“Oooh, I’ve wasted my life…” – Comic Book Guy
Every year that The Simpsons is on the air, it becomes more and more astounding as to what a gargantuan presence it has had in my life. Entering it’s twenty-eight year, it is not hyperbole to say that the show has literally been around almost all of my life. While the tired-but-true cliche about the show is that it has never really regained the heady heights of its first decade of life, it has remained a familiar companion as it uncannily mirrored my own life of young enthusiasm, followed by a young adulthood of confusion, which has now been replaced by a season of quiet, if not terribly exciting, contentment as I settle into my thirties (I am only slightly exaggerating).
And while The Simpsons has slowly devolved to something I will catch if I remember to DVR it and there’s nothing else on my DVR to watch, there is one glaring exception to that rule and that is the annual Halloween themed “Treehouse of Horror” episode. Now in its 28th (!) iteration, this annual celebration of all things ghoulish, creepy, and diabolical remains one of the highlights of the season for me. And naturally, given my slight (?) obsessiveness when it comes to things pop culture, I have to rank them. So here we go.
One tiny note before going in: While each episode of “Treehouse of Horror” is divided into three segments, the episode will be ranked as a whole – meaning some standout segments may show up lower than expected, while an episode with three solid if not spectacular segments may be higher. Got it? Excellent.
28. TREEHOUSE OF HORROR XXII (2011)
The Diving Bell and the Butterball
Dial D for Diddily
In the Na’vi
While spoofs have always been an essential part of Treehouse of Horror episodes, this episode suffers because it is entirely made out of parodies of existing properties with uninspired riffs on them. I don’t know why the writers thought the bleak The Diving Bell and the Butterfly about the real story of a man with locked-in syndrome was ripe for parody, but the fact that the writers use it as an excuse for an extended fart joke is extremely disappointing. “Dial D for Diddily” meanwhile is a Dexter parody that works for the most part, except for a sudden veer to the religious at the end which diminishes its power. But it is “In the Na’vi” that is the most egregious offender here as the writers try to cash in on the Avatar phenomenon, but two years after the actual movie came out and about one year after the phenomenon had worn itself out. While the obvious cash-in is annoying, the fact that the segment itself is also rarely funny, during a time when poking fun at Avatar was both in vogue and really easy to do helps sink this episode to being the worst Treehouse of Horror.
27. TREEHOUSE OF HORROR XXI (2010)
War and Pieces
Master and Cadaver
Another early 2010s Treehouse of Horror entry, another mediocre spoof-heavy episode. In this case we get parodies of Jumanji (“War and Pieces”), Dead Calm (“Master and Cadaver”), and of course, YA sensation Twilight (“Tweenlight”). What lifts this instalment ever so slightly over its immediate successor is that the writers were actually able to mine some comedy out of these spoofs and not just rely on a lazy “What if we did a Simpsons version of intellectual property X?” premise. It also helps that Dead Calm is a solid if under-seen horror movie to lend the episode some horror credibility and that “Tweenlight” surprisingly actually manages to be the best segment of the bunch. Still compared to what is still to come on this list, the episode falls short.
26. TREEHOUSE OF HORROR XXVII (2016)
After 28 years on the air, it should have been apparent to everyone involved that The Simpsons is not the cool kid of animated cartoon series anymore. Unfortunately on this 600th episode the Simpsons doesn’t take the hint, and ends up looking like the embarrassing Dad trying to speak in his tween daughters lingo. We have not one but two parodies of very recent and not ubiquitous intellectual properties in The Hunger Games (“Dry Hard”) and The Kingsmen (“Moefinger”) that come across as desperate pleas to attract the youth. The other segment (“BFF R.I.P”) at least carries the good tradition of taking an original concept (imaginary friend returning) and uses it for diabolical and hilarious purposes. But one decent segment is not enough to save this 600th episode from being anything but a middling Simpsons episode.
