How The Simpsons Halloween Specials Reflect the Evolution of the Zombie Genre

Zombies are one of the fundamental monsters of the 21st century, with many movies, shows, comics, games, and other forms of media helping to elevate the undead to the upper echelon of modern Western culture. They also evolved rapidly through this era, changing from one specific type of monster to something very different.


Thanks to his long-running nature and habit of parodying popular horror stories and tropes in each successive “Treehouse of Horror” special, The simpsons can be used as a perfect case study to show how zombies have evolved in film from the days of the undead a la George Romero to the more modern version of the concept.

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How Treehouse of Horror made zombies in 1992

Season 4’s “Treehouse of Horror III” features the “Dial ‘Z’ for Zombies” segment. After discovering an ancient book of powerful spells in the school library, Bart tries to use the book to resurrect Lisa Snowball I’s dead cat. Instead, he inadvertently summons a horde of undead, unleashing them on Springfield. Many of the townspeople, including Krusty the Clown, Principal Skinner, and Ned Flanders, are killed and turned into zombies. In the end, the Simpsons are able to break into the school – with Homer taking down several zombies, most famously including Flanders – while Bart performs a spell to undo the effects of the curse and stop the undead.

“Dial ‘Z’ for Zombies” is a silly first entry in the Treehouse of Horror sub-series, even considering that – compared to the horror anthology’s other early releases – it lacked the body count. that usually occur in these episodes. The zombies all walk around slowly, crushing people and consuming their brains. Although zombies retain some semblance of personality and intelligence (as in Return of the Living Dead), they are motivated by their need for intelligence. The zombies reflect the era’s version of the monster – the kind of zombies from George Romero’s films like dawn of the dead and The day of the Dead. The episode included a bit of Romero-esque social commentary embedded in the ending. After saving the day and defeating the zombies, the Simpsons go home and watch television, becoming stupid zombies in front of the television themselves.

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How Treehouse of Horror made zombies in 2009

The next time a Treehouse of Horror sequence targeted zombie movies directly, it was a much creepier portrayal. “Don’t Have a Cow, Mankind” from Season 21’s “Treehouse of Horror XX.” After Krusty reveals a new form of hamburger, he quickly spreads a new virus that turns victims into savage, cannibalistic monsters. Springfield crumbles into ruin as most of the city is infected. The Simpsons survive the chaos and, after discovering Bart has natural immunity, struggle to get him to a military safe zone while battling the hordes of “munchers” they encounter along the way. The short is arguably one of the scariest segments in Treehouse of Horror, playing the Munchers are pure threats that quickly tear apart the handful of survivors the family encounters. There’s little comedy to be found in them, with the Munchers instead being portrayed as genuinely vicious and horrifying takes on zombies.

The Munchers function more or less like the modern “fast” zombie that first became popular with movies like 28 days later and dawn of the dead. The Munchers show how zombies have evolved in pop culture since the days of “Dial ‘Z’ for Zombies” aired nearly twenty years prior. They are no longer wacky and caused by supernatural forces, but become a terrifying plague caused by the spread of a virus. After going through a period of serious reinvention and cultural revitalization – thanks to properties like The Walking Dead — zombies now represent a mix of both approaches. But thanks to its unique long-lasting status, The simpsons got the chance to show this evolution first hand – and poke fun at both approaches to the classic horror staple.

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