By Piya Sinha-Roy
LOS ANGELES, Oct 3 (Reuters) - Mexican director GuillermoDel Toro is bringing his dark, ghoulish style to Fox's long-running animated series "The Simpsons" on Sunday, when histake on popular monsters and villains will be featured in theshow's opening sequence.
In the "Treehouse of Horror" episode, Del Toro directed the2-1/2 minute opening sequence in which the Simpson family runsfrom evil forces overtaking their town and back to the comfortof their couch in front of the TV.
Police chief Clancy Wiggum becomes a giant Cyclops inspiredby the creations of Ray Harryhausen, a pioneer of movie visualeffects; baby Maggie chases after Milhouse in a sleek black car,which Del Toro said he modeled on his favorite horror B-movie,1977's "The Car;" and father Homer becomes a nuclear mutant.
"I asked (creator Matt Groening) if I could make thesequence around horror and fantasy in general, and throw in mymovies there. But this way, it's a love letter to things that Ilove, both in 'The Simpsons' and the genre," said Del Toro, whodirected 2004's "Hellboy" and 2013's "Pacific Rim."
At the beginning of every episode of "The Simpsons," allfive members of the family - Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie- race home from work, school and shopping, and bundle ontotheir couch in front of the TV.
The couch gag changes with each episode, sometimes parodyinga moment from pop culture or placing obstacles in the way of thefamily as they try to reach the couch.
The "Treehouse of Horror" is an annual Halloween-themedepisode with three featurettes that are inspired by eitherclassic or modern spooky tales. This year's episode includes acreepy twist on Dr. Seuss and a traveling circus of freaks.
Del Toro said there are about 30 to 40 direct horror filmreferences in his opening, including Alfred Hitchcock's 1963film "The Birds" and his own 2006 film "Pan's Labyrinth," whichcloses out the sequence. In total, there are nearly 100 subtlehomages to iconic moments from the genre.
"I kept trying to add things ... but I pared it down becauseI wanted very much to make it as consistent with the titlesequence as possible," the director said.
Del Toro, 48, is the only director to take on the openingsequence in the "Treehouse of Horror" episode. A handful ofartists have been given the opportunity to dream up a "Simpsons"couch gag, including elusive British graffiti artist Banksy andanimator Bill Plympton.
WHO DIES IN SEASON 25?
"The Simpsons," which first aired in 1989, is thelongest-running animated series in the history of U.S.television. It has made the cartoon family and theircatchphrases, such as "D'oh" and "Ay caramba," a part ofAmerican pop culture. The show is broadcast in more than 100countries.
The series entered its 25th season last week, kicking offwith "Homerland," a parody of the Emmy-winning Showtime thriller"Homeland," in which Homer behaves oddly after disappearingduring a weekend convention.
In a conference call with reporters, executive producer AlJean said the upcoming season will feature a few surprises,including a crossover episode with "Futurama," another animatedshow created by Groening, for the season finale.
But the biggest surprise is that one of the series' regularcharacters will die.
Jean said the only clue he could give was that the voiceactor who plays the character has won an Emmy for playing thatrole. But with 28 Primetime Emmy wins under the show's belt,including more than a dozen for voice-over artists, narrowingthe victims down has been difficult for fans.
Early guesses include Moe the bartender, voiced by HankAzaria; Sideshow Bob, voiced by guest star Kelsey Grammer; EdnaKrabappel, voiced by Marcia Wallace; and Krusty the Clown'sfather, Rabbi Hyman Krustofski, voiced by Jackie Mason.
The only major character to die so far in the series hasbeen Maude Flanders, wife of Homer's annoying neighbor Ned, whomet her demise in the finale of the 11th season after being hitby a t-shirt gun and falling from the bleachers at theSpringfield car race track.
- Guillermo Del Toro