I’ve invested the greater part of my life into The Simpsons, and while there may have been more downs than ups lately, it’s still consistently bringing me laughs with each offering. Most of them happen to come with their annual Halloween specials, the only time the series is allowed to play with its world and put these characters into situations you wouldn’t expect.
With Halloween just around the corner, and this season’s two Halloween specials already come and gone (but the less said about this year’s Treehouse, the better), I figured it was a good time to celebrate the show’s best horror stories over its 27 seasons. Trying my best to utilize my near-encyclopedic knowledge of the series and keeping the list to one story per episode, I’ve narrowed down the 78 available stories into ten of the best.
Here are the ten best Treehouse of Horror stories The Simpsons has to offer.
Honorable Mentions: Desperately Xeeking Xena, Reaper Madness, Lisa’s Nightmare (The Monkey’s Paw), The Terror of Tiny Toon, Attack of the 50ft Eyesores, Life’s a Glitch, Then You Die, The Others, Clown Without Pity
10. The Day the Earth Looked Stupid (Treehouse of Horror XVII)
“Oh yeah? Why don’t I punch you in the nose, bud?” “…Nosebud…”
Folks may have counted out much of the later seasons, and while I’d be inclined to agree for the most part, a few good episodes always manage to go unnoticed. XVII was one of the last good Treehouse specials before they took a dive in the 20s, and it went out on a high. The show’s film spoofs don’t always work, but I absolutely loved this one. Maurice LaMarche put on his best Orson Welles again as the classic play ended up duping Springfield into wallowing in the dirt like animals. It doesn’t make any sense, it looks great, and it’s so perfectly Simpsons. Mostly because it actually nails the ending, which is something these specials always struggle with, as the episode ends with the bleak and soft The Ink Spots’ “I Don’t Want to Set the World on Fire.”
9. Send in the Clones (Treehouse of Horror XIII)
“Homer I must say, you’ve had the energy of twenty men lately!” “Twenty three!”
I don’t what it is, but seeing a group of Homers play off each other is incredibly satisfying. A natural progression of Homer’s self-deprecating humor, laziness, and superiority complex creates an army of clones that only want donuts and for Lenny to pick up the tab at Moe’s (“Anything for Homers!”). This segment’s also jam packed with jokes from the randomness of killing Flanders and “Paul Newman’s gonna have my legs broke!,” sights gags like Season One Homer and Peter Griffin, to the fact it all started because of a magic hammock. It’s stupid Homer x 1000 and it turned out pretty well.
8. Homer3 (Treehouse of Horror VI)
“It’s like something outta that twilighty show about that zone…”
VI was fantastic all around. Attack of the 50ft Eyesores and Nightmare on Evergreen Terrace were both pretty good, but I’ve got to hand it to the segment that blew my mind as a kid. Of course it earns its place on the list because it holds up beyond its 3D gimmick because it’s pretty funny (“May I take your coat?” “Uh, can I also take your coat?”), but it’s hard to gush about its visuals. CG pretty much unheard of in 1995, so the show was able to mine the relatively new technology for comedy. It may not exactly be like Tron (which no one has seen, apparently), but it’s close enough. Also, the bit where Homer shows up in our world still blows my mind. I don’t know how they pulled it off back then, but I’m glad they spent all of that money on an erotic cake joke.
7. Citizen Kang (Treehouse of Horror VII)
“Abortions for some, miniature American flags for all of us!”
You would hope the political jokes in Citizen Kang wouldn’t ring as true 19 years later, but like most things, the Simpsons predicted a lot of things. A parody of major elections sees the Halloween special stalwarts Kang and Kodos vying for American votes with nonsensical speeches and explicit pandering (which leads to one of the best lines in series history, which I had to highlight above) it’s crazy how timeless this special really is. Although the candidates are dated, you can replace them with pretty much anyone and it’ll still work. So go ahead, throw your vote away!
6. The Homega Man (Treehouse of Horror VIII)
“I’m the last man alive and I can do everything I’ve always wanted!”
