The Simpsons Halloween Specials have become as much a part of Halloween as trick-or-treating. Ever since that first Treehouse of Horror episode way back in 1990 we have been thrilled by the one episode every season where all the rules are thrown out of the window and anything goes as The Simpsons pay homage to classic horror movies and TV series such as The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits and Alfred Hitchcock Presents…
To celebrate this tradition we are going to be posting quotes, reviews, trivia and pictures as we await the arrival of All Hallow’s Eve. Dust off the fake fangs, unscrew the bottle of fake blood because here at the Order of Trinity we’re counting down to Halloween with The Simpsons.
#4 Scary Cast & Crew Names
One of the ongoing jokes surrounding the Treehouse of Horror episodes is the replacement of cast and crew names with scary or horror themed alternatives. This trend began with Treehouse of Horror II and has been continued ever since. Early themes were simple changes such as “Bat Groening” in place of series creator “Matt Groening’s” name. As time went on new variations became longer and longer to the point where often the screen literally became filled despite the episode starting. Matt Groening did try making a rule for the “scary names” stating that they could not be longer than a person’s real name, but this was rarely followed by anyone else.
One interesting case and a name that has not changed is “Sam Simon’s” who left the show during the fourth season but still received “developed by” and “executive producer” credits as a result of his contract. Since Treehouse of Horror II his name has repeatedly appeared as “Sam ‘Sayonara’ Simon” reflecting the fact he had left.
Just like Marge’s Warnings the “scary names” became so difficult to keep fresh that they were dropped for Treehouse of Horror XII and Treehouse of Horror XIII. The fans however were devastated by this and so from Treehouse of Horror XIV the scary credits returned.
A young girl buys an antique box at a yard sale unaware that inside the collectible lives a malicious ancient spirit. The spirit has something of penchant for possessing young children and Emily is its latest host. The girl’s father teams up with his ex-wife and a Rabbi to find a way to free Emily from the curse and return the evil spirit from whence it came and so goes the story of The Possession.
OK excuse my language a moment but I have to get this off my chest. It royally pisses me off when horror movies start with the words Based on a true story to get you worked up before the film begins. I have said in previous reviews that horror movies are more effective when you can believe these things could happen to you. It’s one of the reasons why slasher films are more disturbing than ghost films because that is a physical threat. When me and my wife sat down to watch this I saw those words and like I was possessed myself my mouth uttered the word “Bullshit” and the movie hadn’t even begun. Why? Well I knew the story of the Dybbyk box from a documentary I saw a few years ago. It was quite famous for a while becoming its own urban legend because the owners of the box maintained a blog telling people of all the occurrences that were happening around it. How true these blogs are only the author’s know but one thing is for certain; the word Based… gives the makers of movies like this a lot of leeway in the writing while at the same time trying to get you scared by believing this actually happened.
Anyway, let’s get on with it. This movie was a real mixed bag for me. Literally the first half of the entire film just dragged and dragged. The concentration on the family’s problems surrounding the parent’s divorce and the subsequent behaviour of the children made me forget I was watching a horror at times. That being said I have to give credit to Natasha Calis and Jeffrey Dean Morgan playing the daughter and father. They both portrayed a strong bond that actually got me invested in the outcome of the movie and if that was the purpose of the long build up then mission accomplished. Most of the others in this move are really just there to make up the numbers though. Even the mother played by Kyra Sedgwick (who I swear hasn’t aged a day since Born on the Forth of July) seemed like she was filler and that the film could have done without her.
In the 2010s horror movies have more or less mastered the feeling of tension and producing the jump scares that everybody loves. The Possession is no exception and the whole tone of the film is low and brooding throughout. It feels like its hanging over you and that’s a good thing because its supposed to feel like that as that’s what’s happening to Emily regarding the box. I did feel the director pulled out all his art school training for this however in that some of the scenes particularly early on feel very art house such as the fading of voices and the weird camera angles. While this is just for the sake of it at first I really liked the scene in the kitchen where we are looking at Emily’s distorted image through the glass as the possession becomes complete.
In terms of story a lot of this was very predictable. This is not a movie that is going to surprise you. Even in the last scene with the Rabbi driving down the road with the box on the passenger seat I knew there was going to be a crash and the box was going to be thrown out. What I didn’t understand however was that the Rabbi explains that the demon only wants children. Why then did it possess the father in the end? Was it threatened by him or something? I just didn’t like it. Once again we have another earthquake producing exorcism scene; that’s getting very old now. That being said there are some scenes I absolutely adored such as the MRI scene where they see the demon inside her. Another scene that I really liked was when Emily asks for more breakfast and then utters “She’s still hungry.” It was done so quickly and yet eerily that it made the hairs on my neck stand on end.
I would not say I didn’t enjoy this movie. It was enough to stop me from knocking it off and watching something else but by the same token it’s not a movie I would really bother with again.
