(Written by Venus de Vilo: https://www.facebook.com/VenusDeViloSongsFromTheStalkersPointOfView)
In the scathing words of Bart Simpson half-way through the first ever “Treehouse Of Horror” : 'Are we scared yet?'
Yes Bart, yes we are. Well.. I am anyway! It's the mid-nineties. I am around the age of six or seven and I have just been introduced to true terror. From toddlerdom I've always been a morbid and macabre-inclined child. (My earliest memory is being about age two and thoroughly freaking out after a visit to a shopping centre Santa Claus because my gift of a Rudolph colouring book appeared to contain no vampires in its yet to be coloured – in all black crayon – pages.) Unhealthily obsessed with horror of all descriptions and mediums, fixations on all manner of grim and ghoulish past-times. Being as young as I was, the scares were less than mild and not readily accessible. I had to work that kiddie imagination into over-drive to get my spooky kicks!
Crappy plastic monster masks from the local pound shop became Lovecraftian-featured nightmares. The traditional home-made black bin-bag witches' “costume” became a shroud of screaming shadows and my pink Disney beaker of own-brand Robinson's blackcurrant juice became an over-flowing Gothic chalice of virgin's blood!
Even at that young age (BEFORE any Facebook memes to similar effect came along!) I believed religiously that “Everyday is Halloween.” Long beyond the week of festivities preceeding Halloween (even in the nineties, being more and more overshadowed in the supermarkets by the ever-looming presence of The Jolly Fat Man...)
I devoured every library copy of Goosebumps, Shivers and Creepers I could get my chubby hands on. My Pokemon team comprised entirely of the ghost type Pokemon. My humble efforts in art class on a Friday afternoon were usually accompanied by a talk with the school counsellor on Monday morning... I mentally morphed the drudgery of everyday mundane life into my own personal and fantastic parade of gore and goblins.
So, think of my utter delight and surprise when I discovered one wet and windy October 31st that my favourite cartoon family had offered up their own tribute for the seasonal Samhain activities!
Originally aired on October 24th 1990 (being late to the party, AS ALWAYS, I was a few years behind on this!) and a new one aired every single October since, The Simpson's Treehouse Of Horror Halloween special was alive! I tell you! ALIVE!!!
Out of all the Treehouse Of Horrors to choose from, the first one ever made, which is also the first one I ever saw, is the one I shall be digging up and dissecting on the slab tonight.
The episode kick does NOT start with the bright blue cloudy sky so associated with the show and the catchy jingle. Instead, Marge Simpson comes out and a là the original Frankenstein movie, warns the audience that the show is going to be absolutely frightening and fiendish and “... if you have sensitive children, maybe you should tuck them into bed early tonight instead of writing us angry letters tomorrow.”
Ah, Marge.. if only I'd listened, if only I wasn't one of those silly brats who once being told not to do/eat/watch/read/climb/inhale/poke/jab-a-fork-in, etc, make it their mission to!? Who knows what path of salvation may have awaited me instead of this life of horror?!
Because I assure you, whether YOU personally think any of theses episodes are scary, they left a permanent mark on this poor musicians' tragic little psyche for life.
The episode comprises primarily three main short stories or “sketches”. Told from the point of view of Bart and Lisa in their garden treehouse swapping scary torchlight-under-the-chin stories on Halloween night, Homer sits outside listening in fear munching on trick or treat goodies.
The first sketch, “Bad Dream House,” awoke in me a fear and fascination that I still have to this day – haunted houses. But not the rattling “it's just the pipes” ghost in the attic, the bed-sheeted floater or the weeping Grey Lady standing by your bed... This ghost was... a poltergeist. Not to break character, but I cannot watch anything with a poltergeist/possessions in it. I still haven't seen any of the Paranormal Activity films and I WON'T.
Moderately long story short, the Simpsons move into an old dilapidated house, a lot like the Psycho/Amityville Horror house – bought at a suspiciously low price! Shortly after their arrival, the house, THE HOUSE ITSELF, in no uncertain terms tells the hapless yellow family to “GET OUT.” This was a new one to me. Houses were meant to be a shelter, a protection from the assorted array of spooks and spectres outside, or even a shell from which to banish the spooks and spectres, they weren't meant to be the malevolent entity itself!
Initially, the family dismiss the echoing and ghostly noises as the house settling and objects picking themselves up and hurtling towards the siblings as childish misbehaviour. The incidents at night, however, are a little harder to ignore. The walls bleed. THE WALLS BLEED. Remember here, I'm six years old. Bleeding walls? Jesus! The walls, not happy with just excreting haemoglobin, close in and shift about, the wallpaper changes colour, the house appears to be breathing, an odd inter-dimensional vortex appears in their kitchen and, worst of all (in my opinion!) the voice from before starts talking to the various characters as they lie alone in their respective bedrooms. First, it threatens them individually with all the grisly things that will happen to them if they remain in the house. “You will die, you will die slowly... your intestines will writhe and boil, your eyes will burst...” An unnerving concept by anyone's standards. The plot thickens.
The house then starts convincing Bart, Lisa, Homer and Maggie to kill one another. There's a genuinely chilling scene in which the four members of the pyjama-clad family circle each other in the sitting-room with terrifying grins on their faces chanting along with the House “Die. Die. Everybody die!”
