Debuting on October 25th, 1990, “Treehouse of Horror” was The Simpsons’ first installment of what became an annual offering of horror-laced mini-stories. It met with widespread acclaim, with several subsequent episodes considered among the hit show’s very best.

Originally known as "The Simpsons Halloween Special," the ambitious venture came alarmingly close to never actually happening. Staff writers were concerned about its content being too creepy for their more delicate fans, leading to Marge breaking the fourth wall to warn parents of upcoming content (albeit in the form of a cheeky wink to 1931’s Frankenstein). Similar cautions followed suit for the next few years, before the fifth "Treehouse" installment finally saw them fit for banishment.

During initial production, Matt Groening expressed concerns about "The Raven" chapter, fearing it was "the worst, most pretentious thing they had ever done,” as heard on the DVD commentary. Many fans (this very writer included) beg to differ; it’s dark, bold deviation from established Simpsons formula helped lay groundwork for the imagination-filled awesomeness to follow.

A well-known enthusiast for all things funny books, Matt Groening (and indeed, The Simpsons’ entire creative team) was strongly influenced by the likes of EC Comics’ Tales From The Crypt and Vault of Horror. Various nods to the 1950s anthology series feature throughout "Treehouse's" run, including ‘scary' names applied to each episode’s creative credits (“Bat Groening” and “Disfigured Dan McGrath” being classic examples).

Though EC Comics didn’t exclusively publish horror comics (Weird Fantasy and MAD Magazine also featured among its titles), Tales From The Crypt, Vault of Horror and Haunt of Fear unquestionably rank among its most celebrated and influential books. Gruesome, outlandish and proudly non-PC, they rarely found themselves far from controversy—the comic book industry was already something of a target by ignorant nit-pickers for its “potentially harmful effects on children.” This frightful onslaught of censorship eventually led to EC Comics' demise (along with various other publishers), but inspiration from these gore-soaked tales of deviousness had already spread far and wide across a looming generation of creative pioneers.

As Simpsons executive producer James L. Brooks recalls, "The idea to parody EC Comics was really original and kind of shocking for a cartoon on network television."

The Twilight Zone, Rod Serling’s masterpiece anthology series, also served as a major influence. Voice actor Harry Shearer provided narration for “The Bart Zone” story, delivering a quite majestic Serling impersonation. “Terror at 5 1/2 Feet” parodied the William Shatner-starring “Nightmare at 20,000” classic, while Bart’s vignettes seen in "Treehouse of Horror IV" are an ode to the 1970s horror series Night Gallery.

Each "Treehouse of Horror" takes a sharp detour from the show’s continuity, unleashing darker, more violent content than a typical episode. Trademark characters Kang and Kodos have appeared in all twenty-three specials aired to date, while James Earl Jones provided voices in each of the original’s three stories. (He returned for 1994’s edition.)

Recent specials are more parodies of hit movies/TV shows than self-contained tales of zany horror, but often deliver at least a few highlights. This current season of The Simpsons includes an October 31st-themed episode called "Halloween of Horror," airing a week ahead of Springfield’s latest "Treehouse" spookathon.

Random declaration: "Treehouse of Horror III" is one of TV’s all-time great episodes. Its best gag? Chief Wiggum sipping coffee outside the Simpsons’ house—donut-headed Homer cowering within—telling fellow cops, “Don’t worry, boys. He’s got to come out of there sometime.”

Oh, the lulz…

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