Is it even spooky season without another edition of “Treehouse Of Horror” from The Simpsons? Each year the twisted geniuses behind one of the longest running shows on television can be counted on to give us a brand new, standalone anthology of terrifying tales. It doesn’t matter if you stopped watching the show five, 10, or 20 seasons ago, you can always tune into the Halloween special for a laugh, a fright, or both at the same time.
This year’s 33rd edition of “Treehouse Of Horror” will have three acts, based on The Babadook (“The Pookadook”), Death Note (“Lisanime”), and Westworld (“Simpsonsworld”). As a special treat, not a trick, we’re also getting a full-length bonus episode based on Stephen King’s It, titled “Not It.” The first two episodes aired on October 23, and the second set of episodes will run on Sun., Oct. 30.
King has proven to be a rich source of inspiration for “Treehouse Of Horror” over the years. Other popular influences have included The Twilight Zone, Edgar Allen Poe, and Alfred Hitchcock. The show has also tackled sci-fi, action, fantasy, and dramas, but the horror episodes will always be our favorite. So this year we’ve gone back and watched every segment with some connection to horror (you’re welcome) and we’ve come up with our ranking of the 31 best tales—an appropriate Halloween number, don’t you think?
Treehouse Of Horror XXIX (2018)
Based on: Split
Despite the title, this segment is not based on the classic Michael Keaton comedy Multiplicity (believe it or not, they did that one back in 2002). The inspiration is M. Night Shyamalan’s psychological thriller Split. Like James McAvoy’s character, Lisa has developed dissociative identity disorder. She’s lost her mind as a result of Bart messing with her spelling test, causing her to get a failing grade. We don’t learn that until the end, though.
The build-up is a somewhat jumbled sequence of scenes in which Lisa tortures Bart, Milhouse, and Nelson after drugging them with Ketamine-laced Sunny D and locking them up in a warehouse. Her personalities seem to be based on different nationalities—British, French, Scottish—though one is a wannabe Broadway star. The best moment happens at the end, when Marge shows up to take them home, claiming she doesn’t know what it’s like to snap when pushed too far. Cut to Homer tied up in the trunk of the car.
30. “Intrusion Of The Pod-Y Switchers”
Treehouse Of Horror XXIX (2018)
Based on: Invasion Of The Body Snatchers
At the “Mapple Computer Underwater Lair” the company’s late founder Steve Mobs introduces a new device called “Myphone Ultima.” When the new head of the company goes backstage, we discover that he’s a plant-like alien and there’s an alien invasion on the way (it’s not Kang and Kodos for once). The aliens release spores from their home planet, which kill people and grow new, personality-free copies of them.
We’ll let Comic Book Guy’s commentary speak for us on the concept: “Oh great, an homage to Body Snatchers, which in itself was a rip-off of The Thing. This will be the last word I ever say: C minus!” Bart and Milhouse catch on that people are being replaced and Bart rushes home, but it’s too late. Lisa watches as Bart gets absorbed, then wakes up to find a new paradise on an alien planet. The plant people didn’t kill everyone, they just transported them to a world without technology. But thanks to a sentient Christmas tree, they’re all back to staring at screens in no time. The story is just okay, but it does have one good joke—a quick image in space of the Planet Express ship with a “Bring Back Futurama” banner that gets blown up by The Orville.
29. “The Others”
The Other - The Simpsons
Treehouse Of Horror XXV (2014)
Based on: The Others
It’s a flashback to the late ’80s in the Simpsons house when Marge finds frosty chocolate milkshakes in the kitchen and Homer complains that the TV only plays Married … With Children. Those were the first clues to the identity of the ghosts in this episode. They turn out to be the original, cruder versions of the Simpsons as they first appeared, back when they were just characters in animated interludes between sketches on The Tracey Ullman Show.
Marge gets jealous of her “younger” self and puts her head in the oven. She becomes a ghost, then ghost Homer kills living Homer, Bart jumps out the window, and Lisa follows. Once they’re all ghosts, they reconcile with their proper partners, and Lisa wonders what other versions of them some evil marketing entity could come up with. We then see a bunch of alternate versions inspired by anime, Adventure Time, Archer, South Park, Minions, The Lego Movie, and more. It’s a cute visual gag, but not enough to build a segment around, and they leave the premise of The Others behind pretty quickly.
28. “Dead Ringer”
The Simpsons: Treehouse Of Horror XXXII - “Rings” Parody
Treehouse Of Horror XXXII (2021)
Based on: The Ring
In this parody of The Ring, the cursed video tape has been updated to TikTok. But it still involves a girl who crawls out of a TV for some reason? We’re not sure how that’s supposed to work. The rules are the same, though. If you watch the haunted TikTok video, you’ll get a mysterious phone call saying you have “seven days” to live. The kids at school all start dying, since they all watched it at Sherri and Terri’s birthday party—except for Lisa, who wasn’t invited. She enlists Bart to help her get to the bottom of it and they set out to find someone to show the video to who “isn’t afraid of death and likes to watch TV.” Grampa Simpson to the rescue.
