First Aired - 10/25/1990
The beginning of an annual The Simpsons tradition! It begins with Marge giving a warning to viewers, in a parody of Frankenstein (1931). Then the episode proper opens with Homer out trick-or-treating on Halloween night, disguised as a ghost, when he notices that Bart, Lisa and Maggie are up in the treehouse, with Bart and Lisa attempting to scare each other with their own horror stories, and he decides to listen in. Noteworthy as the only "Treehouse of Horror" episode that actually has a treehouse setting. It's also noteworthy for being the first episode composed by Alf Clausen, who continued to compose for the show for 27 years.
Bad Dream House
Bart, unimpressed with Lisa's first story, tells this parody of The Amityville Horror (1979). The Simpsons move to an inexpensive house, unaware that it carries an evil curse. They notice that in the house, items being moved are being thrown at the Simpsons on their own, and the kitchen contains a vortex into another dimension. The house's inhabitant, a malevolent spirit, then demands that the family leaves. The family discusses the idea of leaving, but Homer insists that they stay in the house. The house then possesses the souls of all the Simpsons and causes them to attempt to kill each other. Frustrated, Marge then declares the family is leaving the house. The house then starts threatening them, saying it will kill them all in horrific ways if they don't leave. Marge then yells at the house, demanding to him, "We're all going to have to live together, so you'd better get used to it." The house, realizing that she is right, asks the family to go outside for a moment, so he can think about it. After contemplating living together with the Simpsons for a few seconds, the house opts to self-destruct instead.
Hungry Are the Damned
After Bart's tale of macabre is finished, Lisa argues that it wasn't that scary, and Bart considers it a "warmup" for his next story, a parody of The Twilight Zone (1959) episode "To Serve Man". As the family is having a barbecue, the Simpsons are then abducted by a U.F.O. and sent into space. They are then introduced by an alien named Kang, who then introduces his UFO partner Kodos in their first appearances, and will be taking the Simpsons to their home planet of Rigel-4 for a celebration. The family questions this, but are enticed into having a dinner cooked by the third alien, Serak the Preparer (who has never appeared in any subsequent "Treehouse of Horror" episodes, unlike Kang and Kodos). As they have their own dinner and they give the Simpsons another dinner, the aliens then inform the Simpsons that they will be at a feast when they reach Rigel-4, appearing as the "guests of honor". Serak then says that when the spaceship arrives, there will be enough time to "chew the fat". Lisa then becomes suspicious, convinced that the aliens are fattening the Simpsons so the aliens can eat them. She discovers a book titled How to Cook Humans in the spaceship's kitchen. The family then believes Lisa as she holds up the book, only for Kang to blow some "space dust" off the cover, revealing the title to be How to Cook For Humans. Lisa then blows some more dust off, revealing the title to be How to Cook Forty Humans, then Kang blows even more dust off, revealing it as How to Cook for Forty Humans. Kang then reveals he, Kodos and a crying Serak were only trying to provide the Simpsons a big banquet, and were promising them with paradise that is now impossible due to their distrustful nature. The spaceship then drops the family off in their backyard and leaves. Lisa concludes that their family were the real monsters on the spaceship, not the aliens. The rest of the family asks her to shut up.
Exactly What It Says on the Tin, in the form of Lisa's Dramatic Reading of the classic Edgar Allan Poe story with James Earl Jones as the narrator, Bart as the titular Raven, Homer as the protagonist, Marge as The Lost Lenore, and Lisa and Maggie as two seraphim. The episode then closes with Bart being left entirely unimpressed by the story, and Lisa commenting that since the poem she just read was written in 1845, people were probably easier to scare back then. But meanwhile, Homer sits outside the treehouse, deeply terrified by the story, he then notices the children returning into the house, and he then returns inside himself. Still being scared when going to bed, he begs Marge not to turn off the light, but she reminds him what he heard were just children's stories. The episode ends with Bart appearing as the Raven staring outside the window, while a scared Homer mumbles that he hates Halloween.
