The 10 best references from 19 seasons of South Park.
It’s South Park season again. While I’ve long lamented the fact that there are 52 weeks in the year, and I only get South Park for 10 of them, I’m sure glad it’s here. South Park is enjoyable on so many levels. You can watch it as an immature child, a hipster contrarian or an enlightened social commentator, but you can also enjoy South Park as a cinephile.
Whether this is out of genuine interest or last-minute research, Trey Parker and Matt Stone know their cinema, and South Park as a whole is dripping with movie references, ranging from obscure to episode-wide. While there are far too many to chronicle completely, here are some of my favorites:
Inception – Insheeption
Sure, this one is certainly low-hanging fruit, and is easily their least graceful movie reference, but damn is it on point. From a man literally providing intense background music to trying to explain an impossibly convoluted plot (“It’ll be like a taco, inside a taco, within a Taco Bell that’s inside a KFC, within a mall that’s inside your dream!”), South Park hit on all the expected bits but with a comedic flair only found with Parker and Stone.
As a bonus, this episode also included Freddy Krueger, imagining a hilarious, but completely logical crossover.
The Dark Knight Rises — Insecurity
Did I say Insheeption was their least graceful reference?
Look, I’m not the type of guy who trolls Reddit looking for the hot new reaction image, and I lament the culture of millennial internet users who communicate almost entirely in memes (the amount of times I heard “mistakes were made” at PAX West was a depressing sum), but dammit Baneposting is funny. And South Park decided to make an episode out of it.
Seeing their marriages threatened by the UPS man, who can’t be scared, according to a local townsfolk, “not with that much free pussy at every doorstep,” the dads of South Park decide to get together, don Bane masks, and do something about this home-wrecking horndog – who is actually just an innocent delivery guy.
Much like how Christopher Nolan ensured every one of Bane’s lines in The Dark Knight Rises was infinitely quotable (probably as a “fuck you” to Joel Schumacher’s iteration of the character, who just walked around shouting “BANE!”), South Park didn’t waste a line. “Well hello there Mr. UPS Man. You should have left our wives alone” will stick with me just as much as “Do you feel in charge?” or “Then you’ll have my permission to die.”
Silence of the Lambs – Toilet Paper
On the subject of a reference to a particular villain over the movie itself, Toilet Paper tasks Officer Barbrady with find the culprit behind the latest TPing incident, and he must enlist the advice of serial TPer Josh Meyers. Until the episode takes you into the prison, you’re pretty much in the dark.
Then come the “quid pro quo” talks and the unmistakable voice mimicking that of Sir Anthony Hopkins, and here we go again.
The Thing — Licecapades
Few auteurs have had more of an influence on the film and television than John Carpenter. Even just last year, two major films were directly inspired by his work: Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight and indie darling It Follows.
Like many people who just see The Thing for the first time, Cartman was all-too excited to put his friends to the test – literally. When the school undergoes a lice scare, Cartman tries to convince his friends that he can find out who has lice by placing a heated up copper wire into some of their blood.
Of course, as Kyle is quick to point out, “that’s retarded.”
They Live – Cripple Fight
South Park has a complicated relationship with its portrayal of people who are differently abled. On one hand, their surface-level appearance can seem appealing only to the lowest common denominator, a reductive look at a complicated topic. Upon closer examination, however, we can see how Trey Parker and Matt Stone use the portrayal of Jimmy and Timmy to satirize how society views people who are differently abled.
You can even apply that same reading to one of South Park’s most controversial scenes – and best movie references – which is in that of Cripple Fight. Timmy gets jealous of Jimmy, the new kid, who walks with arm crutches, and a fight ensues. Of course, this fight is almost shot-for-shot the fight in They Live, directed by – you guessed it – John Carpenter.
Dawn of the Dead – Night of the Living Homeless
OK, pretend you don’t know the title of this episode: it starts out so innocently, as a cut-and-dry satire of how homeless people are treated by society (the city council mulls turning them into tires in the early bits).
Then, more and more homeless show up and begin to horde and shout “change.” Maybe a coincidence? Then they run into a man who has been studying the homeless and refers to how they forget immediately after they’ve been given what they want. Still not nailed down … but once the towns folk are camped up on the roof of a public building surveying the hordes of homeless people and worry about who is becoming one, you should get the idea. It’s Dawn of the Dead. Sure, a little bit of Day of the Dead and other zombie movies thrown in.
It goes to show how South Park can cascade you into a movie-themed episode rather than coming right out with it.
The Shining – A Nightmare on Face Time
While the title of this episode would lead you to believe in a return to South Park by Mr. Krueger, it’s a pretty obvious – and pretty apt – reference to Kubrick’s masterpiece of horror. I would never consider myself a hawk-eyed movie buff for catching this one, but this episode goes to show the myriad ways in which South Park references a movie.
They can use a movie reference as a subtle wink, a broad stroke of commentary or simply as a hilarious spoof/omage. A Nightmare on Facetime successfully splits the uprights between the last two, showing the dying state of movie rentals and physical media in general, putting that against the backdrop of a classic movie and illustrating how scarily accurate the comparison is.
It’s an episode so burned in my consciousness that I can’t watch The Shining without thinking about Randy Marsh frozen asking for chicken nuggets. Well played.
The Core – Die Hippie Die
Sometimes, South Park uses a reference to show just how plain stupid a movie can be, and what better example than The Core a hollow Armageddon knock-off with even more implausible actions. A huge hippie festival has infiltrated South Park, and they need to construct a drill to get to the center of it and turn off their music.
The plot is hilariously bad, but even worse is their use of the token black character. South Park is, of course, no stranger to this plot device, best noted by their character literally named Token Black. The drill crew in this episode was sure to include a “black man to sacrifice himself in case anything goes wrong,” making the obvious reference to Delroy Lindo’s character in The Core.
Ex Machina – Truth and Advertising
South Park’s continuity has been a strange development, but it hasn’t hindered the subtleties that make the show a mainstay. Truth and Advertising is no exception.
Season 19 saw a side character, Leslie, thrust onto center stage when it turns out she is an advertisement – a robot. Matt and Trey saw fit to sneak in a wink to what turned out to be a pleasant Oscar surprise (and what Alicia Vikander should have won for, but that’s beside the point).
If you’ve seen the movie, it’s a pretty overt reference (a robot, talking to a man interviewing her, sparks a power surge that cuts off the perspective of the viewing third party leaving only red security lights), but you likely missed it if Ex Machina is still on your “catching up on 2015 list.” That’s what makes this style of reference the most enjoyable.
Speaking of which …
There Will Be Blood & Snatch – Breast Cancer Show Ever
As much as I’d like to jump all over the There Will Be Blood reference in this episode, as it’s deliciously subtle and brief, that one seems like common knowledge. In an episode that is set up like “There Will Be … A Fight Between Wendy and Cartman,” denying us that pleasure until the very end, Wendy lands the final blow, sits next to his bleeding body and, when asked about the situation by Mr. Mackey, replies only with “I’m finished.”
And, if this was the only movie reference in the scene, or even in that episode, South Park would have done its job, satisfying those who know about it, making them feel part of some special club.
But Matt and Trey outdid themselves. In case you didn’t catch this one, a good strategy going forward is to think of it in this term: if a South Park episode seems overtly stylized or appears particularly directed, it’s probably a reference. Sure enough, the music and the final punch of Wendy and Cartman’s fight is copy-pasted from Guy Ritchie’s Snatch. See for yourself: