Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Analog Time Machine - Prologue - The Simpsons Tree House of Horror I

If you were a kid in the 80's and you were anything like me then I'm sure you taped stuff of TV all the time.  Whether it was a favorite movie that was coming on, or your favorite show or even the news if you're that weird.....the point is, sticking a blank VHS tape in the VCR and capturing a few moments or even hours in time didn't seem like it was a big deal.

Now I was not your average kid.  I was OBSESSED with taping shit off TV.  Every Christmas if I didn't get a block of 6 blank tapes, I was upset.  Back in the day I had HUNDREDS of tapes.  Sadly I've lost some of them, some were destroyed and others just stopped working.  But I still have quite a few and I'm going to be going through my tapes and seeing what gold lies within and I thought you'd like to come along for the ride.

I just got some new analog to digital video hardware and software and I took it for a test spin.  The first tape that I popped into the VCR turned out to be a good one so far!  First thing that came up was an airing of The Simpson's Treehouse of Horror I.  This is not the first airing of TOH, but rather part of a mini marathon or TOH episodes I - III leading up to the broadcast of the (then) brand new Episode IV!  It's chock full of awesome early 90's (1993 to be exact) commercials too!  So sit back, strap in, turn on the flux capacitor and get ready to go back to the analog past!  It's the Analog Time Machine™!

I don't know about you, but The Simpsons Treehouse of Horror (or as it's known it's first rendition The Simpsons Halloween Special) was a major holiday event in my younger years (and to this day I never miss a TOH episode).  Garfield's Halloween Adventure was but a distant memory by the time the TOH came about.  It's The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown is great an' all, but damnit, I needed something more.  I needed my Halloween specials to have a bit more biting satire.  TOH fit that hole in my soul perfectly.  Each episode contains three short stories, anthology style, usually based off popular movies, TV shows or books. 

Ah....the titular treehouse in question.  Not a bad little spooky tree fort the Simpson kids have going on here!  Cool posable skeleton?  Check.  Bat decorations?  Check.  Awesome Jack O'Lantern sitting on the window sill?  Check.  Creepy Halloween moon shining through the window?  Check!  And of course, let's not forget the ultra important flashlight for telling scary stories!    You know, now that I'm thinking about it, I would have given ANYTHING to have an awesome treehouse like this when I was a kid! 

This intro scene kinda reminds me of a Simpsonized version of The Monster Squad.  Or at the very least a Simpsonized version of the the Nightfright segment of Fright Show (aka Cinemagic), the rare VHS anthology film that I feel like I'm constantly gushing about.  Either way, it's kick ass and I love it. 

As we join The Simpson Children, Lisa is finished up telling a version of the old "The Threatening Phone Call Is Coming From Inside The House" story, a la When A Stranger Calls.  Bart is suitably unimpressed and offers to tell her a story that's "REALLY scarifying!"  Thus begins......

The first segment, called Bad Dream House is basically a mash up of haunted house movies.  Mostly The Amityville Horror (the house turns people inside homicidal) and Poltergiest (Indian burial ground in the basement.....house self destructs (as seen above)) and does a great job of setting the mood not only for the rest of the episode, but for the rest of the Treehouse of Horror specials as well.

I can't even tell you how many times I've watched Bad Dream House.....it's got to be in the high thirties to low fifties.  Seriously.  It's that ridiculous.  My favorite part has to be when Homer calls their real estate agent to yell at him for not mentioning that there's an Indian burial ground in the basement (hilariously depicted by a bunch of gravestones with names like Pocahontas on them) eventually hanging up the phone and telling Marge, "He said he mentioned it five or six times."

After Homer's failed phone call, the house starts to threaten the Simpsons with horrible fates:  "You will diiiiieeeee. You will die slowwwwwwwly. Your stomach will swelllllllll, your intestines will wriiiithe and booooil. Your eeeeeyes will buuuuurst. And some horrible stuuuuuuuff, possibly your braiiiiin, will start coming out through your noooooooose."  Then Marge starts to yell out the house.  Lisa tries to make friends and proposes that they all live together happily.  I don't wanna say that it goes bad....but...well....you see the screenshot.

