“Invasion of the Squirrelanoids” is the first Halloween episode of Nickelodeon’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and it successfully channels the horror of Ridley Scott’s Alien and James Cameron’s Aliens. The episode is filled with references to that franchise, but the story is never derailed by it and Michelangelo’s meta-references to horror stories actually strengthen the plot.
This is one of the creepiest episodes the series has done; it begins with a squirrel dislodging its jaw to reveal a tentacle-like tongue and forcefully climbing down a homeless man’s mouth. And then it gets gross. The squirrels multiply inside host bodies and are ejected through projectile vomiting (which is a brilliant way to do the chest burst without having to kill any characters). The turtles spend the episode trying to catch squirrels running loose in their lair and after they evolve in to Squirrelanoids, (named after Alienoids, the xenomoprh-like aliens in Michelangelo’s comic) they try to keep them from escaping to the surface.
Along with the plot being inspired by Alien/Aliens, the Squirrelanoids heavily resemble the H.R. Giger’s xenomorph designs. The mutant has a similar elongated body with an extended cylindrical skull (although the squirrel version includes sections that are glowing neon green) and a long tongue with a squirrel head and mouth at the end. Director Michael Chang channels the horror classics and references memorable scenes by having a Squirrelanoid lower down in to frame from the ceiling to attack the turtles and one of the monsters tethering itself to Mikey as he tries to flush them away (the sewer equivalent of opening the airlock).
Although the episode doesn’t focus heavily on any one turtle, Michelangelo is the hero of the episode. Mikey is often ignored by the rest of the cast and is viewed as dumb. He’s not stupid though; his head just isn’t always in the real world. In the first half of the episode he’s criticized for reading a horror comic instead of focusing on the mission, but by the end, his horror knowledge is what defeats the Squirrelanoids. Mikey might not always be all together in real life, but when it comes to fantasy, he’s the smartest in the sewers (to the point where he even calls out Splinter for suggesting splitting up).
Unfortunately this episode is pretty similar to last season’s “Parasitica;” it’s mostly a bottle episode where the turtles accidentally unleash a classic horror monster in their lair and have to rely on Michelangelo to save the day (although this time there’s more Splinter and it’s Mikey that comes up with the plan instead of Donatello). It’s also odd to see Mikey make a big deal about a mint condition of an (already ripped) comic being damaged when he uses Leonardo’s Space Heroes #1 as tp in “Parasitica” (although maybe it’s because EC Horror comics were way better than Gold Key Star Trek).
Like many horror films, the episode ends with the monster popping back on screen to attack a hapless victim; hopefully the Squirrelanoids will be back soon.