growing up and I still consume them like candy each and every Halloween. That was why when I heard that my local station was going to be running a Treehouse of Horror marathon Halloween night I was pumped beyond belief. However looking back I wish I had done something else, anything other then witnessing what I did.
Halloween night passed as it always did. I spent the night watching classic horror movies and handing out candy to the occasional trick or treater. As the marathon neared it’s start I found myself feeling like an 8 year old boy all over again. I set up my snacks including the left over Halloween candy that I overstocked on for exactly this purpose and got ready for a night of fun. For the first few hours it was nothing short of spooky nostalgic magic. However I did not fully comprehend the full magnitude of what I was entering. With 30 specials I was in for about 15 hours of television and I have to admit that is a bit of an undertaking even for me. Eventually I succumbed to boredom and sugar crash and fell asleep.
I was awoken a while later by a commercial that was louder then it had any right to be. It was about 3:30 in the morning and the one of the specials was just ending. I was about to throw in the towel because they were getting into the later specials that I’m sorry just don’t have the same level or horror or humour as the older specials, but something caught my eye. The special had an opening that I had never seen before and I was intrigued as which one it could be.
The special opened with the family watching TV. Kent Brockman was just finishing up the nightly news when suddenly a loud grandfather clock in the living room began to chime. The Simpsons all at once went into a strange trance and in unison said “It’s time.” All of the sudden the animation became much sharper and more fluid. They clearly had hired an outside professional to do the scene. One by one the family members started to convulse and transform into horrifying creatures.
Marge’s body started to lengthen and twist becoming serpent like. Her eyes became red with yellow lining and she had became a snake monster. Bart was next with his back popping out and developing a hunch. His skin turned green and he grew gills and flippers becoming sort of a creature of the black lagoon type monster. He feels his crooked back and makes a joke about how his Chiropractor is not going to be happy about this.
Homer begins growling and claws erupt from his fingers. His mouth becomes a snout and brown hair erupts from all over his body covering him everywhere except the top of his head leaving him effectively still bald. This caused him to issue his trademark “Doh!” Lisa stood awaiting her transformation only for a simple witches hat to appear on her head. I will admit this got a good laugh from me. Finally Maggie floated into the air and started turning into a bat well preforming a deep demonic laugh that sent a very real chill through my blood.
Suddenly all of their eyes snapped wide open and they simply stared at the screen. It disturbed me how intense and creepy their stares were because it truly gave me the feeling that they were staring at me and not just the screen. One by one they started to speak with each character delivering a single sentence. “Won’t you join us? For terror the likes of which you have never felt. These tales are not for the faint of heart. We have delved deep into your mind and pulled out your darkest fears. If you don’t wish to subject yourself to this then we would humbly advise you to STOP NOW! You have been warned.” All at once they leapt at the screen and blood tinkled down spelling “Treehouse of Terror.”
As it went to commercial I found myself needing a minute to catch my breath slightly. I have seen all of the specials including the new one that aired a few days prior and this is not one of them. I had never even heard of Treehouse of Terror before. Under different circumstances I would have thought it was a cheap knock off but the voice actors and animation budget were there. All my thoughts of calling it a night went out the window and I knew I had to keep watching. That may have been the best opening to one of these I have ever seen. It was genuinely funny and had the creepy quality that many of the later specials were missing. I sat back down and waited with renewed vigor for the special to resume.
The fist segment was simply titled “we be bored” a mediocre pun but that was par for the course for these sketches. It opened in the elementary school’s auditorium where principal Skinner was holding an assembly. He was going over the new terms and conditions for the school’s computer operating system in extensive and excruciating detail. Most of the students were either asleep or close to it. At the top of the auditorium a group of students including Bart, Lisa, Milhouse, Nelson and Martin sat.
Everyone with the exception of Martin were holding onto consciousness by a thread.
Bart looked to his right and saw a small crawl space with an ominous red light shining. Bart convinces the other students to join him in escaping through the crawlspace. Nelson drags Martin along so he couldn’t rat them out to Skinner. They make their way through the crawl space and find themselves in Skinner’s office. They ransack his desk until they discover their permanent records. Bart asks what his says and Lisa says that it looks like Skinner just slammed his head into the book and held it up revealing a perfect imprint of his angry face.
