Treehouse of Horror IV
"Treehouse of Horror IV" (originally known as "The Simpsons Halloween Special 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. Homer tries to outsmart the Devil by not finishing the doughnut but eventually eats it and is sent to Hell. A trial is held between Homer and the Devil to determine the rightful owner of Homer's soul. 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 Bram Stoker's 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.
Bart introduces each of the three segments by walking through a gallery of paintings and each time choosing one of them as the focus of his story.
The Devil and Homer Simpson
In a parody of The Devil and Daniel Webster, at work, Homer states that he would sell his soul for a doughnut after finding that Lenny and Carl took all the doughnuts and threw them at an old man (Abe Simpson) "for kicks". The Devil, revealed to be Ned Flanders, appears and offers Homer a contract to seal the deal. However, before Homer finishes the doughnut, he realizes that Ned will not be able to have his soul if he does not eat all of the doughnut and keeps the final piece in the refrigerator. Unfortunately, while half-asleep and looking for a midnight snack, he eats the final piece of the "forbidden donut", and Ned instantly reappears to take possession of Homer's soul. Marge and Lisa plead with Ned, 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 (though his ironic punishment of being forced to eat all the doughnuts in the world doesn't work, as Homer consumes them all with little effort). At the stroke of twelve midnight, Ned 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 of the photo, Homer has written that, in return for Marge giving him her hand in marriage, he pledges his soul to her forever; therefore, it was not his property to sell at the time of his deal with Ned. The jury rules in favor of the Simpsons and the presiding judge (Death himself) dismisses the case. Enraged, Ned leaves, but not before he turns Homer's head into a doughnut.
Terror at 5½ Feet
In a parody of Nightmare at 20,000 Feet, a short story by Richard Matheson (and later Twilight Zone episode of the same name), 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 gremlin on the side of the bus loosening the lug nuts on one of the wheels. 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, but is found by Ned Flanders, 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 for his disruptive behavior. Bart is relieved as he is finally able to rest, but the gremlin appears in the back window of the ambulance, holding Flanders' decapitated (yet still living) head, which makes Bart scream in terror.
Bart Simpson's Dracula
In a parody of Bram Stoker'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 is invited to Burns' 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 encircle them. Lisa escapes, but Bart activates the "Super Fun Happy Slide", causing him to be captured and get bitten by Burns. Bart returns to the table with Burns, who tells him to take a seat. Bart is very pale and is behaving oddly, but these factors get little attention by the family. 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 (after accidentally hitting the crotch) drives a stake through Burns' heart, though Burns does momentarily come back to life to fire him. Unfortunately, despite Burns' death, Bart still remains a vampire. To make things worse, Lisa discovers that everyone in the Simpson family except for herself is a vampire, and that the true head vampire is inexplicably Marge, not Mr. Burns. With this revelation, the whole entire family swoops in on Lisa, only to stop and wish everyone a happy Halloween. Then, they all harmonize "Hark the Herald Angels Sing", parodying A Charlie Brown Christmas.
"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. 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. 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, so it was "great fun" for him to do the parody. 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."
The first segment, "The Devil and Homer Simpson", was written by Daniels and McGrath. The first time Devil Flanders appears, he looks the same as the devil Chernabog from the 1940 Walt Disney produced film Fantasia; Silverman particularly admired the animation in that sequence. 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. 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.
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. 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". 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, 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".
The third segment, "Bart Simpson's Dracula", was written by Canterbury. It is based on Francis Ford Coppola's film Bram Stoker's 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. 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".
