When Marge Simpson introduced the first Treehouse of Horror episode of The Simpsons by warning viewers that it was “really scary,” I believed her. I also took her word in “Treehouse of Horror II” (“It’s scarier, more violent, and I think they snuck in some bad language, too”) and “Treehouse of Horror V” (“It seems the show is so scary, that Congress won’t even let us show it”).
In my defense, I was seven years old when that episode — the one where the blood usually gets off on the second floor — aired. Now, as an adult who is disturbingly desensitized to violence, I’m no longer afraid of Homer getting sent to Hell after selling his soul to the Devil. In fact, when I think of the most disturbing scene on The Simpsons, Treehouse of Horror isn’t the first thing that comes to mind.
Neither is an Itchy and Scratchy short, although the Fantasia parody where Scratchy chops hundreds of Itchys into pink dust which he inhales and then the little Scratchys begin hacking away at his organs from the inside is up there. But you expect something horrific to happen during The Itchy and Scratchy Show or Treehouse of Horror. They’re not technically (I’m sorry) “canon,” so murder, decapitations, evil twins, burning to death, and chest-bursting dolphins are on the menu. In a “normal” episode, especially in the early seasons, the writers and the animators tried to “avoid surrealism.”
Which is what made this season four scene so shocking.
In “Brother from the Same Planet,” written by Jon Vitti and directed by Jeffrey Lynch, Homer forgets to pick Bart up from soccer practice despite Milhouse’s reminder to “Trab pu kcip.” When Homer finally arrives (after having a dream where he finds only his skeleton), Bart is soaking wet from a rainstorm and furious at his father. Homer tries to win him over with ice cream, but his apology is lacking. “I know you’re mad at me right now, and I’m kinda mad, too. I mean, we could sit here and try to figure out ‘who forgot to pick up who’ until the cows come home. But let’s just say we’re both wrong and that’ll be that,” he says. While Homer refuses to accept the blame, Bart looks over at his dad and pictures the gruesome sight of his face melting off, leaving only exposed teeth, a red scalp, and pupil-less eyes. “Now how about a hug?”
It’s The Simpsons’ Large Marge moment, an out-of-nowhere shock. Do I want melty Homer as a tattoo? Of course (although evil Lisa holding a knife comes first). But the psychological trauma of a son being so mad at his father that he pictures him looking like he took an acid bath in Hell is disturbing stuff.
Other possible contenders for the most disturbing crown include concussed Bart and cat-carrier Maggie in a wheelbarrow, “can’t sleep, clown will eat me,” Bart literally having his ripped out, and the Friday the 13th ending to “Boy-Scoutz ‘n the Hood.” But in the spirit of Halloween, I’m giving it to the closest The Simpsons ever got to an Iron Maiden album cover. To paraphrase another moment from the same episode, this is even more disturbing than it looks.