25. TREEHOUSE OF HORROR XXVI (2015)
Wanted: Dead, then Alive
Telepaths of Glory
First of all, it is astonishing that the Treehouse episodes took twenty-six years to bring in Sideshow Bob, arguably the most diabolical regular Simpsons character, into one of these segments. So needless to say the inclusion of Sideshow Bob as he finally achieves his goal of killing Bart should feel momentous, but instead is depressingly underwhelming. “Homerzilla” on the other hand, while poking some decent fun at Hollywood wastefulness is itself a lazy retread after the King Kong parody (with Homer as Kong). And I doubt anyone was begging for a Chronicle spoof three years after the movie came out, but it certainly doesn’t help when it’s a paint-by-numbers parody. The only real positive is the introduction animated by Ren & Stimpy creator John Kricfalusi which is weird, disturbing, and ghouslishly entertaining. Unfortunately it’s over too quickly at only two minutes long.
24. TREEHOUSE OF HORROR XIV (2003)
Stop the World I Want to Goof Off
None of Treehouse XIV segments are bad per se but there is a decided underwhelming air to all of them. This begins with “Reaper Madness” which has the dubious distinction of for once copying and ripping off an idea that Family Guy had first. “Frinkenstein” meanwhile is a Frankenstein parody within an Indiana Jones parody as well as a riff on Jewish humour as Professor Frink works through his father issues. In other words, it is all over the place. Finally “Stop the World” does have some promise in the beginning but quickly runs out of steam as we are given a glimpse into the lives of adult Bart and Milhouse that is about what you would expect it to be.
23. TREEHOUSE OF HORROR XVIII (2007)
E. T. Go Home
Mr. and Mrs. Simpson
The inherent problems that lie in this episode and many latter-day Treehouse of Horror episodes can be found clearly in the second segment “Mr. and Mrs. Simpson”. There is no context in which Mr. and Mrs. Smith is remotely a horror-movie property so it seems more like a lazy excuse by the writers to do a cheap parody whether it is appropriate to the season or not. The same problem can be seen in a different way with “E.T. Go Home” in which the Simpsons follow the basic beats of the movie but with the joke being that Kodos is the alien in question and, as has always been the case, he is evil which is not terribly compelling. “Heck House” is the only segment that brings something new to the table (even if it reprises Ned Flanders at the Devil and has a Spider-Pig cameo).
22. TREEHOUSE OF HORROR XVI (2005)
B. I. Bartificial Intelligence
Survival of the Fattest
I’ve Grown a Costume on Your Face
“B. I. Bartificial Intelligence”, much like “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” above, characterizes the problem of much of these later seasons episodes. It is a pretty direct adaptation of the hard sci-fi movie “A.I.” which doesn’t lend itself to much horror, and the great big “comedic” twist is that the Simpsons prefer the robot kid to Bart (ha ha?). Fortunately the latter two segments make up for that disappointment as “Survival of the Fattest” finds Mr. Burns in peak “The Most Dangerous Game”-mode while “I’ve Grown a Costume” packs in as many visual gags as it possibly can in this story about the residents of Springfield literally becoming their costumes making for an entertaining segment, even if this basic concept has been used before.
21. TREEHOUSE OF HORROR XXV (2014)
School is Hell
A Clockwork Yellow
The most anticipated segment of this episode is unfortunately also the biggest disappointment. The modern day Simpsons meeting their original Tracey Ullman Show counterparts should have been a great chance to spoof exactly how the show has changed over the years for better or worse. Instead it mostly sticks with the surface level differences of Homer’s character and voice. The earlier two segments however turn out to be pretty good with “School is Hell” finally finding the place for Bart to achieve academically and “A Clockwork Yellow” being a loving tribute to all non-Shining things Kubrick.