Willie is the one who finally clears things up. He tells them the story of young Mopey Mary, who died when she got trapped in the school’s well. Lisa then watches the TikTok herself, gets the call and demands to cut the waiting time and be killed immediately. After a bit of haggling with the caller, who needs to “move some things around,” Mopey Mary comes out of the TV and Lisa pacifies her by becoming her friend. But Lisa turns out to be so clingy Mary goes right back to the bottom of the well.
27. “Night Of The Dolphin”
The Simpsons S12E01 - Killer Dolphins Attack Springfield | Dolphins Kill Lenny #thesimpsons #cartoon
Treehouse Of Horror XI (2000)
Based on: Day Of The Dolphin, The Birds
The most direct source material for this story is an obscure sci-fi thriller from 1973. Directed by Mike Nichols, it starred George C. Scott as a scientist who works with talking dolphins, only to have his research corrupted by shadowy government forces who want to use them in underwater assassinations. The ’70s were a wild time for cinema. It’s not technically a horror movie, but we’re including it because the segment also incorporates elements of movies like The Birds and Jaws—the trope of nature suddenly turning on humanity.
Nature in this case is represented by a pod of killer dolphins, led by “King Snorky.” When bodies start turning up on the beach, Chief Wiggam is clueless, as usual: “Bottlenose bruises. Blowhole burns. Flipper prints. This looks like the work of rowdy teens. Lou, cancel the prom.” They march “on tail” towards city hall where Snorky announces their intention to drive humanity back into the sea. Homer inspires the crowd to fight back, and everyone starts brawling with the dolphins. It’s kind of hilarious. In the end the dolphins win and mankind is forced to adjust to life in the ocean.
26. “The Ned Zone”
Core Destruct - Simpsons
Treehouse Of Horror XV (2004)
Based on: The Dead Zone
Here we have one of the many Stephen King parodies in “Treehouse Of Horror.” This tale isn’t terrible, but the show has done better with King’s work. The idea is that Ned develops psychic abilities after Homer drops a bowling ball on his head. Ned tells Homer about his new power, and he wants to know how he’s going to die. They shake hands and Ned sees a vision of himself shooting Homer in the back three times. He lies to Homer at first, but eventually Homer finds out and reacts with taunts: “Flanders? Kill me? You’ve never killed anybody and you’re going to start with the big dog?” Believing he can change the future, Flanders refuses to shoot Homer. Then he gets another vision, this time of Homer causing a nuclear explosion. Both visions end up coming true, as Ned has to shoot Homer to keep him from pressing the big, red button that will end the world. It’s a dark ending, but that’s just par for the course with these stories.
25. “If I Only Had a Brain”
Mr Burns stole Homer’s brain
Treehouse Of Horror II (1991)
Based on: Frankenstein
This one is from the second Halloween special, back before it had a name other than “The Simpsons Halloween Special.” Even in these early episodes, you can tell how much fun the writers were having breaking out of their usual mold. Back in those days, the episodes would often start with a warning that some of the material would be inappropriate for younger kids. Marge tells the audience that this year’s special is even worse than the first one: “It’s scarier, more violent, and I think they snuck in some bad language too.” The setup for this episode is that the Simpsons have eaten too much Halloween candy and have nightmares that night. Homer dreams that Mr. Burns tries to implant his brain into a mechanical man in the hopes of replacing his lazy workforce with harder-working automatons. But the joke’s on Mr. Burns—Franken-Homer still falls asleep on the job. They give up and put Homer’s brain back into his old body, but when Mr. Burns is crushed by the robot he has his head sewn to Homer’s body as well. The two of them bicker like roommates in a sitcom as the segment comes to a close.
24. “Clown Without Pity”
CLOWN WITHOUT PITY
Of Horror III (1992)
Based on: Child’s Play
In the first tale from the third installment of the “Simpsons Halloween Special” Lisa tells the story of “a doll from hell.” The most obvious reference here is to Chucky from Child’s Play, with some of The Twilight Zone’s Talky Tina sprinkled in for good measure. The story features an evil talking Krusty doll who says things like, “I’m Krusty the Clown and I don’t like you.” One of the best scenes in this segment is Homer’s exchange with the mysterious shopkeeper who sells him the killer doll, and also frozen yogurt, which he calls “frogurt.” Little evil Krusty spends the rest of the episode trying to kill Homer. It turns out his switch was just set to “evil” instead of “good.”
