Treehouse of Horror V isn’t just one of the best Simpsons Halloween episodes—it’s one of the best episodes of the entire show. But, even for Halloween, it was a surprisingly blood-laden and gory episode for the cartoon. Why? It turns out it was because of complaints from Congress.
Brian Cronin’s excellent “TV Legends Revealed” series for Comic Book Resources took a look at this episode for Halloween week recently, and uncovered just why Treehouse of Horror V ended up being so gory. In the early days of The Simpsons, the show as almost constantly under-fire from politicians for its crassness, its depiction of a flawed American family, and its violence—in particularly the sequences featuring Itchy and Scratchy, the show’s hyperviolent cartoon series beloved by Bart and Lisa. In 1994, parents petitioned Fox to have Itchy and Scratchy removed from the show, and even politicians in Congress made statements calling out the series as an example of violence gone too far on TV.
The statements served only to embolden the series’s then-current showrunner David Mirkin. Not only did a whole episode of The Simpsons’ sixth season revolve around an Itchy and Scratchy theme park the Simpsons visit, Mirkin pushed to make the fifth Halloween special one of the most violent things ever shown on television—and at the time, it was.
Treehouse of Horror V was the last special to feature a viewer advisory warning delivered by Marge before the opening titles, and its trio of stories—“The Shinning”, a parody of the classic movie The Shining, “Time and Punishment”, and “Nightmare Cafeteria”—all featured gallons of blood and gory moments. The running joke of each story saw Groundskeeper Willie get hacked in the back by an Axe. Hell, the episode ended with a particularly graphic scene of the Simpsons having their bodies turned inside out by a poisonous mist, before engaging in a blood-caked dance routine. The Simpsons has had nastier moments since in its long history, but at the time, Treehouse of Horror V stood out.
It was a testy lesson to be learned: never push a showrunner. They can always push things even further.
[Via Comic Book Resources]