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The Simpsons fails to do justice to some classic horror films.

Warning: Full spoilers for the episode below.

The Simpsons has been dropping new “Treehouse of Horror” specials annually for almost 30 years straight now. You’d think there would be absolutely nothing left in the horror genre for the series to lampoon at this point. That’s what makes this year’s special so surprising. Somehow, we’ve made it this far without a “Treehouse of Horror” tackling either Invasion of the Body Snatchers or Jurassic Park. Then again, after watching this year’s special, you have to wonder if those movies should have remained off-limits.

This year’s special started out well. Rather than attempt an elaborate, horror-fied version of the usual opening theme, the show gave us a shorter Halloween vignette to kick things off. It turns out that Lovecraftian horror and New England stereotypes make for a pretty effective combination. The fact that there was so much opportunity for clever sign humor (the one area in which this series still never fails to deliver) certainly didn’t hurt.

My biggest sticking point with this year’s special is that the writers didn’t make this one of the three main segments. In terms of spooky atmosphere and general wit, the intro winds up overshadowing most of what follows.

The Invasion parody may be the biggest disappointment of this year’s special. There’s a lot of potential here given how the 1956 movie and its 1978 remake are both thoughtful films with a lot to say about the paranoia and social discontent of their respective eras. To their credit, the writers clearly tried to find something clever to say by marrying a straightforward parody with a subplot about Springfielders being glued to their smartphones. But that basic idea never coalesces into anything significant. Between the lengthy opening sequence focused on lampooning the cult of Steve Jobs and the obligatory pod people sequence, there’s barely room left for the segment to do anything else.

That speaks to what I think has become the greatest flaw with the Treehouse of Horror format over the years. It almost never feels like there’s enough room for the writers to really take advantage of these horror parodies. The result is a lot of easy, surface level gags. More and more I find myself wondering if the series would be better off switching to an hour-long format or, better yet, devoting the entire special to one story.

That being said, it’s also hard to ignore the fact that the classic specials used to work a lot more efficiently. “Treehouse of Horror V” managed to cram a cohesive, comprehensive parody of The Shining into one eight-minute segment. Between the aforementioned Steve Jobs gag and an amusing but largely pointless spoof of the monolith sequence from 2001: A Space Odyssey (a joke we’ve already seen before on this series, mind you), the writers didn’t leave themselves much opportunity to really have a go at Body Snatchers.

For the most part, these complaints can also be leveled at the closing segment, “Geriatric Park.” The “It’s Jurassic Park, but senior citizens transform into dinosaurs,” premise felt very half-cooked. The lack of real payoff to this segment hurt a great deal as well. It’s a Jurassic Park parody that has little else to offer beyond the basic premise and a couple of decent jabs at the Jurassic Park universe. It’s better as fodder for a ten-second movie spoof on The Critic than it is for an actual Treehouse segment.

It turns out that the only memorable storyline in this year’s Treehouse special is the one geared towards a recent horror movie. “Multip-Lisa-ty” delivers a surprisingly clever and entertaining send-up of 2017’s Split, with Lisa taking over the James McAvoy role. This one works for several reasons. For one thing, the actual movie parody is sort of incidental. It would work just as well if you’ve never seen Split. For another, it has the darker sense of humor that fuels the better Treehouse specials. The writers never have to worry about breaking their toys in these episodes, and it’s always nice when they take advantage of that fact.

There’s a truly a fascinating question at the heart of this particular storyline – what happens when Bart finally pushes Lisa too far and she snaps? As it turns out, she develops dissociative identity disorder and sets about murdering Bart and his friends, one by one. Yeardley Smith is truly the star of the show here. Not only is she given a big musical number, she’s able to tackle several extreme variations on an iconic character. Smith clearly had a lot of fun putting this one together, and it pays off.

The Verdict

Of the three segments on offer in this year’s “Treehouse of Horror” special, only one really delivers on its potential. Despite tackling some truly iconic movies in this year’s crop, “Treehouse of Horror XXIX” fails to utilize that potential or make the most of the limited space it has. After 30 years, maybe it’s time for the series to shake up its approach to Halloween.


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