Finally, we're at "Treehouse of Horror V", which aired 30th October 1994, and was in many respects the transitional episode for the Halloween specials. It was the last to feature an opening skit in which a family member (usually Marge) warned the viewer about the disturbing content of the episode, and the first NOT to feature a wraparound narrative. It was also our last go with the amusing tombstones, and we only got one at that:
Amusing Tombstones: Self-explanatory. This running gag had run its course, and this was the writers' polite way of asking if they could be allowed to put it to rest. It was fun while it lasted.
The opening sequence of "Treehouse of Horror IV" featured a gag lampooning the contemporary backlash against televised violence, one of the hot political buttons of the day, in which a tombstone with the engraving "TV Violence" is mercilessly gunned down and left to bleed by offscreen detractors. This gag was carried over into "Treehouse of Horror V" - the episode starts with Marge receiving notice that, due to the episode's violent content, Congress have barred them from showing it, thus laying the tone perfectly for "Treehouse of Horror V", which plays unmistakably like an act of rebellion against congressional efforts to moderate media content. Marge's warning was no bluff, for "V" was unquestionably the most violent and gory Treehouse of Horror to date - characters are brutally axed in the back (or rather, one character is, on multiple occasions), helpless children are consumed by cannibalistic adults, and the upbeat finale involves the family being turned inside out so that their vital organs are exposed, whereupon Santa's Little Helper makes Alpo out of Bart's intestines. It was a classic example of The Simpsons sticking it to The Man, middle finger first. This defiance was felt all throughout the opening sequence, which still took place in the Springfield Cemetery, only in lieu of the amusing tombstones, we were treated to the sight of several characters being executed in alarmingly graphic ways.
Keep in mind that it wasn't just Congress who were wringing their hands over this kind of willfully unsavoury viewing. In the UK, Sky 1 had their own fairly strict set of censorship rules, meaning that Simpsons episodes were frequently vetted to remove some of the racier gags. It was always a revelation for the seasoned Sky 1 viewer to catch the very same episodes on BBC2 slightly later on in the decade and be treated to a barrage of extra Simpsons moments that were not there before. A while back, I took a look at Sky 1's handling of one of my favourite episodes, "Sideshow Bob's Last Gleaming", in which several cuts were made to remove multiple uses of the word "ass" and a couple of scenes in which Bob threatens Bart with a flick-knife, to an extent that sadly made mincemeat of the episode's overall narrative coherency. "Treehouse of Horror V" was another of the more heavily-edited episodes, and that opening sequence in particular took one heck of a savage slicing. Unfortunately, my old VHS recording of the Sky 1 edit of "Treehouse of Horror V" looks to have been permanently misplaced, so I cannot provide the kind of in-depth run-down that I did for "Sideshow Bob's Last Gleaming", but here's what I recall from memory:
- The scene with Moe hanging from a tree (during which you can clearly hear his neck breaking) and then opening his eyes in an undead state was removed in its entirety.
- The scene with Reverend Lovejoy burning Patty and Selma at the stake was edited to remove the part where he actually sets them ablaze. In the Sky 1 edit, we cut directly to Patty and Selma tied to the burning pyre and using the blaze to light their cigarettes. You could still pick out Lovejoy standing there with his lit torch, if you were particularly eagle-eyed.
- The scene with Bart, Skinner and the guillotine was edited to remove the part in which Skinner is decapitated. We saw Bart jump upon the severed heads of Willie, Krabappel and Wiggum, and promptly cut away once Skinner had given him the thumbs up sign.
The episode itself likewise endured a number of (often inexplicable) brushes with the censorship scissors. In "The Shinning", the scene with Moe ordering Homer to kill his family in exchange for a beer (an allusion to the "white man's burden" scene from Stanley Kubrick's 1980 film The Shining) was removed in its entirety, making it super-confusing when Moe later shows up to complain that the project isn't moving forward as planned. Also, I'm not entirely sure, but I don't recall the moment with Lisa asking Marge if Homer is going to kill them being in there either. The greatest casualty, however, was the running gag connecting all three segments, in which Groundskeeper Willie makes a heroic bid to save one or more of the Simpson family, only to be gruesomely offed with an axe in the back (a parody of the fate of Scatman Crothers' character in the aforementioned The Shining - I guess somebody in the Simpsons writing staff thought it hilarious that he came an awfully long way to help little Danny Torrence, only to meet a bloody end at the hands of an axe-wielding Jack Nicholson). Here's how the gag was presented in the Sky 1 edit:
- In "The Shinning", we still saw Homer axe Willie in the back, but the scene cut away as quickly as possible, so that we didn't see the part in which Willie turns around to taunt Homer, bloodied axe protruding from the spine, and then keels over. You still got the message that Willie was dead, however, so this was definitely the least harmful of the edits.
- "Time and Punishment", by contrast, had the most egregious cut, to an extent that really betrayed the overall lack of thought and care that went into making these edits appear seamless. Included in the Sky 1 edit was the part with Willie warning Homer that he still wasn't in his own timeline and offering to help him get home, but the moment where Maggie axes him in the back (and talks to Homer with James Earl Jones' voice) was cut completely. Instead, we cut straight from Willie assuring Homer he could get him home to Homer returning to prehistoric times and killing everything around him in a violent frenzy. Even without having seen the unedited episode, it was always extremely obvious that something was missing here.
- In "Nightmare Cafeteria", we saw the bit with Skinner axing Willie in the back but, as with "The Shinning", they cut away immediately. Gone was the part with Willie acknowledging, with his very last breath, that he was really bad at this rescuing business, thus giving closure to the whole gag.
Ah well, thank fudge my days as a Sky 1 viewer are over.
Lastly, rest in peace Amusing Tombstones. And also Casper (Friendly Boy mode), Elvis, Bambi's Mom, Drexell's Class, R. Buckminster Fuller and Subtle Political Satire. You may all be gone, but your memory is always lying in wait with each revisit to the Treehouse of Horror.