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Monday, November 2, 2020

[Review] “Treehouse of Horror XXXI” Brings Killer Toys, Interdimensional Travelers, and Deadly Time Loops to “The Simpsons”

Whether you like it or not, The Simpsons continues to parade on over 30 years after its original premiere. With each season comes the iconic Halloween special entitled “Treehouse of Horror,” featuring a collection of short tales involving the oddballs of Springfield. The newest addition, “Treehouse of Horror XXXI,” finally aired last night after being pushed from its original October release date (darn sports!).

Like the other entries in the Halloween-themed installments, “XXXI” features three absolutely strange and somewhat terrifying tales involving the famous animated family. As opposed to parodying horror films, this installment decides to riff off of Toy Story, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse, and Groundhog Day. What used to be a chance for The Simpsons to recreate iconic horror film content with its cast has now seemingly turned into a non-canon playground for the writers to conjure the weirdest storylines possible. 

To kick off the Halloween festivities, the episodes’ cold open featured Homer heading over to the polls for Election Day. Characters sport face masks which, I guess, confirms that COVID-19 exists in the world of The Simpsons? Anyway, once at the polls Homer struggles to pick a candidate only for Lisa to help him remember everything that has happened over the past four years in America. Visual gags include Kang, Kodos, and even Amazon Alexa being listed on the ballot. 

What follows is a “what-if” scenario where Homer imagines what the world may look like months after election day. Giant robots roam an obliterated Springfield as Homer, dressed in makeshift armor, watches from his rooftop. Up in the sky, the four skeletal Horsemen of the Apocalypse fly by, revealing a banner with the episode’s title. 

The opening sequence doesn’t hold back when it comes to expressing a political opinion, yet it still remains funny and entertaining. Seeing the characters of The Simpsons scrambling to vote while wearing face masks feels eerily immersive and reflective. Although, compared to seasons past which featured such horror goodness as Guillermo del Toro’s opening sequence, the beginning moments of this installment definitely lacked that Halloween spirit. 

Toy Gory

The first anthology style storyline of the episode takes a jab at Pixar’s Toy Story. The segment is beautifully animated in their signature 3D animation style. A morbid remix of “You’ve Gotta Friend In Me” plays over the first few scenes as Bart prepares to depart with his childhood toys. The jingle serenades Bart as he dismantles, saws, and melts his toys in various fashion. 

When a new Radioactive Man action figure joins the fray, the toys spring to life and are quick to inform him of Bart’s mistreatment. Scrambling around with missing limbs and eyes, the animated toys are wonderfully twisted. What follows next is definitely one of the most macabre things the show has done.

In a vengeful effort, Bart’s nightmarish toys kidnap him and take him to the treehouse. Once there, they, somehow, exchange all of his internal organs for toy parts, leaving him essentially lobotomized. Lisa finds Bart’s corpse at the bottom of the treehouse steps, and is shocked to find a pull string attached to his back. Pulling it results in a tiny speaker reciting Bart Simpson quotes from deep within his throat. It’s unsettling to say the least. 

This segment is a lot of fun, especially because of how unforgiving it is. There is no happy ending here; Bart is left as a living toy with his grieving family. The special Pixar animation is absolutely beautiful and really adds an extra level of creepiness to this storyline. 

“Bart Simpson, I’m gonna do what clowns do best…kill!” -Krusty Doll

Into the Homerverse

Obviously a riff on Into the Spiderverse, this segment finds Homer desperately searching for more Halloween candy at his job. He mistakes a powerful contraption for a vending machine and accidentally sets off a reality-bending explosion. This results in Homers from other dimensions entering his reality. 

The segment shines in its unique comedy associated with each of the different Homers. A “Disney Princess Homer” constantly breaks out into song. A noir Homer fires a gun on instinct, decapitating a giddy Ned Flanders. An anime style Homer has an intensive battle with a piece of bacon. 

Unfortunately, the storyline moves quite fast, given the restricting time limit of the episode’s run. The narrative wraps up with a battle between not only the Homerverse, but the Burnsiverse as well. Activating another explosion, Mr. Burns is able to unite his own army of other dimensional counterparts. The battle is filled with great visual gags, and a pleasant amount of gore. Anime Homer’s eyes explode, Noir Homer’s heart is stabbed out of his chest, and Princess Homer is poisoned. 

The whole encounter ends when Burns’ assistant Smithers reveals that in the other dimension Burns is actually his sidekick. Mr. Burns then promptly closes the dimensional rift in quick comedic resolution to the inter-dimensional issue. 

This segment offers a lot of goofy gags and on-screen gore, although it feels as if the Halloween elements at the start are only there to justify this segment’s inclusion in the “Treehouse of Horror” episode. If it weren’t for the gore, this bonkers storyline could have definitely found a home later in the season. 

“Burnsiverse vs. Homerverse, and the Smitherverse to nod and take copious notes!” – Mr. Burns

Be Nine, Rewind

In what, at least to me, seems like a pretty huge reference to Happy Death Day, Lisa is shockingly killed by an off-road car during her ninth birthday (lots of child murder in this episode) only to then reawaken alive at the beginning of the day. Quickly realizing that she is stuck in a time loop, Lisa struggles to avoid impending death in every cycle. 

This is probably the most times “The Simpsons” has ever shown a child dying in one episode. As Lisa repeats her birthday cycle, she is crushed by an air conditioner unit, a mirror, and even dismembered in a woodchipper. Along her journey she realizes Nelson is also stuck in the same loop. Together they try and figure out how to escape the cycle with their lives intact. Nelson and Lisa die quite a few times during this journey. One instance finds Lisa’s birthday cake knife impaling Nelson in the head, only for him to throw it back at her own head before they both drop dead. It’s certainly interesting to see resident bully Nelson sharing a storyline with goodie-two shoes Lisa. A strange pairing, but it somehow works. 

In the end, the duo finds out they simply just need to kill Gil (the driver of the car that originally killed Lisa) to end their loop. They do this swiftly and almost frighteningly so. It certainly seems out of character for Lisa to be content with murdering someone just to save her own life. Oh well, I guess that’s just what “Treehouse of Horror” does to you. 

“Now let me look at my black mirror. And that’s not a reference, it’s just filthy.” – Comic Book Guy

“Treehouse of Horror XXXI” is another standard, yet fun, addition to The Simpsons‘ Halloween library. It’s filled with enough blood, guts, and dismemberment to make fans of the genre smile with delight. While each of the segments offer something new and exciting, the short episode runtime definitely prevents them from expanding as much as they should. This is a recurring issue with most of the recent “Treehouse of Horror” episodes. The best segment is definitely “Toy Gory” with its exceptional animation and grisly narrative. 

As much as I enjoy each and every “Treehouse of Horror” installment, I can’t help but long for the days when most of the segments were horror movie parodies. Segments such as “The Shinning” and “Nightmare on Evergreen Terrace” are iconic staples of the show’s run. I would assume the episodes would draw much larger ratings if familiar horror films were being spoofed. There’s endless possibilities for Simpsonized horror adaptations. What about Psycho with Principal Skinner and his crazy mother? Or It with Krusty the Clown? Why not Maniac Cop with Chief Wiggum?

I could go on forever. Anyways, definitely check out “Treehouse of Horror XXXI” for some post-Halloween ghoulish delight. 


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