20. TREEHOUSE OF HORROR XII (2001)
Hex and the City
House of Whacks
The tricky thing about spoofs is that you have to create something that resembles the original product, but be obviously humorous enough that audiences know you are making fun of it. The problem with “Wiz Kids” is that though it is funny enough, it really does not resemble the Harry Potter franchise that is seems to be spoofing. The end result is basically The Simpsons committing the straw-man fallacy and looking like no one on the writing team had actually read the books. “Hex and the City” and “House of Whacks” fare better, especially the latter as the show makes great use of Pierce Brosnan as the HAL-like supercomputer installed into the Simpsons house. Also this episode does introduce the feisty leprechaun, who is one of the better recurring characters in these episodes.
19. TREEHOUSE OF HORROR XXVIII (2017)
The episode is definitely one of the most visually striking episodes even if the episode can’t match that quality narratively. It’s ridiculous that it took this long for an Exorcist spoof and fortunately the segment mostly doesn’t disappoint. Special mention needs to be made of Homer’s creepy lullaby to Maggie as her toys react in morbid fashion which was easily the funniest part of the episode (along with a recurring pea soup moment). “Coralisa” however is a pedestrian segment that’s tremendously aided by the stop-motion animation to gloss over its overall lack of humour and scares. But it is “Mmm… Homer” that is the standout segment as Homer develops an addictive taste for… well, himself. It is easily the most gross out segment since “Nightmare Cafeteria” and a suitable macabre edition to the Treehouse canon.
18. TREEHOUSE OF HORROR XV (2004)
The Ned Zone
Four Beheadings and a Funeral
In The Belly of the Boss
While doing three parodies of The Dead Zone, From Hell, and Fantastic Voyage on the surface feels like a case of scraping the bottom of the barrel for B-movie material, it weirdly manages to help this episode. Without the use of a single ubiquitous intellectual property, the writers are forced to actually craft segments that tell a coherent story rather than simply creating a condensed version of the movies they are referencing. The end result is a solid if unspectacular episode that would probably rank lower if not for one of the best Kang and Kodos cameos in the sitcom spoof opening “Keeping it Kodos”.
17. TREEHOUSE OF HORROR XXIII (2012)
The Greatest Story Ever Holed
Bart & Homer’s Excellent Adventure
This was a solid episode to wash the bad taste of the previous two instalments (XXI and XXII) by returning back to its roots. Nowhere is this more true than “Bart & Homer’s Excellent Adventure” in which Bart returns to 1974 Back to the Future-style inadvertently changes the future to bring back Marge’s former boyfriend Artie Ziff and force us back down memory lane to Homer and Marge’s early romance. The other two segments are both excellent entries in the sci-fi and horror genres respectively (and exactly one hilarious diss at the almighty Zune).
16. TREEHOUSE OF HORROR IX (1998)
The Terror of Tiny Toon
We are firmly in the realm of solid-if-not-spectacular Treehouse of Horror episodes. “Hell Toupee” starts out excellent enough as the concept of Homer inheriting a toupee possessed by the ghost of a vengeance-filled Snake is hilarious, even if the segment doesn’t quite stick the landing. Including an Itchy and Scratchy segment is also generally a wise move but the segment suffers because it is still somewhat tame compared to the Itchy and Scratchy shorts that end up in regular Simpsons episodes (and is less scary than the classic episode “Itchy and Scratchy Land”). Only “Starship Poopers” manages to find the right balance between macabre and absurd as the Simpsons and Kang settle their differences on Jerry Springer.
15. TREEHOUSE OF HORROR XIX (2008)
Untitled Robot Parody
How to Get Ahead in Dead-vertising
It’s the Great Pumpkin, Milhouse
While “How to Get Ahead in Dead-vertising” is a bit of a stretch concept-wise, it definitely has the level of gruesomeness appropriate for the Treehouse of Horror (and a host of fantastic cameos). “Untitled Robot Parody” might on the surface seem like another desperate grab at satirizing a current phenomenon in Transformers but works because instead of parodying Michael Bay’s atrocious movies, the segment spends more time poking fun at the cartoon series (while taking me on a nostalgia trip). And finally, the pitch perfect homage to “The Peanuts” with a shocking twist is the macabre cherry on top of a solid return to form for the annual frightfest in this later-season episode.