Now, as much fun as it is to watch old episodes of Treehouse of Horror on VHS, I really get a kick out of watching the old commercials.  They truly are what makes Analog Time Travel so powerful.  So let's take a look at what was being advertised back in late 1993!

1-800-COLLECT!  Remember the days before smart phones?  Days when payphones were everywhere (not that half of them worked) and it cost an arm and a leg to talk to a friend a few states away?  Enter 1-800-COLLECT...helping you save money while talking to loved ones far away.

This particular commercial was college themed.  We watch this college fellow as he walks about campus.  He appears to be a big deal.  Looks like a football player.  Probably got a really hot cheerleader girlfriend too.  Everybody calls him by a nickname like Buzz, Ogre or Brick.  He's a nice enough guy but not terribly bright.  Of course the twist at the end of the commercial is that he calls home and says "Mommy?  I miss you!"

Onwards!  It's an M&M's commercial!  And an incredibly 90's one at that!  Basically the whole commercial is people sharing their M&M's and smiling while the early 90's M&M's jingle plays on singing about sharing and smiling and stuff.  My favorite part is right at the beginning.  This leather clad biker couple is sharing a big ass bag of peanut M&M's (my personal favorite!).  It seems like a highly illogical snack for a bike trip.  I mean sure...they melt in your mouth, not in your hand.....but I'm not seeing any carrying bags on that bike, which means it's going in someone's pocket.  It's sunny out.  They're going to warm up and get all gooey.  Still, looks like they're having a heck of a lot of fun there.  

It's a Sega commercial!  More specifically, a commercial for Sonic Mania Day, which occurred on November 23rd, 1993.  What is Sonic Mania Day?  I really don't know!  I was a Nintendo kid growing up, so I was never into Sonic back then. 

The commercial itself is your standard oddball Sega commercial. This odd looking dude is having a serious problem with his eyes as they roll in all kinds of crazy directions rapidly, eventually falling out of his head.  A cartoon Sonic runs around the screen.  The announcer talks about Sonic Mania Day.  The kid takes his eyes that fell out, shoves them back in his head and does the "SEGA!" yell.  Weird.  But cool.

After a quick check, I found that November 23rd was just two days before Thanksgiving in 1993.....so Sonic Mania Day was more than likely a pre-Black Friday sale or something of the like. 

An ad for the next episode of Sinbad.  I never watched the show (never really was a fan...though he had one or two stand-up specials that made me laugh) but apparently the upcoming episode was about Sinbad having to buy a minivan.  Flat jokes, canned laughter.....next commercial.

Oh.....and that outfit.  I mean.....damn.

Now we're talking!  The Adventures of Brisco County Jr.!  The Sci-Fi/Western show starring Bruce Campbell!  Lasted only one season, but damn was it awesome!  Which episode was coming up on that Friday?  I couldn't tell ya exactly.  There were explosions and a train top running sequence and all I could think about was finding a copy of The Complete Brisco County on DVD.  I'm going to get right on that. 

And we're back to Treehouse of Horror with the second segment:  Hungry Are The Damned, which is a fun riff on the classic Twlight Zone episode To Serve Man.  TOH will go on to use TZ as a source for material for many years to come, including the ultra-awesome Terror at 5 1/2 Feet episode.

The Simpsons are having a backyard BBQ when they are suddenly visited by aliens (personal favs Kang and Kodos!), who whisk them away in their flying saucer.  Kang & the Gang (my new band name, I think!) tell them that they are bringing them to their home planet called Rigel IV.  The Simpsons are to be the guests of honor at a great feast.  They are then given all their favorite foods to eat and are encouraged to glut on their favorite chow.

Lisa, being the suspicious perpetual 8 year old girl that she is, sneaks into the alien's kitchen and finds a book called How To Cook Humans.  Homer and family confront the aliens.  Turns out there was a bit of confusion and all is not as it seems.  Poor slimy aliens just can't get a fair shake this side of the galaxy, ya know?

Holy crap!  This one brings my back!  See that human/cartoon hybrid monster back there?  That's Bob.  According to our spokesman to the left (mugging for the camera every second.), Bob has just completed a MONSTER day at school and needs a snack to satisfy his appetite.  Bob seems to enjoy his chocolate milk and grooves on with his bad self while sipping his tasty beverage.

