'We really heard a lot of people saying they wanted something that was scary — and this one’s scary,' says Al Jean of 'Hmm...Homer'

By Dan Snierson
October 22, 2017 at 08:30 PM EDT
FOX

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We’ve known that Homer Simpson can be extremely self-consumed, but Sunday night’s “Treehouse of Horror XXVIII” took that idea to horrifying new heights.

The Simpsons’ annual Halloween extravaganza featured a closing act in its trilogy of terror that disturbed and chilled. Introduced with a warning from Lisa (“What you’re about to see if so disgusting, you’ll watch Game of Thrones to calm down”), “Mmm… Homer” began with a very hungry (though when is he not?) Homer slicing off his finger by accident, and then noticing his dismembered digit plumping up on the grill. After a brief debate, he popped it into his mouth, decided that he liked what he was tasting, and became a “me-gan”; he cheerily proceeded to cut off various body parts until he had consumed a good chunk of his chunk. And in a final act, he was served up by famous cooker-upper Mario Batali to his family (Bart took a hors d’ouevre of Homer’s brain) as well as all of Springfield.

Maybe it was only a matter of time before Homer turned on his tasty self, having sampled his own head (albeit in the form of a donut) in THOH IV’s “The Devil and Homer Simpson.” And, of course, cannibalism was explored in THOH V’s “Nightmare Cafeteria,” as misbehaving students at Springfield Elementary were ground up into meat and served as meals. But this segment was a real head-turner — and head-slicer-offer; see the above photo — as we watched Homer become obsessed with eating himself, losing himself literally, as well as his marriage in the process.

It may not surprise you to learn that one of the writers’ goals this year with THOH was to turn up the horror factor. “We want to surprise people,” executive producer Al Jean tells EW. “We really heard a lot of people saying they wanted something that was scary — and this one’s scary. There definitely have been comments online where a number of people have said we want the horror back in ‘Treehouse of Horror.’ So that was a thought. And then for the idea for the segment, Joel Cohen [who pitched the idea], said, ‘Homer eats himself because he’s so delicious.’”

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Although the concept was somewhat in the same vein (sorry) of Stephen King’s Survivor Type — and certainly the show has borrowed from him in the past; see THOH V’s “The Shinning” — that short story was not something that Cohen or Jean had read or were thinking of during the brainstorm. “This was really just: How would Homer proceed if he sliced off a finger and ate it?,” says Jean. “He’d go crazy on himself.” (And with the other two segments of the show sending up The Exorcist and Coraline, he was in the market for something scary and non-parodical for the third act.)

Were the producers of this long-running animated comedy worried that a self-cannibalism segment was going too far? “I’ve been worried at every stage that was it was going too far,” deadpans Jean. “The big hurdle was when we read the script [at rehearsal]. [But] it played great and [executive producer] Jim Brooks was really happy with it, so I thought, ‘Okay,’” he says. “My direction to Tim Bailey, who was the director of the episode, was to avoid actually showing anything gruesome. When things are severed, they’re clean. … There’s a really funny scene that’s done to music from the movie Chef where he’s taking parts out of his body and [cooking] them, but they look very colorful and not real. When he’s cooking his leg in a fry pan, you really don’t see much. The funniest scene is when you see him in clothes with missing areas, but you don’t actually see what’s been cut off. It could have been much, much scarier. And in the end, he’s back in heaven. He’s fine.” Jean sums up the mission of the segment like this: “If we’ve succeeded, it’ll make you hungry for Homer.”

It sounds like the man who voices Homer, Dan Castellaneta, gave it a non-severed thumbs-up. “He thought it was ‘in character,’” chuckles Jean, who believes that this is the scariest segment since THOH IX’s “Hell Toupee” or even the inside-out fog at the end of THOH V’s “Nightmare Cafeteria.” Fox didn’t have any notes that were problematic, he reports, something he partially attributes to TV’s goalposts of gore being moved over the last few decades. “If you looked at the first ‘Treehouse’ now, it’s much less scary than at that time,” he says. “We had a warning from Marge — both the first and second years — because we were so concerned about what people would think relative to television at that date,. But if you think about the human centipede of South Park, people have been exposed to a lot more in animation now than they were 28 years ago.”

In fact, the only problem that the producers encountered was not being able to secure the rights to use Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” which was to be sung by Lisa. “They did not want to be associated with people eating their father,” says Jean, laughing. Instead, they opted to riff on a more classical religious hymn. “We have the original ‘Hallelujah,’ which nobody owns.”

That’s perhaps fitting, as this was one “Treehouse” segment that had everyone shouting, “Oh, God!”

To find out which “Treehouse of Horror” segments from the last 28 years were picked by 20 Simpsons writers as their all-time favorites, click here.

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