Every so often an established TV show will have an episode or story that goes right off the rails of what we would expect. The most common case is when an otherwise serious format goes downright silly for one episode. The X-Files for example was well known for it with at least one episode a series dispensing with its own otherwise serious and brooding mould for something a light hearted. Another of Glen Morgan and James Wong’s shows, Millennium, had a very famous episode called “Somehow, Satan Got Behind Me” in which four demons meet in a doughnut shop. These episodes offer a break from an otherwise deep series but when the situation is reversed (i.e. an otherwise light hearted comedy turns dark) people are often mixed in their responses.
Anyone who grew up in the late 80s/early 90s like myself knows of Garfield and Friends. The lazy cat who loves lasagne and lives with his owner John and the happy-go-lucky puppy Odie entertained children for years. It began as a comic strip written by Jim Davis and was animated in to a hugely successful television series which ran from 1982 to 1991. When Garfield: His 9 Lives was released initially as a graphic novel in 1984 and then animated in to a TV special in 1988 it offered an explanation for much of Garfield’s quirks through his past lives. Most of these lives were funny or cute in some way to reflect the light hearted nature of the show.
But then we get to Life No. 7.
Life No.7, known as “Lab Animal”, put a shockingly dark twist on the world of Garfield. In this ‘life’ Garfield is a tabby looking cat who is captured by a laboratory for use in animal experimentation. It is not clear exactly what the experiments are for but after receiving an injection Garfield falls asleep and wakes up a short while later. When the scientists open his cage to continue with the experiment he escapes and leaps through a window. He is pursued by a pack of dogs and escapes by holding on to the undercarriage of a helicopter before falling in to the woods apparently having escaped. He drinks water from a nearby stream but as he does he starts to change. Garfield transforms in to a dog and becomes the same breed as the ones chasing him thus allowing him to blend in. The last we see of this life is the Garfield-Dog looking at the camera with ominous green eyes.
Everything about this short story is a departure from traditional Garfield ranging from the topic to the animation and style. It is surprisingly dark and as such seems so out of place with the rest of Garfield. It is in fact a mini-horror story, albeit watered down for children, and I have to say it is a fascinating and entertaining one. It is fast paced and genuinely unsettling in places exposing children to the world of animal testing. This should have caused much more of a fuss amongst parents than it did but because it was Garfield it somehow fell by the wayside after all Garfield was good natured fun. Not this time. If you haven’t seen the episode then it might seem bizarre that I am complementing the excellent directing and the score all of which build an ominous atmosphere throughout. The final scene with the Garfield-Dog’s eyes glowing hints that there is so much more to this story but of course we will never know.
This is one of those wonderful one-offs that appear every now and again and was definitely the highlight of Garfield; His 9 Lives for me.
Lucy Dark likes to tell monster stories to scare her little brother. Then one day she discovers that there really is a monster in her town working at the library but when she tries to reveal the truth to her friends and family nobody believes her. Therefore Lucy, now a victim of her own overactive imagination and sadistic joy at tormenting her brother, embarks on an effort to reveal the truth and expose Mr. Mortman for what he really is; a hideous, tarantula-eating freak with protruding black eyes. All does not go to plan however and Mr. Mortman traces her back to her house intent on keeping his secret. But Lucy and her family have a secret too.
As the title of the episode/book implies this story is another take on “the boy who cried wolf” format with a compulsive liar becoming the victim of their own deceitful ways. R.L. Stine (the author of Goosebumps if you didn’t know) throws in one of his characteristic twists at the end however in that Lucy and her family are monsters too and this reinforces at the end why the idea of other monsters in their town is so scary to her and her brother in the beginning. I have never read the books but from what I have learned online before writing this review the ending is either loved or hated by the fans of the series. I can’t comment on the books but what I can say is that the ending of the episode did surprise me but felt a little rushed. It’s not surprising I suppose since the episodes are just 21 minutes long.
Looking at the characters in this episode there’s few of them to like. You know that Lucy is a brat, her brother is a wimp, her parents are annoyingly chipper and her friend is the definition of a ‘token character’. In fact the best character in this episode is Mr. Mortman himself if only that he is the least irritating. Despite the above flaws it is fun in that ‘Scooby Doo’ adventure kind of way to watch as Lucy is totally unafraid to go back to the library to prove Mortman is monster. Ok she is a monster herself but as dialogue in the end of the episode establishes she hasn’t developed the same fangs as her parents and so she is to all intent and purposes a human. I also have to say that the acting could have been better with even the adults feeling like they had just come off the set of a 1950s family comedy.
The supper time scene in the library was particularly disgusting to watch as Mortman munches down on a tarantula and a few crickets. The Mortman transformation scene and the climactic attack on him by Lucy’s monstrous parents at the end were surprisingly graphic for a children’s show and it lead to me and my wife discussing for several minutes afterwards whether we would be comfortable with our 4 year old watching it. I understand that the show did get some criticism when it first aired in the 90s for frightening children but as a responsible parent myself I vet everything my daughter watches. If I felt it would scare her she wouldn’t see it – its that simple.
In conclusion this was an above average episode with a good if rushed twist at the end.