The wraparound segments are a reference to Rod Serling's television series Night Gallery. "Terror at 5½ Feet" is a parody of The Twilight Zone episode "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet". The title and a majority of the plot of "Bart Simpson's Dracula" is a parody of the Francis Ford Coppola film Bram Stoker's Dracula. The ending of "Bart Simpson's Dracula" is a reference to A Charlie Brown Christmas. 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 demon who is feeding Homer donuts says: "I don't understand it. James Coco went mad in fifteen minutes!" James Coco was a character actor known in the 1970s...He parodied the Belgian sleuth Hercule Poirot, penned by Agatha Christie. In the movie, James Coco’s character throws a volley of subtle food jokes. In his last years, Coco received attention for his culinary talents and best-selling cookbooks. The James Coco Diet, an educational book which included chapters on menu planning and behavior modification as well as choice recipes), was just one that he promoted on the talk show circuit. It is probably not a coincidence that he often played characters with extreme food issues. 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. The first time the Devil appears, he resembles the demon Chernabog from the Walt Disney film Fantasia, especially after Homer discovers a technicality and starts taunting the Devil that he's "smarter than the devil", until the Devil turns into the Chernabog-esque demon and glares at him before disappearing. 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 (a Porky Pig-esque character) known for being a glutton is taken in by a scientist and forced to eat all the food in the world. 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. Shortly after she finds the tome, she makes allusions to Shemp and Curly Howard of the Three Stooges, mistaken Bart's fearful attempts at getting her attention as impressions of the two. 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. 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.
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.
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 (whom he thinks is a mummy) in the "Bart Simpson's Dracula" segment by ordering the Egyptian wing of the Springfield museum to be destroyed. 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". 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. 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." DVD Talk's Bill Gibron gave the episode a 4 out of 5 score.
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. 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.
- Groening, Matt (1997). Richmond, Ray; Coffman, Antonia, eds. The Simpsons: A Complete Guide to Our Favorite Family (1st ed.). New York: HarperPerennial. pp. 124–125. ISBN 978-0-06-095252-5. LCCN 98141857. OCLC 37796735. OL 433519M..
- O'Brien, Conan (2004). The Simpsons season 5 DVD commentary for the episode "Treehouse of Horror IV" (DVD). 20th Century Fox.
- Brooks L., James (2004). The Simpsons season 5 DVD commentary for the episode "Treehouse of Horror IV" (DVD). 20th Century Fox.
- Mirkin, David (2004). The Simpsons season 5 DVD commentary for the episode "Treehouse of Horror IV" (DVD). 20th Century Fox.
- Daniels, Greg (2004). The Simpsons season 5 DVD commentary for the episode "Treehouse of Horror IV" (DVD). 20th Century Fox.
- Silverman, David (2004). The Simpsons season 5 DVD commentary for the episode "Treehouse of Horror IV" (DVD). 20th Century Fox.
- Oakley, Bill (2004). The Simpsons season 5 DVD commentary for the episode "Treehouse of Horror IV" (DVD). 20th Century Fox.
- Martyn, Warren; Wood, Adrian (2000). "Treehouse of Horror IV". BBC. Retrieved 2007-03-21.
- ‘Treehouse of Horror IV’ script, Simpson Crazy.
- The Simpsons offers Homer Donut Hell, Fried Donut Ho
- Moore, Frazier (November 4, 1993). "Prime-Time TV Ratings". Rocky Mountain News. p. 18D.
- Jacobson, Colin (2004-12-21). "The Simpsons: The Complete Fifth Season (1993)". DVD Movie Guide. Retrieved 2009-01-24.
- Bromley, Patrick (2005-02-23). "The Simpsons: The Complete Fifth Season". DVD Verdict. Retrieved 2009-01-24.
- Thorpe, John (November 15, 2000). "Top 10 Simpson's episodes ever". Central Michigan Life. Retrieved 2008-12-21.
- Gibron, Bill (2004-12-21). "The Simpsons — The Complete Fifth Season". DVD Talk. Retrieved 2009-01-24.
- Nowacki, Kim (October 15, 2004). "Howl of Fame — Dedicated to the Younger Set". Yakima Herald-Republic.
- Ditum, Nathan (June 6, 2009). "The 50 Greatest Simpsons Movie References". Total Film. Retrieved 2009-07-22.
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