This episode contains examples of:
- Adult Fear: "The Raven". The kids aren't scared, but Homer is. After all, he does have a Lenore (Marge) to lose.
- Alien Abduction: In "Hungry Are the Damned", the Simpsons get kidnapped by aliens. Though it wasn't with bad intent.
- Aliens Speaking English: Marge is amazed that the aliens speak English, but it turns out they actually speak "Rigelian", which, by "an astonishing coincidence" is exactly similar to their language.
- Animated Adaptation: Exactly what "The Raven" segment is.
- Bait-and-Switch: As the cursed house goads the family into getting weapons and killing each other, Marge is shown quietly picking up a knife. While Homer and the kids laugh and brandish their weapons, we see Marge was just making a sandwich.
- Big "SHUT UP!": The cursed house details the horrific deaths in store for the family if they don't leave, but it just causes Marge to start yelling at it at the top of her lungs.Marge: SHUSH! SHUT UP! QUIT TRYING TO PUSH US AROUND! STOP SAYING THOSE HORRIBLE THINGS AND SHOW SOME MANNERS!
- Bookends: The episode opens with Homer gleefully saying that he loves Halloween, and ends with him fearfully saying that he hates Halloween. He also starts and ends the episode with a sheet over his head.
- The Calls Are Coming from Inside the House: At the beginning, Lisa is seen wrapping up the original story with Bart in the treehouse with this lore, but Bart is less than impressed.
- Characterization Marches On: Kang and Kodos were peaceful aliens who don't want to conquer Earth. But in later appearances, they become invaders.
- Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Serak the Preparer has never returned as, unlike Kang and Kodos, "he costs money."
- Circling Birdies: When Homer throws a vase at Raven!Bart and misses and it hits him in the head, he ends up seeing Raven!Barts chanting "Nevermore! Nevermore! Nevermore!"
- The Conscience: Exploited by the cursed house.Ominous voice: They are all against you, Bart... You must kill them all... They all must die!
Bart: Are you my conscience?
Ominous voice: I— Yes! I am!
- Content Warnings: The first Halloween episode to have one. Marge walks on stage to warn the audience that the content may be too scary for younger viewers.
- Did You Think I Can't Feel?: Serak the Preparer is deeply hurt by the Simpson's allegations and bursts out "You are not the only beings who have emotions, you know."
- Dramatic Reading: James Earl Jones' narration of "The Raven".
- Early Installment Weirdness:
- The cast and crew don't use the "scary names", and the Gracie Films Vanity Plate doesn't have organ music and a scream replacing its usual sound effects; both of these traditions began the following year. Additionally, all three segments have different directors; every other Treehouse just has one (and later, they would just have one writer instead of three).
- All three segments are told from inside Bart's treehouse, thus illustrating the episode's title. Later "Treehouse of Horror" episodes don't use this location as a Framing Device (most don't have a Framing Device at all), and after a couple of installments don't even bother having Marge give a Content Warning to the audience.
- Compared to later Treehouse of Horror editions, the horror elements in this first episode are pretty tame and don't rely on graphic violence. The comedy still holds up perfectly, though.
- The only Treehouse of Horror that doesn't end with a Twist Ending, nor with the Framing Device being non-canon.
- "The Raven" segment in particular is unusual by the standards of Treehouse shorts; instead of a parody or original story, it's a near word-for-word retelling of the original Poe story with Homer in the lead role, albeit with some riffing by Bart and Lisa and some visual gags added throughout.
- Kang and Kodos here are Not Evil, Just Misunderstood, simply wanting to be hospitable to the Simpsons. All subsequent appearances portray them as malicious beings bent on world domination.
- Even Evil Has Standards: The house could not stand living with the Simpsons that it decides to destroy itself. The family can't help but feel a little rejected over it.
- Everyone Has Standards: The aliens are disgusted by the Simpsons making pigs of themselves. The Simpsons thought the aliens wanted them to eat all the food they've made.
- Evil Laugh: Raven!Bart does a sadistic little cackle at the end of The Raven.
