One of the longest traditions in television is the yearly Halloween-themed episodes of The Simpsons. TV’s first family has been on-air so long that you could watch an episode of “Treehouse of Horror” every day in October and still have extra on Halloween night. A bonus of having 33 seasons. But if you just want to binge a little closer to All Hallows Eve, these ten episodes will start festivities off right.
“Halloween of Horror”
While not officially part of the Treehouse series, “Halloween of Horror” is good, and not just for the modern era of The Simpsons, but objectively good. Without a safety net provided by the anthology setting, the sense of danger is palpable for Homer and Lisa as they fend off displaced pop-up store workers who want revenge (against Homer, of course). Reaching back for the genuine warmth and originality of the show’s golden age, this episode is a reminder that The Simpsons is unquestionably one of the best shows ever.
10 – (S10, “Treehouse of Horror IX””)
Highlight: “The Terror of Tiny Toon”
What should be a dream for Bart and Lisa turns into a nightmare when a nuclear-powered remote puts them in the same universe as Itchy and Scratchy. The cartoon duo’s violent antics always leave Bart and Lisa in stitches, but now that the stitches could be literal, it’s not quite so funny. Bart and Lisa tear through Itchy and Scratchy’s world, playing with the animated medium in a way unseen since Looney Tunes.
9 – (S2, “Treehouse of Horror I”)
Highlight: “The Raven”
Back when episodes were called the “The Simpsons Halloween Specials,” James Earl Jones narrates as Homer recites the immortal verse of Edgar Allen Poe’s The Raven. Normally an empty-headed lug, watching Homer eloquently navigate poetry is a sight to behold. There isn’t much excess in the skit; the short story merely pits Homer in a dark room against the titular bird and lets the timbre of James Earl Jones’ voice chill the audience. Not the most riveting Halloween episode, but it was also their first crack at it and a preview of great things to come.
8 (S13, “Treehouse of Horror XII”)
Highlight: “House of Whacks”
In a send-up of HAL from 2001, Pierce Brosnan voices Ultrahouse 3000, the ultimate in-home luxury. At first, Ultrahouse’s offerings seem kind, but when the house and Homer have a quiet chat about how lucky he is to be with Marge, it’s clear the sentient OS has designs on her. After Homer says that she would be “free for man or machine” if he died, Ultrahouse sets loose a Rube Goldberg-esque murder plot to woo Marge. Though the prospect of a smart home turning against you wouldn’t become a nightmarish concern for several years, this episode demonstrates just how easily things could go wrong. It’s also clear how much fun Brosnan is having with his guest appearance, trading in his charming James Bond persona for something slightly more nefarious.
7 (S17, “Treehouse of Horror XVI”)
Highlight: “Survival of the Fattest”
Prescient of the growing inhumanity of reality TV (looking at you, Squid Game), this story features Mr. Burns hunting down most of Springfield while others watch on live TV with Terry Bradshaw hosting (naturally). The level of violence that Mr. Burns administers to the townsfolk is darkly funny (Moe suffers the most). The writers also poke fun at network television’s tendency to show gruesome murder, but, as Terry Bradshaw notes, “cut to commercial before Homer and Marge begin the tender act of love.”
6 – (S6, “Treehouse of Horror V”)
Highlight: “The Shinning”
This Treehouse of Horror won’t win any points for originality, but for a cultural entity as well-known as The Shining, the iconic scenes from Stanley Kubrick’s masterwork are all instantly recognizable and perfectly lampooned (“Usually the blood gets off at the second floor”). “The Shinning” begins with the iconic mountainside drive, but it’s a false start to the creepy proceedings as Homer ends up going back to Springfield twice. Lisa notes that Grampa is missing the third time ’round, yet no one says a word. Homer is no Jack Nicholson, but after depriving him of beer and tv for a week, his potent rage is understandable. The Simpsons writers clearly love riffing on Kubrick, and this episode is a classic for a reason.
