By Piya Sinha-Roy
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - 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 favorite 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.
WHO DIES IN SEASON 25?
"The Simpsons," which first aired in 1989, is the longest-running animated series in the history of U.S. television. It has made the cartoon family and their catchphrases, such as "D'oh" and "Ay caramba," a part of American pop culture. The show is broadcast in more than 100 countries.
The series entered its 25th season last week, kicking off with "Homerland," a parody of the Emmy-winning Showtime thriller "Homeland," in which Homer behaves oddly after disappearing during a weekend convention.
In a conference call with reporters, executive producer Al Jean said the upcoming season will feature a few surprises, including a crossover episode with "Futurama," another animated show created by Groening, for the season finale.
But the biggest surprise is that one of the series' regular characters will die.
Jean said the only clue he could give was that the voice actor who plays the character has won an Emmy for playing that role. But with 28 Primetime Emmy wins under the show's belt, including more than a dozen for voice-over artists, narrowing the victims down has been difficult for fans.
Early guesses include Moe the bartender, voiced by Hank Azaria; Sideshow Bob, voiced by guest star Kelsey Grammer; Edna Krabappel, voiced by Marcia Wallace; and Krusty the Clown's father, Rabbi Hyman Krustofski, voiced by Jackie Mason.
The only major character to die so far in the series has been Maude Flanders, wife of Homer's annoying neighbor Ned, who met her demise in the finale of the 11th season after being hit by a t-shirt gun and falling from the bleachers at the Springfield car race track.
(The story was refiled to add ketter to headline)
(Editing by Eric Kelsey and Stacey Joyce)