We live in the age of the hot take, but I feel like this shouldn’t be one, right?
The Simpsons’ annual tradition of anthology spooktaculars is one of the venerable show’s most venerable of institutions. The freedom they provide—within the realm of horror at least—often leads to the series’ best homages, the finest parodies, and the greatest gags.
Freed from the constraint of having to make even the faintest sense in the already absurd lives lived on Evergreen Terrace, their endless riffs don’t quite feel like they’re the gasps of a show still trying to retain relevance long after many fans would decry is a series well past its peak. They’re just good, silly, often comically violent bits of fun.
But while Treehouse of Horror has endured even as The Simpsons has grown over the last three decades—for better or worse, or however you feel about it—it’s kind of amazing to think that the show has still not quite managed to nail a singular Treehouse as unequivocally and brilliantly as its fourth time at spook-bat in 1993 with Treehouse of Horror IV.
I mean, come on. The Twilight Zone homage in Terror at 5½ Feet! Flanders as the devil in The Devil and Homer Simpson! These aren’t just some of the most iconic moments in Treehouse history, they’re some of the most iconic moments in The Simpsons, full stop.
And then there’s Bart Simpson’s Dracula. The best sketch in what is the best Treehouse of Horror.
If you have somehow not seen it—frankly, what is wrong with you, why are you even reading this article, and good news I guess, it’ll be on Disney+ in a few weeks—Bart Simpson’s Dracula is, well, The Simpsons. Doing Dracula. The vampire in this case of course (or vampyr, as Lisa dramatically intones in its opening moments, a read so iconic it as burned into my mind as the only, unequivocal way to say “vampyr” whenever that rare situation arises) is none other than Mr. Burns. Because who else could be a literal bloodsucker than the domineering capitalist specter that haunts Springfield and Homer in equal measure?
One convenient invite to Burns’ not-at-all-suspicious castle later, the Simpson family finds itself going on zany escapes as Lisa tries to prove to her blissfully ignorant parents and brother that Burns is the one behind the vampire attacks hitting Springfield as of late. Those attacks? Clearly the work of a mummy. The castle? Oh, it’s just what being a billionaire gets you. His straight out of Francis Ford Coppola look? He’s an old man, what you gonna do. That said castle’s underlevels lead to a crypt filled with vampires? Weird flex, but we all gotta get some sleep somehow. His biography is called Yes, I Am a Vampire? Details, schmetails!
It’s that sort of absurd silliness—and everyone but Lisa being willing enough to say “eh” and go along with it, and even then, she does too, eventually—that makes Bart Simpson’s Dracula shine brighter than Vampire-Burns’ pointiest fangs. Beyond its sharp pop culture parody, its ironic detachment from reality just makes for great gag after great gag (“Ohh…I guess killing will be fun enough,” Homer laments, when Lisa chides him for wanting to use the slide into Burns’ crypt, will never not crack me up). It combines everything you want out of a good Treehouse sketch: solid source material to riff off of, funny jokes, and a really smart use of The Simpsons’ world traced onto an unexpected genre.
But while my childhood self loved the silliness of the ‘Dracula’ part of Bart Simpson’s Dracula, as I’ve grown older (and only increasingly sillier), it’s the Bart Simpson’s bit of that title that I have come to appreciate more and more. Because it’s important to remember that, beyond it being a nod to Coppola’s evocation of the author’s name for his 1992 classic, it is also there to remind us that everything we watch unfold in this story is through Bart’s lens. And remembering that makes Bart Simpson’s Dracula evolve from funny pastiche to something that is both really smart and, in some ways, kind of touching.
The inherent absurdity of the sketch—dancing from gag to oddball reference to more gags as everyone involved just kind of shrugs and rolls with it—smacks so perfectly of the creation of a juvenile slacker like Bart, especially given that, as the framing device explains before going in, he was meant to do a bit based on Coolidge’s A Friend in Need but changed it at the last minute.
Having the hook that his parents are all secretly the real vampires (especially Marge as the head vampire, in the truest acknowledgement of who rules the roost in the Simpsons family) is evocative of his distaste for the authority figures in his life. Hell, even the zany climax of the sketch breaking suddenly into a Charlie Brown Christmas parody reads like a snotty biting-of-his-thumb (or eating of his shorts) in the direction of it all. Of course Bart is told to tell a Halloween skit and ends it as a Christmas one. You don’t tell Bart Simpson what to do!
But above all, what makes Bart Simpson’s Dracula truly Bart’s lens is that, well, Bart really isn’t the lens at all. Within the story itself, at least.
And as ceaselessly, nightmarishly assholish as he can be to his little sister as he can be, and as much as he would deign to admit it publicly, deep down he loves her more than anything else in the world. So of course in his Dracula lampoon he isn’t the hero. He’s the dumb comic relief who, as Lisa investigates the oblique mystery of Mr. Burns, gets himself done in just so he can ride a silly slide right back down into the vampire pit he and his sister just escaped. Lisa is the hero, figuring it all out, denying the temptation—teasing temptation from her brother, no less, because that’s their entire relationship—of being converted into a vampire, hatching the plan to beat Burns. She’s put in danger, but always finds a way out, even right at the very end.
Of course, when tasked with coming up with something at the last minute, Bart Simpson turns to inspiration from the one person he can always count on.
Happy Halloween, everybody. Don’t forget to gather round the fireplace and sing “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” in celebration.