5 – (S9, “Treehouse of Horror VIII”)
Highlight: “The HΩmega Man”
Homer is the last living man on Earth but doesn’t notice until a newspaper headline clues him in. Once he realizes he can do whatever he wants, he takes in a movie by himself and dances naked in church. While notching entries off his bucket list, he encounters mutated survivors who want to build a new utopia. A utopia that, of course, means Homer has to die. Each of us would treat isolation differently, but given how simple Homer is, the bit makes perfect sense.
4 – (S3, “Treehouse of Horror II”)
Highlight: “Monkey’s Paw”
An oldie but a goodie, the “Monkey’s Paw” tale forever proves that supernatural solutions are always far worse than the original problems. The mystical object that grants wishes also has a tendency to bring calamitous misfortune to the person making the wish, but this is The Simpsons: They’ll probably be the exception, right? Wrong. Though Maggie wishes for a golden pacifier with no ramifications, Bart and Lisa are less lucky in their attempts to gain fame, riches, and world peace. Even Homer, who makes a wish for a sandwich with no “weird surprises,” is left sobbing on the floor. We can understand his response—the turkey was a little dry. Homer curses the paw and throws it over the fence, where Ned, forever a thorn in Homer’s side, immediately takes it and becomes the toast of town. Damn it, Flanders…
3 – (S4, “Treehouse of Horror III”)
Highlight: “Dial Z for Zombie”
Bart avoiding his homework has dire consequences when he accidentally reanimates the undead of Springfield. Bart, uncharacteristically, tries to soothe Lisa’s pain on the anniversary of Snowball I’s death by taking her to a pet cemetery to bring the cat back to life. Instead, Bart sets loose a pack of zombies to wreak havoc on the town below. For my money, one of the best Simpsons quips of all time comes soon after: “Hey, Simpson! I’m feeling a mite peckish. Mind if I chew your ear?” Homer responds by blasting Ned away with a shotgun. Bart shouts, “Dad, you killed the zombie Flanders!” Homer can only manage a questionable, “He was a zombie?” Sometimes Halloween gives us an excuse to do the things we’ve always wanted.
2 – (S8, “Treehouse of Horror VII”)
Highlight: “Citizen Kang”
“Citizen Kang” is a solemn reminder that horrors continue past Halloween into November: U.S. Election Day. Timed for the 1996 presidential race between Bill Clinton and Bob Dole, “Citizen Kang” proves a scathing takedown of modern elections for both their pageantry and hyperbolic rhetoric. Our old friends Kang and Kodos take over both politicians as a fool-proof plan to take over Earth, which works exceedingly well. Even though they are monotone and authoritarian in tone, this new Dole and Clinton find themselves more popular than ever. Homer eventually exposes the alien plot but, thanks to arcane rules, there is no way to stop the election. One Springfielder suggests a third-party vote, and Kang replies: “Go ahead, throw your vote away”. Sometimes the show’s cynicism is right on point.
1 – (S5, “Treehouse of Horror IV”)
Highlight: “The Devil and Homer Simpson”
Homer’s love of donuts proves his undoing as he sells his soul for just one. And of course it’s Ned Flanders who shows up as Ole’ Scratch himself (“It’s always the one you least expect”), perfectly poised to grant the hungry nuclear power plant employee’s wish. The Devil/Ned explains the legalese while Homer inhales the donut, leaving only a crumb behind as Ned gets to the part where a newly-soulless goes to Hell once he finishes it. Upon finding this loophole, Homer mocks Ned relentlessly, but damns himself by absentmindedly midnight snacking on that last piece of donut. Lisa challenges Ned to a trial, which he reluctantly agrees to, but first Homer must spend the day in Hell’s ironic punishments division. There, a demon force-feeds Homer all the donuts in the world but is confused when the plan backfires after Homer contentedly eats them all and asks for more. The trial is equally entertaining, with Lionel Hutz as the defence, and The Devil’s hand-picked jury (Benedict Arnold, John Wilkes Booth, and a disgraced-but-still-alive Richard Nixon—he owed the devil a favour) likely damning Homer for eternity.
And that’s it! Leave a comment below about your favourite Treehouse of Horror episodes to get into the autumnal spirit.