Halloween with `Simpsons' is a treat

New on DVD

Movies: on screen, DVD/Video

October 30, 2003|By Diane Werts | Diane Werts,NEWSDAY

Halloween episodes became an annual necessity in the 1990s because of two shows: Roseanne and The Simpsons. Roseanne Barr's ABC sitcom raised costume parties and creepy pranks to a level finally matching the adult public's preoccupation with what had long been considered a children's holiday. And Fox's animated satire tapped into the season's fantasy frights to set its writers' loopy imaginations loose for even wilder scares and sendups.

We'll have to wait to see Roseanne on DVD, but the first three seasons of The Simpsons are out already, and Fox is now playing quick catch-up with later Halloween specials. Its new Treehouse of Horror disc includes four of the annual spookings, from Seasons 5, 6, 7 and, for some reason, 12. (That would be 1994, 1995, 1996 and 2001.) Extra DVD features are nearly nonexistent -- only a superfluous three-minute Kang and Kodos clipfest -- but the episodes handily appear in one place, at least, with a reasonable price tag. And coming season sets will surely include the makers' commentary on their comic inspirations.

That gives us time to try to spot all those smart Simpsons references ourselves, from "The Shinning" (a possessed Homer terrifies the family not by crying "Here's Johnny!" but instead the intro to 60 Minutes) to "Wiz Kids" (a Harry Potter takeoff set at Springwart's School of Magicry) to the credits' creepily mangled crew names. The family gets turned inside out to dance a Chorus Line number. "Attack of the 50-Foot Eyesores" brings advertising images to life. (Talk about horror!) There's a computer-generated Homer, Bart's Siamese twin Hugo, the automated Ultrahouse 3000 lusting after Marge, and the truly chilling "Nightmare Cafeteria" in which school kids literally get cooked. That one may be enough to spook younger viewers.

`Sabrina' revisited

Scares aren't the point of Sabrina the Teenage Witch, the 1995 Showtime movie that introduced Melissa Joan Hart's title character. This is a family film about an average teen trying to cope with the 16th-birthday news that her entire family is endowed with supernatural powers. While her cool custodial aunts are teaching Sabrina to fly and cast spells, she's also learning about track meets, proms, shopping, infatuation and friendship. Hart hadn't yet revved up here to the plucky charm she'd show in the subsequent ABC sitcom, but she may be more relatable without the schtick. Too bad this DVD offers no extras at all.

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