In Praise of “The Honking,” the Only Halloween Episode of Futurama
Horror movies and cars are a pretty natural pairing. While it’s not quite as close as the relationship between action movies and cars, automobiles still feature prominently in some of the genre’s hoariest clichés—the young lovers who are caught unaware by a killer on the loose while necking in a parked car, the ominous gas station attendant who warns road-tripping teens to go no further, and of course, the unreliable jalopy that just won’t start when our heroine is trying to escape.
There have even been a few horror movies that are explicitly about cars, which we helpfully ranked for you a couple of Halloweens ago. But there aren’t that many cartoon horror movie parodies that are explicitly about cars. In fact, I can only really think of one—the classic Futurama episode “The Honking.”
“The Honking” is basically a cross between the enjoyably cheesy 1977 horror movie The Car and old-school Universal werewolf flicks (the title itself is a pun on Joe Dante’s 1981 werewolf classic The Howling).
The story begins when Bender, the Planet Express crew’s lovable alcoholic robot, discovers that he has inherited a creepy castle from his recently departed uncle. While there, Bender is run over by a mysterious automobile, which ends up transforming him into a “were-car” that sprouts wheels whenever there’s a full moon.
The silly story allows the Futurama writers to riff on the horror genre in many fun ways. One particularly inspired nod to The Shining involves the seemingly innocuous numbers 0101100101 appearing on a wall in blood, but then terrifying Bender when he sees the mirror reflection reading 1010011010—the binary code for 666.
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And alongside the clever horror parodies are a ton of great car gags, including a cemetery tombstone for “The Red LeBaron,” and a reference to the “anti-Chrysler.” I also really enjoy the rundown of parts from “history’s most evil cars,” which includes the motor from Ed Begley Jr.’s electric car (“the most evil propulsion system ever conceived!”)
Unlike The Simpsons, Matt Groening’s first (and far more popular) FOX cartoon sitcom, Futurama didn’t make Halloween-themed episodes an annual tradition. So “The Honking” is really the only episode from the series to watch this time of year—but that’s okay, because it’s good enough to stand up to repeat viewings.
Ed. Note: If you’re a subscriber, you can watch “The Honking” on Netflix. It’s the second episode of season three.
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Patrick Grieve was born in Southwestern Ohio and has lived there all of his life, with the exception of a few years spent getting a Creative Writing degree in Southeastern Ohio. He loves to take road trips, sometimes to places as distant as Northeastern or even Northwestern Ohio. Patrick also enjoys old movies, shopping at thrift stores, going to ballgames, writing about those things, and watching Law & Order reruns. He just watches the original series, though, none of the spin-offs. And also only the ones they made before Jerry Orbach died. Season five was really the peak, in his opinion. See more articles by Patrick.