Mr. Burns and Smithers gets the 'Pan's Labyrinth' treatment in the 24th edition of 'The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror.' The segment was directed by Guillermo del Toro himself.
For Treehouse of Horror XXIV, The Simpsons have called in an expert: Guillermo del Toro.
The big-screen director, who has explored the fantasy and horror genres in such films as Pan's Labyrinth, Cronos and Blade II, directed an extended tribute to celluloid monsters and mayhem that will open the animated comedy's annual Halloween special (Fox, Sunday, 8 p.m. ET/PT).
"We talked about doing it around the movies I have done, but I felt I'd rather mix those images with the creatures and monsters of film, which have influenced me enormously," del Toro says. "So, I said, 'Why don't we do a really long riff on the title sequence, rather than just a couch gag?" he says of the ever-changing scene involving the Simpson family and its long-suffering couch.
Simpsons executive producer Al Jean is pleased that del Toro became part of the annual scare-a-thon (held early because of pre-emptions for Fox's post-season baseball coverage). The episode also will feature a Dr. Seuss parody, a story where Bart's and Lisa's heads share a body and a tribute to the 1932 classic, Freaks.
Popular past openings have included a voting machine that swallowed up Homer after refusing to let him vote for Obama in 2008 and last year's reference to a prophesied 2012 apocalypse, he says.
The del Toro opening is "encyclopedic. There's very little you could think of that's missing," says Jean, who visited the director's "man cave" with Simpsons creator Matt Groening. "If you think that couch gag is scary, he has like every horror figurine of all time," including life-size replicas. "Say you broke into his house and it was dark and you're a burglar, you would die of a heart attack."
The director's opening features such classics as Cyclops and the Universal monsters (including Wolfman and the Creature from the Black Lagoon), along with a tribute to Japanese kaiju (monster) films. Those are mixed with Simpsons favorites embodying characters from del Toro's films, including Mr. Burns and Bart as Pan'sPale Man and impish faun, respectively; Carl as Blade and Groundskeeper Willie as Hellboy.
As a "huge" Simpsons fan with a case full of show memorabilia, del Toro, who also directed this year's Pacific Rim, likes the merger of characters.
"I remember how groundbreaking it was to see this incredibly acerbic riff on sitcom dynamics, how they took on the culture and how they keep doing that," he says. "To get to do a love letter to two things I love, which is fantasy and horror films andThe Simpsons, is great. I enjoyed myself enormously."
The extended length of the opening, more than two-and-a-half minutes, gave del Toro a chance to honor some but not nearly all of the films that are important to him.
"I ended up cramming in about 1/50th of what I wanted," he says, although he made sure to recognize as many of his favorites as he could. "My top 10 (films) are more like a thousand. It's really hard for me. If I was pressed to choose, I would always choose Frankenstein and The Bride of Frankenstein, because they are so dear to my heart. I love the genre with a passion and it's hard for me to choose."
In additions to monsters and other iconic characters, the opening also features such horror masters as Alfred Hitchcock, Edgar Allan Poe, Stephen King and Ray Bradbury.
Horror has an enduring appeal to audiences, del Toro says.
"It's a way to bring the excitement that we need as a mammalian species. We need excitement and danger and other stimulus and we don't get it in our daily life. This is a way to get it vicariously," he says. "When we became sedentary, we needed the thrills in a different way."
Horror also connects to comedy, Jean says.
"It's like laughter, It's a basic human emotion and a safe way of (reaching) a core trigger in your adrenaline," he says. "I think they're twins. Laughing and screaming are kind of allied responses. It's very easy to take something scary and make it funny."