- Exorcist Head: Maggie rotates her head 360 degrees while looking around for a knife.
- A Fate Worse Than Death: After it is made clear the Simpsons are staying put, the possessed house thinks over its chances:House: Life with the Simpsons?....What choice do I have? *immediately implodes itself*
- A Fête Worse Than Death: The aliens make it sound like the Simpsons are going to be the main dish when they get home to their planet.
- Framing Device: All three segments are told in Bart's treehouse, thus explaining the Pun-Based Title "Treehouse of Horror".
- Get Out!:
- The possessed house says this to the Simpsons. Being an Affectionate Parody of The Amityville Horror (1979), the show would've been remiss to leave out the most famous line.
- Homer tells Bart!Raven "Take thy beak from out my heart, and take the form from off my door!", with the bird saying "Nevermore" in response. When Homer repeats the line and gets the same response, he tries to physically get rid of it, to no avail.
- Grave Humor: There are some funny gravestones in the intro, including one that says "disco" and a reference to the "Paul is dead" urban legend.
- Grilling Pyrotechnics: Homer empties an entire can of lighter fluid into the grill in a process that takes up about 15 seconds. It ends up creating a mushroom cloud of a fireball that can be seen from miles away.
- Haunted House: In "Bad Dream House", the Simpsons move into a haunted house, which does its best to make them leave... but they refuse, because it's their dream house. The segment ends with the house destroying itself rather than live with the Simpsons.Lisa: You can't help but feel a little rejected.
- Heroic Willpower: Somehow, Marge is immune to the brainwashing effects of the house.
- Hidden Depths: Homer of all people seems to understand poetry, if the ending is of any indication.
- Humans Are the Real Monsters: Lampshaded by Lisa at the end of "Hungry are the Damned". The rest of the family is, understandably, upset at her remark, since it was her who ultimately got them returned to Earth, and denied a lifetime of bliss.
- Improbable Hairstyle: Marge's Lenore's hair is so big that it takes an additional painting to depict it all.
- Indian Burial Ground: The house in "Bad Dream House" was built on one. Though Homer claims to have never been told that, it turns out the former owner "mentioned it five or six times."
- Ironic Echo: Homer declaring "I love Halloween!" at the start of the episode and "I hate Halloween!" at the end.
- Is This What Anger Feels Like?:Marge: Look at me! I've never been so angry! My hands are shaking!
Homer: Better than your eyes bursting.
- Literal Metaphor: In The Raven, the figurative language in Poe's poem is often visually represented as literal; the "quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore" Homer reads is entitled 'Forgotten Lore Vol. II', and the 'unseen censer, swung by two seraphim' actually hits Homer on the head, and Maggie and Lisa are the seraphim swinging it.
- The Lost Lenore: Marge's image is used to represent the Trope Namer in "The Raven".
- Never My Fault: Despite the fact that Lisa was the only member of the family to be suspicious about the aliens' motives, she claims that they are all at fault for the aliens rejecting them. The rest of the family don't buy this for a second.Marge: Lisa, see what we mean when we say you're too smart for your own good?
Bart: (sarcastically) Yeah, way to go, Lisa.
Homer (angrily) Nice work, Lisa.
- Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!: The family blames Lisa for missing a chance for happiness on another planet by believing the aliens were evil. She believes they're right, to a point.
- Nothing Is Scarier: Dismissed by Bart during "The Raven."Bart: You know what would've been scarier than nothing?
Lisa: (annoyed) What?
- Only Sane Man: Lisa is the only one of the family noticing something off about the aliens. Subverted in that it turns out they weren't up to anything.
- "Psycho" Strings: Playing when Bart reveals the severed finger.
- Red Herring: "Hungry are the Damned" is loaded with them, to the point of making no sense at all on rewatches.
- Running Gag: Blowing away the space dust from the cookbook in "Hungry are the Damned".
- Shout-Out: Many.
- Marge's pre-credits warning to the audience parodies Edward Van Sloan's in Frankenstein (1931).
