At it’s finest, The Simpsons is the best show on TV, and the special Halloween episodes are the some of the very best episodes. At first I was going to do a full rundown of every single “Treehouse of Horror” episode, but then I realised there were 26 episodes in total – and I know that no-one wants to read my rambling thoughts on 78 stories!
A Halloween tradition started in the second season, each episode has three unrelated stories outside of the shows normal continuity. As well as original stories, Treehouse of Horrors has spoofed pretty much every horror tinged genre. I’ve always loved The Twilight Zone (I am just waiting for an excuse to put together a list!) and seeing it pop up in so many of these episodes is one of the main reasons I’m such a fan.
I’ve struggled to get this down to ten, and there are a whole bunch of good stories that didn’t make the list. As always, this is a personal list, and so any objective ranking is out of the window and it’s all about my personal preference.
So, turn down the lights, settle in, here are my thoughts on the best of The Simpsons Tree House of Horrors!
=10. Bad Dream House, “Treehouse Of Horror”
The first story of the first edition is one of the very best. Based on Poltergeist, this sets up the entire concept straight away. The Simpsons move into a new house, which is haunted, and spooky goings on lead to the family chasing each with household utensils. Marge has had enough and confronts the house – which chooses to end it’s own existence rather than live with The Simpsons. Absolute classic, and I just couldn’t leave it off the list.
=10. Send In The Clones, “Treehouse Of Horror XIII”
An enchanted hammock (bought from the travelling hammock salesman) creates a clone of Homer. Delighted at the chance to get his chores done and still enjoy a nice cold beer. Things get out of control, so Homer decides to get rid of the clones and make sure the hammock can not do any more harm, and does a typically half-assed job of it. Even more clones are made (including a certain resident of Quahog, Rhode Island), causing a threat to national security, which is dealt with by a huge doughnut. A brilliant cameo from Gill as well. Again I just couldn’t leave it off the list, just for Old Gill’s sake.
9. Homer3 , “Treehouse Of Horror VI”
I seem to like this story more than most, and the only reason this isn’t higher is because I never liked the final joke. Erotic cakes? Meh. While hiding form Patti and Selma, Homer stumbles in a hypothical third dimension. Packed full of maths and physics jokes, it shares a lot of humour with Futurama, a show which was never afraid to throw some legit mathematics into a plotline. Chief Wiggum shooting at the portal to another dimension is great, and Homer’s attempt at jumping across the hole is hilarious, especially as he barely gets off the ground before plummeting to the abyss – and the real world. A great line with Homer saying “this place looks expensive” while
8. Life’s A Glitch, Then You Die, “Treehouse Of Horror X”
Remember the Millenium Bug? When every computer was going to stop working because they would think it was 1900 and PCs weren’t invented then? I think that’s what it was. Anyway, Homer is put in charge of Springfield Nuclear Power Plant’s Y2K Compliance, which he actually does – apart from his own computer. This leads to the bug spreading and the collapse of society, with widespread looting and machines turning evil. There is a chance of safety, as society’s best and brightest are put on a rocket to start a new society, whereas Bart and Homer find themselves on a second rocket for those not so vital to mankind’s survival. There are some really dark moments. Lisa can only chose to take one parent with her to salvation, and immediately – immediately – chooses Marge, and we hear Bart and Homer’s heads exploded, just off camera. A very, very good episode that is the most original on this list.
7. Night of the Dolphin, “Treehouse Of Horror XI”
When Lisa releases a dolphin from captivity, she dooms all of mankind. He is their leader and he organises the dolphins in an attempt to overthrow their human oppressors, first killing Lenny (Wiggum comically dismissing the death as the “work of rowdy teens. Lou, cancel the prom!”) and then declaring war. The final scene is classic – “Hey, you got to hand it to those dolphins. They just wanted it more” as mankind is cast into the sea. This is very close to a straight sci-fi horror in the 70s tradition, and feels very legit, also borrowing from Hitchcock’s The Birds.
6. King Homer, “Treehouse of Horror III”
Peter Jackson took over three hours to tell the story of King Kong, The Simpsons managed it in about 8 minutes. “Treehouse of Horror III” could be the best Halloween special, with Clown Without Pity (with the cursed Krusty doll) and Dial Z For Zombies (“You just killed Zombie Flanders!” “Flanders was a zombie?”). A great ending as well. Smither’s line that “women and seamen don’t mix” shows that even as one of the most established programs in America, there was always a subversive edge to The Simpsons. A black and white segment on prime time TV was a huge risk, but it really pays off.