14. TREEHOUSE OF HORROR XXIV (2013)
Oh The Places You’ll D’oh
Dead and Shoulders
Freaks no Geeks
(Guillermo Del Toro opening)
This episode proves that The Simpsons is still able to churn out a classic episode on par with its glory years. In “Oh The Places You’ll D’oh”, they mine the rich worlds of Dr. Seuss to create a segment that has the best wordplay in a Treehouse segment while still perfectly fitting in the macabre tradition of the Treehouse of Horror by brilliantly suggesting that the Cat in the Hat might be more psychotic that anticipated. “Dead and Shoulders” suffers from being placed in comparison to the other two excellent features as well as utilizing a gag that has already been used before (attaching two heads to one body). “Freaks no Geeks” meanwhile is one of the better spoofs of a classic horror movie as the writers manage to capture the morbid spirit of the classic horror movie Freaks. But the true standout of this episode is the opening which was directed by horror maestro Guillermo del Toro and is packed wall-to-wall with visual gags and callbacks that it immediately elevates the episode to the upper half.
13. TREEHOUSE OF HORROR X (1999)
I Know What You Diddily-Iddily-Did
Desperately Seeking Xena
Life’s a Glitch and Then You Die
Up to this point in the rankings, every Treehouse of Horror has had at least one bad segment or several mediocre ones. This changes with this entry as from here on out, even the weakest segment of an episode is very, very good. Any chance for these episodes to include straight-laced Ned Flanders is usually comedic gold and “I Know What You Diddily-Iddily-Did” is an excellent use of his character. And while I might take a couple of points off the episode because “Desperately Seeking Xena” basically startedd the trend of including non-horror segments in Treehouse episodes it is also such a fantastic parody of comic books and nerd culture that I can’t complain too much. Finally “Life a Glitch” is such a great time-capsule of the unfounded fear and frenzy we whipped ourselves up over Y2K spurred on predictable by Homer’s incompetence. The inclusion of a bevy of guest stars right at the end ensure that this episode becomes the first on this list to earn the moniker “great”.
12. TREEHOUSE OF HORROR XI (2000)
Scary Tales Can Come True
Night of the Dolphin
“G-G-Ghost D-D-Dad” is a solid segment about Homer dying and given the chance to go back to do the one good deed that might get him into heaven, but feels like something that might happen in a regular Simpsons episode. “Scary Tales Can Come True” meanwhile finds the Simpson family in fairy-tale land with some delightfully gruesome results. But lets face it, the reason this entry is so high is because of the grim, absurd, and completely hilarious “Night of the Dolphins” which is inarguably a top-10 segment. The premise of a bunch of dolphins taking over the world starts out unsurprisingly on a silly note but then shockingly (in a good way) shifts to being a much grislier segment than the premise might suggest, tossing in digs at everything from Jaws to The Birds in between. Also, as a bonus, the Kang and Kodos cameo in this one is a hoot.
11. TREEHOUSE OF HORROR XVII (2006)
Married to the Blob
You Gotta Know When To Golem
The Day the Earth Looked Stupid
I will admit that the film nerd in me might have gotten a little carried away with how high I’m ranking this. But The Simpsons parodying the Steve McQueen-starring cult classic The Blob and the silent film The Golem while also including Orson Welles is just too much cinephile-bait for me. Plus the final Orson Welles segment also showcases The Simpsons great ability to score disarmingly smart political points without bashing anyone’s head over it (something sorely missing in public discourse today).
10. TREEHOUSE OF HORROR VIII (1997)
The HΩmega Man
Fly vs. Fly
One of the minor tragedies of the Treehouse of Horror episodes is that while most of the members get to have fun inhabiting wacky and twisted roles, Marge has for the most part had to inhabit the role of wet blanket. In fact the early episodes had Marge explicitly introducing the episodes by saying how bad it was for your kids to watch it. So it’s great that in Treehouse VIII Marge finally gets to let loose with the delightful segment “Easy-Bake Coven” as the evil and cackling witch who inadvertently invents trick-or-treating. The other two segments are no slouches either with “The HΩmega Man” once again reminding us of Homer’s incompetence with the help of zombies while “Fly vs Fly” might be one of the funnier Treehouse segments to air.