- The gravestones have shout-outs to Paul McCartney (referencing the "Paul is dead" urban legends), Garfield, The Grateful Dead, Casper the Friendly Boy, Elvis Presley and disco.
- Homer is gleeful of his Halloween haul, which is a bag full of rocks.
- The house in the "Bad Dream House" segment has references to Psycho (the shape of the house), The Amityville Horror (1979) (blood oozing down the walls) and Poltergeist (a portal to another dimension and the house being built on an Indian burial ground) and The Fall of the House of Usher (the way the house dies).
- Homer planning to kill Marge with an axe references The Shining, which is also a horror film about a haunted house. Homer even puts on Nicholson's Kubrick Stare.
- Maggie's head spins like the Pazuzu-possessed Regan in The Exorcist.
- Among the names in the Indian burial ground, the visible ones are Hiawatha, Cochise, Pocahontas, Sitting Bull, Geronimo, Tonto, Crazy Horse, Not-So-Crazy Horse, Sacajawea and Mahatma Gandhi. Also note that both Hiawatha and Tonto are fictional Native Americans.
- The names of Kang, Kodos and Serak are all shout outs to names of Star Trek characters.
- The plot of the aliens cooking for the humans is a reference to The Twilight Zone (1959) episode "To Serve Man".
- Kang shows their advanced alien technology, which turns out to be nothing more than a Pong game. Even the Simpsons are not amazed by this primitive game.
- "The Raven" is a word-for-word retelling (or almost word-for-word, as a few stanzas were cut for time) of the original Edgar Allan Poe poem, to the point where Poe was even given a (posthumous) writing credit for this segment alongside producer Sam Simon.
- Many other Poe stories are referenced in "The Raven". The stories which Bart (as the Raven) pulls off from the bookshelf are The Pit and the Pendulum, The Tell-Tale Heart, and The Purloined Letter.
- Bart references the first Friday the 13th film at the end of the episode as being "...pretty tame by today's standards."
- The view of Saturn invokes Silent Running.
- Sophisticated as Hell: "Quoth the Raven: 'Eat my shorts!'"
- Special Guest: James Earl Jones as the mover, Serak the Preparer, and the narrator of "The Raven".
- Stopped Reading Too Soon: Lisa accuses Kodos and Kang of wanting to eat them. She brandishes a book titled "How To Cook Humans". Kodos blows dust off, making the title "How To Cook For Humans". Lisa blows off more dust: "How To Cook Forty Humans". And finally, the full title, "How To Cook For Forty Humans". Lisa earns a What the Hell, Hero? from her family.Marge: Lisa, see what we mean when we say you're too smart for your own good?
- Sure, Let's Go with That: When Bart asks the ominous Bad Dream House voice if it's his conscience, it hesitates before answering: "Yes, I am."
- Talking the Monster to Death: Subverted. After a Can't We All Get Along? speech from Marge, the house thinks about life with the Simpsons, and chooses to destroy itself in a scene reminiscent of the finale of Poltergeist.Lisa: It chose to destroy itself rather than live with us. You can't help but feel a little rejected.
- Too Spicy for Yog-Sothoth: When the House realizes it won't be able to drive the Simpsons out, it chooses to kill itself rather than live with them.
- Tractor Beam: Played for Laughs as the aliens struggle to get Homer on board with just one beam, causing the UFO to be dragged down from his weight until they turn on a secondary beam to pull him in.
- Values Dissonance: In-Universe—after Bart scoffs at the "The Raven" poem's supposed scariness, Lisa suggests that maybe people were easier to scare at the time it was writtennote . Hearing this, Bart compares it to the original "Friday the 13th," describing it as being "pretty tame by today's standards [for a horror movie]."
- What Could Possibly Go Wrong?: Homer's response to Marge worrying about staying for the night at the Haunted House. Cue mutual killing attacks during the night.
- Zeerust: Lampshaded when Kang and Kodos brag about their electronic rendition of tennis. The family laughs it's just Pong (Homer even claims that he and Marge were playing that game prior to when they got married).