Upon further investigation they discover a confiscated Ouija board. The group gets excited and decides to play forcing the reluctant Martin to join in. The scene plays out with them asking the board different questions. Milhouse asks if he will ever have a girlfriend and the curser continually slams into the word no. They ask when Martin will die and the curser spells out the word soon. Martin begins to panic and takes his hand of the curser.
An ominous wind begins blowing in the room and the board starts floating in the air. The curser moves on it’s own spelling out “You didn’t say goodbye.” Shadowy arms and legs push out of the board and it rushes at Martin throwing him onto a coat rack impaling him. Nelson tries to fight the board but it’s shadows wrap around Nelson’s arm and forces him to punch himself in the face well chanting “Stop tormenting yourself.”
Nelson’s bloody body falls to the floor and Milhouse turns to Bart and Lisa. “There is no chance of me surviving this one is there?” He asks them. The Ouija board appears behind him and says “No.” He then grabs Milhouse’s neck and snaps it. The board slowly advances on the trembling Bart and Lisa. The two hold each other and say goodbye to one another. The board suddenly stops and says “Oh goodbye then.” The shadows disappear and the board lies harmlessly on the floor. Bart and Lisa shrug and leave.
The two are about to walk back through the auditorium doors when Skinner walks through the doors and scalds them saying he is now going to have to start over for them. Bart asks if they can just say that they accept and be done with it. Skinner reluctantly agrees and escorts them back to class. He takes them into a dark classroom and shuts the door with a sinister smile on his face.
This is where things take an extremely uncomfortable turn. All music and sound stops and the “camera” begins moving back down the hall towards the auditorium. It pushes in the doors and reveals all of the other students still in the room however they are no longer sleeping. All of the students and extremely pale with their eyes wide in terror. They are all completely motionless and it is clear that they are dead. The camera slowly pans revealing all their dead faces frozen with the last look of utter terror that they will ever experience.
As the commercial break started I sat there stunned. The Simpsons had explored dark territory before but that final scene was downright disturbing. I was shocked but becoming more interested because I had been hoping for this for years, a truly frightening Halloween special. I was invested now and I couldn’t wait for more.
The commercials ended and the second segment started. The title of this one was “Dawn of the unfed.” Wow they were really starting to stretch for these pun now. It opened on the nuclear power plant where Lenny, Carl and Charlie are staring at the clock that is about to strike noon. They grow more desperate as the seconds click by and they complain about being extremely hungry. The clock strikes noon sounding the lunch bell and the group rush towards the lunch room.
Their path becomes blocked by Mr. Burns who informs them that there is a problem with the reactor and they need to fix it before they can eat. Charlie points out that by law they have a right to refuse unsafe work. Mr. Burns smiles and explains that they never read the terms and conditions of their contracts and that they had waived that right. The group let out a sigh and get into biohazard suits.
They try to fix the core but it springs a strong leak sending noxious green gas in the chamber. They begin to panic but Carl does a reading and discovers that the radiation levels are leveling out to the exact amount that the suits can take. As long as the radiation in the area stays exactly the same they would be alright. A sudden beep gets there attention and they slowly look over to see the lunch room on the other side of the glass where Homer just put his lunch in the microwave. “Why is the reactor next to the lunch room?” Lenny asks. “Budget cuts.” Carl responds.
The trio’s suits start to burst open exposing them to toxic gas. The gas melts their skin turns them into a zombie like mutant. They break through the glass into the lunch room and begin hissing the word “Hungry” at Homer. “Hey no way I bought this TV dinner and I am not sharing it.” “Oh don’t worry we plan to eat you.” Charlie rasps. “Ok we can split the green beans.” Homer replies fearfully. The three rush at Homer who flees down the hall.