Treehouse segments are full of movie parodies, but one of the stories that absolutely nails it is this one. Parodying 1971’s The Omega Man, which itself was adapted from Richard Matthenson’s novel I Am Legend, this short stars Homer as the last man alive in Springfield after the French (“Stupid frogs.”) bomb them for their remarks. After Homer enjoys the time alone, he realizes he’s not truly alone and every second is so funny. There’s a hidden joy in noting how long it takes Homer to realize everyone’s dead. In fact I love this segment so much, I’m thinking of getting a tattoo on my arm of “the rest.”
5. Night of the Dolphin (Treehouse of Horror XI)
What? A segment from the double digits in the top five? Absolutely! Written by Carolyn Omine (who also wrote Halloween of Horror, which turned out to be the best Simpsons episode in seven-eight years), after Lisa frees Snorky the dolphin, Springfield finds out he’s actually king of the dolphins and they want to claim the land the humans have stolen from them. On top of the great send ups to random monster horror films (think films like Black Sheep), there are plenty of laughs. Especially when the end of the story sees the town in a big fight with the dolphins before their hilarious loss. It’s always in my annual rotation each year.
4. The Devil and Homer Simpson (Treehouse of Horror IV)
These next few stories definitely fall into the line of “classic” Simpsons episodes that folks like to reference over and over again. It’s for good reason as The Devil and Homer Simpsons absolutely holds up to this day. A tight story where Homer makes a deal with the devil that manages to squeeze in a lot within its short run time. Random John Wayne gags (“I’m already up”), a great showing from Lionel Hutz, Blackbeard in a high chair, and of course, “But I’m so sweet and tasty!”
3. Dial ‘Z’ for Zombies (Treehouse of Horror III)
“Dad, you killed the zombie Flanders!” “He was a zombie?”
I feel like the only way I can fully appreciate this is by quoting it endlessly:
- “To the book depository!”
- “Is this the end of zombie Shakespeare?”
- “John Smith 1882?” “My mistake!”
- The zombies that plagued our town are now just corpses rotting in the streets.” “Yay!”
2. The Raven (The Simpsons Halloween Special/Treehouse of Horror)
“Quoth the Raven… ‘Nevermore.'”
The Simpsons first began their Halloween special tradition back in season two, and it made sure to leave a lasting impression. Despite the many years gone by, this short sticks with me far more than anything else. Although it’s not the best one (since it’s hard to give the episode total credit for its success), it’s definitely the most distinct. Putting visuals (and Simpson personality thanks entirely through Dan Castellaneta’s performance) to Poe’s famous poem vigorously read by the magnanimous James Earl Jones, this short was actually how I was introduced to Poe’s work. That’s something a lot of these better stories have done too. Inspired by how much I enjoyed the parody, I often sought out the original works. That’s especially true of the final entry on this list.
1. Treehouse of Horror V
“This is indeed a disturbing universe.”
So this is a bit of a cheat considering I said that I’d limit my choices to one story per episode, but after deciding on my favorite Treehouse of Horror I couldn’t really decide on my favorite of the three stories. As each special usually has a weak story or two, it’s incredibly rare to have three incredibly strong segments. Couple that with a running joke of Willie getting axed in the back and you’ve even got a unified special to boot. From its highly quotable Shining parody, The Shinning “No TV and no beer make Homer something something.” “Go crazy?” “Don’t mind if I do!,” to the well written Time and Punishment (“Oh I wish I wish I hadn’t killed that fish.” “That’s right Mr. Peabody!” “Quiet you!” “What the hell are you smiling at?,” and the one story that managed to give me nightmares as a kid, Nightmare Cafeteria (“Now you march into that school, look your teacher straight in the eye and say ‘Don’t eat me!'”). It’s definitely the best Halloween special Simpsons has to offer, and suffice to say, it’s also one of the best episodes of the series.
Then again, regardless of which The Simpsons‘ Treehouse of Horror specials you decide to revisit this Halloween you’ll have a good time…unless you pick one of the blurst ones.