5. Hell Toupee, “Treehouse Of Horror IX”
Treehouse Of Horror IX is perhaps the last great Halloween special from The Simpsons, also containing the stories where Bart and Lisa end up inside an Itch & Scratchy cartoon and the one where Maggie’s real father is reveal, leading to a memorable visit to the Jerry Springer Show. After smoking in the Kwik-E-Mart, Snake is put to death by electric chair, broadcast live on FOX (“awww, how come they only do crucifixions during sweeps?”), giving Homer the one thing he has always wanted – luxurious, thick hair. A couple of murders later however Homer has to give up, and the hair is gunned down in a shootout – back when Chief Wiggum was still at least semi-competent. A bad hair day indeed.
4. The Raven, “Treehouse Of Horror”
James Earl Jones narrates Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven, with Homer cast as the tormented lead (and Marge as the lost Lenore). This must have introduced a whole new audience to one of America’s most famous poems. Like going black and white for King Homer, a prime time slot dedicated to a pretty straight reading of a poem was incredibly risky – especially this early in it run. Quoth the Bart “nevermore”.
3. The Devil and Homer Simpson, “Treehouse Of Horror IV”
The highest ranking segment on my list that isn’t a Twilight Zone homage. This starts with a simple premise – Homer sells his soul for a doughnut (it was only a matter of time) and goes from there. Flanders as the Devil is brilliant, basically still being Ned apart from one great flip-out. The little touches are what make this great (the quick “Hi Bart” from Satan, the demon who brings Homer his doughnut is wearing a Hell’s Kitchen t-shirt, “You Americans and your due process and fair trials. This is always so much easier in Mexico”). There are also so many fantastic gags in here, Homer’s ironic punishment in Hell, Marge not having enough chairs for the jury, and of course, even after Marge saves his soul, there is one final punishment for Homer.
2. The Genesis Tub, “Treehouse Of Horror VII”
Maybe I have rated this so highly because of the two other great stories in this episode, Citizen Kang (the space aliens come to Earth and pose as politicians) and The Thing and I (Bart’s once conjoined twin living in the loft). It’s based on The Twilight Zone episode “The Little People”, in which an astronaut stumble upon a tiny society and becomes a vengeful god. Here the ideas is flipped, with Bart being the devil to the people Lisa has created. It starts with two science fair projects: Lisa’s is to show a tooth decaying in cola, Bart’s is to answer the question “Do nerds conduct electricity?”. A spark from Lisa starts life on her tooth, rapidly evolving into a society, which becomes advanced enough to launch rocket ships to attack Bart. Lisa is then shrunk down to take her place as Queen, before they have the technology to be able to send her back. A downbeat ending to a brilliant short story.
1. The Bart Zone (Bart’s Nightmare) “Treehouse of Horror II”
Based on “It’s A Good Life”, one of the very best – and very darkest – episodes of The Twilight Zone. Bart has omnipotent, godlike powers (“gnarley powers” according to Otto) that allow him to read minds and transform people into objects. Bart does this to anyone who is even slightly unhappy, including turning Homer into a jack in a box. Like the story it is based on, it has a horrifying ending: in the original, the townspeople realise they cannot stop the young boy, but in Treehouse of Horrors, Bart tells Homer he loves him! Truly a thing of nightmares! Also, Harry Shearer’s impression of Rod Serling at the beginning of the story is spot-on. My favourite story.
And that is my Top 10 Treehouse Of Horrors stories. Unsurprisingly they are mostly from the early years, although there are some decent stories in the latter half of The Simpsons run. The War of the World’s spoof The Day The Earth Stood Stupid, Dial D for Diddly (casting Flanders as Dexter is a masterstroke) and the very recent The Others (where the modern Simpson family meets their roughly-drawn, pilot episode counterparts) all came close to making this list. And I know there are some absolute belters I have missed – Terror At 5 1/2 Feet, Monkey’s Paw, so many others… maybe I’ll do a full retrospective in time for Halloween 2016? Now there’s a horrifying thought…
As a little treat for making it all the way to the end, here is a little treat. While The Simpsons has undoubtedly declined in quality as time has gone on, there have still been brilliant moments. Here is the Guillermo del Toro directed opening sequence to “Treehouse of Horrors XXIV”, which features a million and one references to his movies, old horror movies, and previous Simpsons Halloween specials, plus an apperance from the HypnoToad. ALL GLORY TO THE HYPNOTOAD!
Carl as Blade! Mr Burns as The Pale Man! Lisa as Ofelia!
Don’t have nightmares!
All images are owned by 20th Century Fox.