It’s hard to say which has made a larger impact on pop culture: The Simpsons or Alfred Hitchcock. The director is responsible for writing the playbook on suspense that nearly every horror story or thriller borrows from in some way. And The Simpsons, well, people will still be referencing Simpsons jokes 50 years from now.
Speaking of Simpsons jokes, the show has paid homage to the late director dozens of times over the years, touching on nearly all of Hitchcock’s work. From Homer recreating the intro to Alfred Hitchcock Presents in “Treehouse of Horror III” to Principal Skinner’s very Norman Bates relationship with his mother, the show’s full of Hitchcockian nods. To mark the long-departed master of suspense’s 117th birthday and to mark the coming 28th season of The Simpsons (which debuts on FOX September 25 @8PM) here’s a guide to all those wonderful Hitchcock Simpsons gags.
“A Streetcar Named Marge” — 1992
While the title of this season four episode is obviously a take on the Tennessee Williams play, it has a great Hitchcock reference built-in. The story revolves around Marge deciding that she wants to try her hand at acting in a community theater production of the Williams’ play with Homer offering zero support. Because Homer acts like such a slob of a husband, Marge enrolls Maggie in a daycare center where her pacifier is quickly confiscated. The Birds spoof comes along when Homer and the kids arrive at the daycare center to pick Maggie up and find themselves surround by a sea of babies. The scene is topped off with the writers going the extra step to work in The Birds’ Hitchcock pet store cameo with the director walking by as Homer and the kids leave the daycare.
The most recent Hitchcock reference from The Simpsons came with Guillermo del Toro’s fantastic “Treehouse of Horror XXIV” couch gag. The opening sequence was packed with references to both del Toro’s own movies as well as other horror classics, with Edna Krabappel becoming an unfortunate bird seed victim, courtesy of Hitchcock himself.
North By Northwest
“Homer vs Lisa and the 8th Commandment” — 1991
One of the earliest episodes with a Simpsons nod to Hitchcock came from this season two episode with Lisa wrestling with the moral issues of Homer’s illegal cable hookup. When Ned Flanders turns down an offer for the free cable Homer races after the truck, jumping in front of its path in an effort to score some free channels. The reference to the 1959 thriller isn’t as outright apparent as other Hitchcock references, but Homer desperately trying to stop the truck driver before being struck down is a near perfect play-by-play of the famous Cary Grant scene.
Arguably Alfred Hitchcock’s most popular film, it’s no surprise that Psycho also takes the top prize for the most references in The Simpsons. Nearly any time there’s a creepy house in a Simpsons episode it bares a resemblance to the Bates home, but that only scratches the surface of Psycho tributes. From Maggie recreating the famous shower stabbing scene with Homer in 1990’s “Itchy and Scratchy and Marge” to Bart filling in for the part of Norman Bates’ dead mother in the pop culture heavy episode “Black Widower,” Psycho pops up time and again. While not as iconic as the shower or dead mother scenes, season four’s “Marge in Chains” found Maude Flanders recreating the perverted peep-hole of Norman Bates by spying on Marge.
“Bart of Darkness” — 1994
Besides having fantastic jokes like “Milpool,” this season six episode brilliantly updated the 1954 Hitchcock movie, injecting it with a dose of humor. If it’s been awhile since you’ve seen it, Bart finds himself in the role of Jimmy Stewart — who also has a cameo — as he sits in his room unable to enjoy the summer spoils of his backyard pool after breaking his leg during a pool stunt. Saddled with boredom, he can only watch the backyard fun through Lisa’s telescope, but soon shifts his focus to more sinister things when he hears a scream and witnesses Flanders burying something in the backyard. While the girly scream ultimately turns out to just be Ned reacting to killing Maude’s favorite houseplant, the build up has Bart becoming even more paranoid.
“Three Men and a Comic Book”
Being the avid comic collectors and lovers of Raidoactive man that they are, Bart, Milhouse and Martin treat the original issue of Radioactive man like it’s the Holy Grail. The prized possession quickly forms a wedge between the group, leading each one to believe the others are conspiring to steal it for themselves. Bart and Milhouse eventually find themselves recreating the climatic ending of 1942’s Saboteur with Bart’s treehouse filling in for the Statue of Liberty. Unlike Fry, Milhouse manages to escape disaster when Bart comes to his senses and chooses his friend over the comic book.
Current episodes of the show have Springfield Elementary lacking a bell tower, but earlier episodes often featured one, even incorporating it into the plot. Season two’s “Principal Charming” revealed that the inside of the school’s tower bared a similar resemblance to the tower from Vertigo, with Principal Skinner racing up its steps to find Bart’s sodium tetrasulfate prank on the school field.
Season five’s “Homer Loves Flanders” doesn’t make quite as obvious a reference to Vertigo as the previously mentioned episode, but the staircase to the tower in Ned’s dream looks very similar to the one from the 1958 film. Simpsons writers Conan O’Brien and David Richardson doubled up on the Hitchcock nods for this episode, working in a haunted house at the end that undoubtedly was modeled after the Bates’ home.
“Treehouse of Horror XX”
Season 21’s “Treehouse of Horror” installment provided an all out buffet of Hitchcock tributes with “Dial M for Murder or press # to return to main menu.” Besides the title, the episode most closely parodies Strangers on a Train with Lisa and Bart conspiring to seek revenge on Mrs. Krabappel and Ms. Hoover for wrongful detention. The segment also works in subtle references to Psycho, The Birds, Spellbound, Vertigo, and the theme from North by Northwest.
While the show doesn’t work in the Hitchcock references as often as it did in its early years, it’s probably only a matter of time until The Simpsons craft a new joke to pay homage to the director.