Homer has an axe in “Here's Johnny...!” from The Shining style, Lisa a butcher knife, Bart a cleaver and even baby Maggie a teeny tiny knife. Considering the fact that the basic creative premise for my work, either musically or artistically, is “Die, die, everybody die!,” I think it's fair to say that that murderous mantra stuck with me for a while afterwards!
Marge being the voice of reason calls a halt to the imminent massacre, establishes that the house is in fact built on an Indian burial ground and haunted or not, they bought the damn house and are going to stay there. The House ponders the possibility of a life lived alongside the Simpsons and then promptly destroys itself.
Seen years later as an adult, albeit a rather damaged and shaky one, it is a fun and festive romp, with a great line from Homer RE life in a haunted house “It's a fixer-upper. What's the problem? We get a bunch of priests in here...” Needless to say that didn't go down well with Marge...
The next offering was “Hungry Are The Damned!” It is the first episode with the intergalactic green and gooey occasional characters Kang and Kodos. Confession time part two. Not only do I have an aversion to poltergeists, I have an unexplained and irrational fear.. of aliens. So, after a poltergeist, we now have a sketch about aliens! Fun.
The Simpsons are having a late-evening barbecue when a flying saucer suddenly overshadows their little soirée. A beam of light- two beams for Homer!- transports them onto the ship where they are confronted by said aliens. The aliens claim that the Simpsons are guests of honour and will be treated like kings on the space creatures' home planet, to which they are now travelling.
The royal treatment begins on the aircraft as the Simpsons have their every culinary whim catered to morning, noon and night! All is well until Lisa grows suspicious that their daily feasting might in fact be a fattening! Do the aliens in fact plan on devouring the family themselves...?!
Remarks from the extra-terrestrials along the lines of “Your wife, Mr. Simspon... She's quite... a dish...” don't do anything to assuage young Lisa's fears! Following a bit of sleuthing, Lisa foils what she believes to be a cannibalistic conspiracy against the Simpsons. The cannibal element was a new one for me. (And anyone familiar with my song/music video/graphic novel “Crazy For You” will know it's an element I'm now comfortably acquainted with!) I knew wild jungle animals ate humans and so forth, but these space monsters were relatively humanoid, intelligent, English-speaking beings! An upright, rational being kidnapping you and possibly planning on eating you... Yeah, six- year-old me wasn't too relaxed about that.
I'm not going to ruin the clever and creepy ending to this one (unlike the last sketch!) but let's just say the book “How To Cook Humans” (The special Space Dust edition, naturally!) has been on my Christmas wish list for a while!
We come at last to my personal favourite out of any Treehouse Of Horror sketch EVER, and for the first ten or so seasons, there were some truly classic episodes. Homer sells his soul for a donut, Mr. Burns is a vampire, I know what you diddly-did last summer, a Hogwarts tribute and of course, “The Shinning!” Sadly, as we all know, “the Old Grey Simpsons, She Ain't What She Usedta Be, Ain't What She Used To Be...” (Inside joke!)
The Simpsons. Re-tell. Edgar Allan Poe's. THE RAVEN. THE RAVEN. THE MUDDAMUFFIN' RAVEN!!! And yes, my little Coffin Sniffers, this is exactly when/where/how/what/why Venus de Vilo was first introduced to Edgar Allan Poe.
Again, for those familiar or even un-familiar with my work (and the work of majority of all wanna-be-goth artists and musicians worldwide!) Poe, that tragic icon, that original model for the drug- addled rock star, forever he was, forever he will be, a MASSIVE influence on my creative work. So impressed was I with this sketch and so influenced by Poe that my 2012 debut EP's title (albeit a god-awful cheesy pun which potential online buyers STILL automatically assume is a rap record title) was a loving tribute to the dark Bostonian... “EDGAR ALLAN HO.” The summer of 2014 saw the launch of my forty page Gore 'n' Girls-drenched re-telling of the legendary poem in graphic novel format.
Briefly, the sketch starts out with Bart being bored with Lisa's attempts to give him the heebie-jeebies. He's even more sceptical when Lisa proffers a late-night reading of The Raven as her final effort to frighten him. “Hey Poindexter! It's Halloween! Put the book away! Wait a minute! That's a school book!” “Don't worry Bart, you won't learn anything...”
It's a loving parody of the poem. It's re-told in full (yes, I've checked I against the actual poem itself, it's in full!) and narrated by James Earl Jones. Homer plays the poems' lonely and sorrowful protagonist, Marge “the lost Lenore”, Lisa and Maggie “unseen censers” and Bart stars as the little raven. The famous line “Quoth the raven, Nevermore!” is replaced with the Bart Simpson catch- phrase “Quoth the raven, EAT MY SHORTS!” There are also lots of endearing secret references to Poe's other works hidden through out the scenes.
Gothic, humorous, genuinely creepy in places and charming, it's the perfect ending to the show. Bart and Lisa also debate at the end how what was scary in the 1800s wouldn't be at all alarming by today's standards. Personally I beg to differ. If an insistent rapping at MY chamber door occurred in the wee hours of the morning and all that was there was “darkness there and nothing more” I know I'd be bloody freaked out, whatever century it was!
So, once again, to answer Bart's jaded Generation-X-style question towards horror and what constitutes a good cheap thrill, “Are We Scared Yet?” Yes Bart, I believe we are. And always will be, thanks to you.