LOS ANGELES - Mexican director Guillermo Del Toro is bringing his dark, ghoulish style to Fox's long-running animated series "The Simpsons" on Sunday, when his take on popular monsters and villains will be featured in the show's opening sequence.
In the "Treehouse of Horror" episode, Del Toro directed the 2-1/2 minute opening sequence in which the Simpson family runs from evil forces overtaking their town and back to the comfort of their couch in front of the TV.
Police chief Clancy Wiggum becomes a giant Cyclops inspired by the creations of Ray Harryhausen, a pioneer of movie visual effects; baby Maggie chases after Milhouse in a sleek black car, which Del Toro said he modeled on his favourite horror B-movie, 1977's "The Car;" and father Homer becomes a nuclear mutant.
"I asked (creator Matt Groening) if I could make the sequence around horror and fantasy in general, and throw in my movies there. But this way, it's a love letter to things that I love, both in 'The Simpsons' and the genre," said Del Toro, who directed 2004's "Hellboy" and 2013's "Pacific Rim."
At the beginning of every episode of "The Simpsons," all five members of the family - Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie - race home from work, school and shopping, and bundle onto their couch in front of the TV.
The couch gag changes with each episode, sometimes parodying a moment from pop culture or placing obstacles in the way of the family as they try to reach the couch.
The "Treehouse of Horror" is an annual Halloween-themed episode with three featurettes that are inspired by either classic or modern spooky tales. This year's episode includes a creepy twist on Dr. Seuss and a traveling circus of freaks.
Del Toro said there are about 30 to 40 direct horror film references in his opening, including Alfred Hitchcock's 1963 film "The Birds" and his own 2006 film "Pan's Labyrinth," which closes out the sequence. In total, there are nearly 100 subtle homages to iconic moments from the genre.
"I kept trying to add things ... but I pared it down because I wanted very much to make it as consistent with the title sequence as possible," the director said.
Del Toro, 48, is the only director to take on the opening sequence in the "Treehouse of Horror" episode. A handful of artists have been given the opportunity to dream up a "Simpsons" couch gag, including elusive British graffiti artist Banksy and animator Bill Plympton.