9. TREEHOUSE OF HORROR II (1991)
The Monkey’s Paw
The Bart Zone
If Only I Had A Brain
The sequel to the great original Treehouse episode had some big shoes to fill and fortunately manages to live up to to its predecessor. “The Monkey’s Paw” delightfully takes a stab at the tale of Aladdin gone wrong and has great fun mining the inherent flaws of the Simpson clan (with Lisa’s sanctimoniousness receiving particularly good ribbing). “If I Only Had A Brain” meanwhile is a solid reenactment of Frankenstein (even if for some reason they’ve never managed to do a really great Frankenstein parody). But the best segment is “The Bart Zone” which a great Twilight Zone parody but also a surprising reminder of the warmth and love that characterized early seasons of The Simpsons (which sadly disappeared in favour of zaniness in later seasons).
8. TREEHOUSE OF HORROR VI (1995)
Attack of the 50ft Eyesores
Nightmare on Evergreen Street
This episode is not higher on the list only because from the beginning I have never been fully enamoured with “Homer3″ feeling like it was more a clever gimmick more than well-constructed segment. However it is certainly still a pretty good segment and the other two more than make up for its shortcomings. “Attack of the 50ft Eyesores” and “Nightmare on Evergreen Street” are great spoofs that recognize that you can’t just stuff the segments with references and call it humour. Instead they are examples of Treehouse of Horror at its best as they craft a narratively satisfying storyline, cast their Simpsons characters in appropriate roles (with Willy as Freddy Krueger being especially inspired), and most importantly, remember to employ the Simpson brand of humour to hilarious effect.
7. TREEHOUSE OF HORROR XX (2009)
Dial “M” for Murder or Press # to Return to Main Menu
Don’t Have A Cow Mankind
There’s No Business Like Moe Business
That it took twenty instalments of Treehouse of Horror for the Simpsons to parody Alfred Hitchcock is astonishing, but the segment which parodies Strangers on a Train (with a touch of music from multiple Hitchcock movies) is well worth the wait. “Don’t Have A Cow Mankind” meanwhile does seem similar to other post-apocalyptic parodies and zombie parodies, but comes across as being wonderfully familiar rather than tired as the regular denizens of Springfield meet their gruesome ends due to Krusty’s meat-fed burgers. But the standout segment is the Sweeney Todd musical parody “There’s No Business Like Moe Business” which is arguably one of the best Treehouse of Horror segments ever.
6. TREEHOUSE OF HORROR XIII (2002)
Send in the Clones
The Fright to Creep and Scare Harms
The Island of Dr. Hibbert
Some of the best Treehouse segments are the ones that tease out the unintended consequences of Homer’s laziness, inaction, thoughtlessness, or plain stupidity and this is certainly the case again with “Send in the Clones” as Homer creates and army of himself mostly to get out of doing more work. In “The Fright to Creep and Scare Harms”, the writers mostly just poke fun of Lisa’s self-righteousness (another rich well of inspiration) to hilarious results. And “The Island of Dr. Hibbert” is a visual-gag delight as almost all the major and minor characters get a cameo as animal mutations.
5. TREEHOUSE OF HORROR III (1992)
Clown Without Pity
Dial “Z” for Zombies
As should be plainly obvious by now, making it close to the pinnacle of the list requires not just that there be no weak segments, but that each individual segment be exceptional. And that is certainly the case with Treehouse III. “Clown Without Pity” does its best Chucky impression while expertly combining our fear of dolls with clowns. Meanwhile “King Homer” faces the daunting task of taking on perhaps the most iconic movie monster and is more than up for it. And “Dial ‘Z’ For Zombies” benefits tremendously from being the first zombie parody on The Simpsons and thus can rely more on the crazy antics of the Simpson family in the face of zombies rather than paying particular homage to any zombie franchise. Taken together, these three segments make the episode a force to be reckoned with.