Homer can’t run anymore and attempts to hide in some pipes behind him. However no matter how hard he squeezes he is too fat to fit into between them. Giving up he runs to the suggestion box down the hall and writes down “Please make hiding places large enough for the average American citizen.” He puts the message in the box and runs down to his office and barricades the door. The three zombies begin scratching at the door and try to coax Homer out. “Let us in Homer, we are so hungry. We will make it quick we promise just open the door.”
Once again the music cuts out and the scene cuts to different parts of the plant where several bodies lay and the only sound are drops of blood hitting the floor. The scene cuts back to Homer’s office where the zombies are still whispering for Homer to open the door. The camera slowly pans to Homer who is dead. His eyes are lifeless and his face is extremely shrunken in showing that he had starved to death over time. The scene cuts out on that disturbing image.
I rushed to the washroom as the commercials began and started breathing heavily debating if I was going to spill back out all of the Halloween candy. Each time I closed my eyes I saw Homer’s shrunken face which looked just like the real ones I had seen in history text books. I found myself shaking and I didn’t know how to stop. I have been watching gruesome horror movies since I was 5 years old and I had never had anything effect me like that especially not a cartoon. There was just something about the images of those dead children, of Homer’s emaciated body that just felt too wrong, too real. I debated on turning off the TV, but no. I had come this far and I couldn’t turn back now. I had to see this through to the end. This was after all just a simple cartoon.
The final sketch was a complete departure from the first two, from anything Simpsons in fact. Well the first two sketches had disturbing moments, they still carried the traditional references and humour expected from the series. This sketch contained no humour and no genuine story. The entire sketch was in POV format taking the perspective of an unseen character.
They are sleeping in a tent when Bart and Lisa come in and tell them it’s time. They get up and begin following them through the woods. This goes on for several minutes and during this time there is no dialogue and no jokes of any kind. Occasionally Bart or Lisa will turn back and stare at you. Again I get that strange feeling I had in the opening where they are not just looking at the screen but right at me. However it was not simply the staring that was unsettling this time but their expression. Their faces were filled with sorrow and empathy. It was the kind of look a child might give a beloved pet being taken to the vet to be put down. It filled me with both fear and sadness the likes of which I have never felt before.
After nearly 10 minutes they finally arrived at a mysterious dark cave. The two turned around but refused to look me in the eye, staring mournfully at the ground instead.
“You need to go in alone.” Bart said melancholicly. “We can’t go in, not yet anyway.” Lisa said with equal sadness that was tinged with fear. The unseen protagonist walked into the cave and with increased weariness traversed the darkness.
Each step away from the entrance brought more and more darkness until they stand on the precipice of utter blackness. It is there that the walking stopped and they simply wait. Then emanating from the darkness came the sounds of heavy footsteps growing closer and closer. They moved at a slow and steady pace growing louder, each step echoing through the cavity of my real chest. Through the dim light of the setting sun behind the POV I begin to notice a shadow in blackness. A phenomenon that I know is impossible yet there was that shadow forming before my eyes.
The shadow was the type that seemed to look like both nothing and yet everything at the same time. The formless mass that embodies your worst fears as if was made of it. It was a shadow of pure terror. It moved towards me and suddenly I seemed out of control of my own body and I felt myself convulsing. A slimy stream of drool and foam came from my mouth and my body began shaking. I hit the floor and everything went black.
I awoke a few hours later to the light of dawn. The TV was still on playing the marathon from the night before however I had no desire to watch it, not after what I saw. I pulled myself off the floor and found my shirt soaked with a combination of sweat and saliva. I have never had a history of epilepsy before and I could not think of what I saw that might cause it. I picked up my phone and jumped online to see if anyone else witnessed the strange episode but my searches came up blank. Could I have dreamt the whole thing? But if that was the case why was I on the floor covered in my own drool?
I don’t know what I saw that night but there are moments where I see random things that trigger my memory. Every time this happens I suffer a massive panic attack and nearly seize again before I can get a good picture of it. Whatever it was it will haunt me for the rest of my days. I send this story to you all seeking answers. Did any of you see this episode? Did anyone else experience the same terror I felt? And above all if I’m not alone in this, what did you see in that darkness?
Credit : Tenac
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