A Fisher Price remote control car commercial.  May seem a bit odd, but remember as far as toy companies and most stores the Christmas season starts around September 1st.  So as far as they're concerned this is hot and heavy into the advertising cycle.  Hell, Black Friday is less than a month away!  Put the idea in their heads early so Mom & Dad know what to get! 

A commercial for Secret Deodorant with Denise Richards!  I'm willing to bet that she'd probably rather forget this one.  The commercial spends most of the time telling young women that even though they're "blossoming" they're not plants.  But don't stink, cause you'll drive away the hunky men.  Or something like that.  To be honest this was a really weird and ultra 90's commercial.  I could have probably gotten about 10 more awesomely bad screen captures from those 30 seconds I spent with teenage Denise.   

A plug for an upcoming episode of Martin.  I'm just going to let the screen capture do the talking here.

If this doesn't scream HALLOWEEN AWESOMENESS at you, then I don't know what to tell you.  I mean, COME ON! 

Evidently, driving a Saturn SC2 is much like flying a jet......or so the actress who states that she's also a pilot would have us believe.  She wants to drive a car that lets people know a bit about her.  Somehow this is supposed to tell people she flies jets?  I'm not gonna lie I was a bit confused about this one and my mind wandered back to a teenage Denise Richards selling deodorant. 

I am downright SHOCKED that it took this long for a fast food commercial to pop up!  Better late than never though and Micky D's shows up to save the day!  First we're treated to food porn shots of the layers of a grilled McChicken sandwich fall in slow motion, stacking up on each other.  Sexy time music plays, which makes me think of teenage Denise Richards again.  Then, BAM!  The screen is static except for a large container of fries which are apparently free with your order!  I LOVE McDonald's fries.  They're so greasy and salty and give me chest pain just thinking about them. 

I forgot all about the old "What you want is what you get" slogan.  I kinda like it.  It's much better than the "I'm lovin' it" crap they've got going on now.  They should change it back.

And we're back and on the final segment of TOH.  Lisa decides to try a classic and reads Edgar Allen Poe's immortal classic, The Raven.  Homer plays the nameless tortured soul pining for Lenore.  Bart has been transmogrified into a raven.  Yep.  I just used the word transmogrified.....and after a quick online dictionary check, I am happy to report that I even used it correctly!  Go me.  Oh yeah...Marge (well her portrait anyway) stands in for Lenore.  Lisa and Maggie are little cherubs with incense. 

What makes this one of the most fantastic segments of ANY TOH episode is that the poem is recited by James Earl Jones!  I mean let's just stop and think about this for a minute.  Darth Vader is reciting Edgar Allen Poe while Homer and Bart act it out.  It doesn't get much more awesome than that!

Of course things take a Simpsonesque twist before we're brought to the conclusion. 

After Lisa finishes the story, Marge calls them to bed.  Homer, who has been sitting up in the tree listening to the stories is scared and shaking.  Shots pan over the kids all sleeping snug in bed.  Homer begs Marge not to turn out the light and she reprimands him for being scared of kids stories.  She turns out the light and Homer see's the Bart Raven in the window, covers his head and groans "Ooooh, I hate Halloween".  Que spooky version of Simpsons theme as ending credits roll.

Another McDonalds commercial!  This time advertising their line of Happy Meal Action figures tied in with Batman: The Animated Series.  There's a CGI animated bit where Batman calls Robin and tells him to meet him at the Gotham McDonalds because Catwoman was sighted there.  Then it cuts to the toys which are available.  And I've got to say they look to be pretty high quality!  I never had any (I was a sophomore in high school in October of '93 so I was actively trying to prove that I wasn't a huge nerd.  It was a phase.  I'm ashamed of it.  I've since regained my nerd cred.)

This is where I must return you to the present for now.  The Analog Time Machine sure was fun for me.  I've got tons more VHS tapes to delve into and I hope that you'll join me as I turn back the clock and check out my childhood and teenage years through magnetized video tape!  


  1. Brought back some awesome memories. Remember that new - tape - smell when you peeled the plastic off those bad boys? Great stuff. Thanks for the ride! :)

  2. If I close my eyes, I can still smell it! Ahhhh....bliss! Thanks for the kind words, Joe! I hope you'll stick around for future editions!