4. TREEHOUSE OF HORROR VII (1996)
The Thing and I
The Genesis Tub
The difference between the Top 4 is really a matter of splitting hairs. This episode starts out on a strong note with “The Thing and I”, whereupon Bart learns that he has an evil twin who has been locked in the attic and has, among other things, created a “pigeon-rat”. “The Genesis Tub” mines similar sibling rivalry except of the more conventional Simpsons variety between Lisa and Bart, and the mini-universe that they inadvertently created (naturally). But the standout segment stars the true sibling stars of Treehouse of Horror, Kang and Kodos as they plot to take over the 1996 presidential election. Though it should have been instantly dated, the fact that it still remains bitingly funny six presidential election cycles later is either testament to how much the writers hit the nail on the head of American politics (“Abortions for some, tiny American flags for others!”) or a depressing reflection of how little we have grown as a species in the intervening years. I choose to believe in the latter. And I voted for Kodos.
3. TREEHOUSE OF HORROR IV (1993)
The Devil and Homer Simpson
Terror at 5 ½ Feet
Bart Simpson’s Dracula
Montgomery Burns is such perfect casting as Dracula that I’m almost surprised that the writers didn’t try and sneak that into part of his regular character canon. It is this perfect melding between the Simpsons universe and other less-savory horror aspects that characterizes the general excellence of this episode. Apart from the aforementioned Dracula segment, this episode also features the ironic but iconic turn of the Bible-loving goody-two-shoes Ned Flanders being the devil and appropriately tricking Homer into selling his soul eagerly for little more than a donut. The middle segment “Terror at 5 ½ Feet” meanwhile is a fantastic parody of the Twilight Zone episode as Bart tries to convince his peers and teachers that a monster in destroying their school bus.
2. TREEHOUSE OF HORROR I (1990)
Bad Dream House
Hungry are the Damned
The original Treehouse of Horror is also close to the best episode. In this episode the writers established so much of what would become essential pieces of a great (or at least really good) Treehouse episode. In “Bad Dream House” they make a pitch perfect spoof of a haunted house movie that doesn’t shy away from the horror but still firmly using the setting as a canvas for the Simpsons’ humour. “Hungry are the Damned” meanwhile introduces Kang and Kodos, and they prove to be such great characters in this segment that they decided to include the intergalactic creatures in every episode after. But the standout segment is “The Raven” in which we get the delightful opportunity to hear Homer Simpson recite and act out Edgar Allan Poe’s famous poem. It is this fantastic melding of high-brow and low-brow that characterizes not just what made this episode so great but how in-control The Simpsons was in its early years. It would take a monumental effort to top this episode and by my reckoning, they only managed to do that exactly once.
1. TREEHOUSE OF HORROR V (1994)
Time and Punishment
“The Shinning” (spelling is important, don’t want to get sued) is simply the best individual segment that the Treehouse of Horror has ever produced. The fact that it draws disturbing parallels between the psyche of Jack Torrance and Homer Simpson is just one of many aspects that this segment manages to nail. It also finds the balance between creating a faithful homage to Kubrick’s movie while also maintaining an astonishingly high jokes-to-minute ratio. But the other two segments are no slouches either as “Time and Punishment” finds Homer using his toaster/time-travel device to, in very Homer-like fashion, inadvertently and frequently alter the present in hilarious ways. And the last segment “Nightmare Cafeteria” is easily the most macabre segment ever made simply because there is no supernatural element that makes the teachers of the school decide to eat their students. The segment also has plenty of hilarious lines, even while it becomes increasingly terrifying as it goes on. But in addition to these three segments there is a fantastic “inside-out” song-and-dance number to close out the credits. And finally, the frequent inclusion of Willie who manages to simultaneously be and not be the MVP of the episode help tip this as the best Treehouse of Horror ever.