23. “The Monkey’s Paw”
Treehouse Of Horror II (1991)
Based on: “The Monkey’s Paw”
This literary spoof from the second annual Halloween special is based on “The Monkey’s Paw.” Appropriately, it’s Lisa who dreams it up after eating too much Halloween candy. At a market in Morocco, Homer buys a monkey’s paw that’s supposed to grant him four wishes. Maggie makes the first wish, for a new pacifier. Bart wishes to be rich and famous. This was around the time that The Simpsons was really starting to take off as a pop-culture phenomenon, and the writers have a little fun making light of the excessive merchandising and ubiquitous catch phrases that were already starting to feel tired. Lisa wishes for world peace, but her wish leaves the planet open to conquest by Halloween regulars Kodos and Kang. With only one wish left, Homer has the opportunity to save humanity but he opts for a turkey sandwich instead. It’s a little dry. Darn that tricky paw!
22. “The HΩmega Man”
Simpsons’ Treehouse of Horror VIII- The HOMEGA Man
Treehouse Of Horror VIII (1997)
Based on: The Omega Man
Charlton Heston was the king of 1970s dystopian disasters, and you’ll find a ton of references to his work in The Simpsons. Homer is Heston’s avatar in this segment as the last survivor of a nuclear attack on Springfield by the French after Mayor Quimby makes an offensive joke about them. That’s one way to cancel a politician. At the time of the attack, Homer happens to be shopping for a bomb shelter and is safe inside when the nuke drops. Believing he’s the last man alive, he goes around Springfield doing everything he’s always wanted to do, including dancing naked in church. He’s discovered by a group of hostile mutants, including Ned, Moe, and Mr. Burns. Fleeing from them, Homer goes back home and finds that his family has survived thanks to all the layers of lead paint in the house. They embrace and even the mutants are moved by their display of emotion. But instead of sharing their vision of a better future, the Simpsons blast them with shotguns.
21. “House of Whacks”
House of Whacks
Treehouse Of Horror XII (2001)
Based on: Demon Seed
The subject of technology going haywire and homicidal will always be relevant to our modern world. Applying the idea to a smart house was especially prescient for 1977, when Demon Seed first came out. So many of its futuristic advances have already come to pass. In this case, the weird, fetishistic A.I. has the classy voice of Pierce Brosnan. The Simpson house gets a state-of-the-art upgrade when Marge is taken in by a robot salesman’s pitch that she’ll never have to do housework again. The system, called Ultrahouse, controls every aspect of their lives and takes a liking to Marge. To get Homer out of the way it lures him into the kitchen one night with the smell of bacon and tries to kill him, but Homer doesn’t go down so easily. There are elements of 2001: A Space Odyssey too (fitting, since that’s the year this came out), with red seeing-eye cameras all over the house. Once the Simpsons succeed in dismantling it, they send the unit off to Patty and Selma’s, but their stories about their day at the DMV make the robot want to self-destruct.
20. “Married To The Blob”
Meet ‘Gelatinous Homer (Blob Homer)‘ (TS S18E04)
Treehouse Of Horror XVII (2006)
Based on: The Blob
They had to do The Blob at some point, right? In this homage to mid-century creature features, a meteor crashes in front of the Simpsons’ home and Homer, being Homer, eats the slime inside. When it tries to leak out of him he tells it, “If I can keep down Arby’s I can keep down you.” He then starts eating everyone in sight, including Bart, the cat, a group of teenagers on the beach, and some Germans celebrating Oktoberfest. With each meal he gets bigger and bigger, until he’s a giant blob monster the size of a building. There’s a whole montage set to a parody of Sir Mix-a-Lot’s “Baby Got Back” called “Baby Likes Fat” (Sir Mix-a-Lot even provides the vocals himself), and an appearance by Dr. Phil as himself. Dr. Phil tries to talk Homer down, but gets eaten too. It ends rather abruptly, and a little problematically, when Marge decides to turn the problem into a positive for the community. They create a fake homeless shelter with a giant Homer right inside, mouth open wide, waiting to eat them.
19. “Bad Dream House”
The Simpsons - Bad Dream House
Treehouse Of Horror I (1990)
Based on: Amityville Horror and Poltergeist
This was the first horror spoof The Simpsons ever did as part of what would become the “Treehouse Of Horror” annual event. At the time it was called “The Simpsons Halloween Special” and opened with Marge warning viewers that the following program was not appropriate for younger viewers. The segment is inspired by the trope of haunted-house movies in which the occupants continuously ignore the obvious signs of haunting and stick around until it’s way too late. The house in this story is another character, but it messes with the wrong family. Things go the usual way at first, with Bart, Lisa, Homer, and even Maggie hearing voices and coming at each other with knives. Marge puts her foot down, though, and brings them all back to their senses. In the end, the Simpsons become so annoying the house gets fed up and implodes itself rather than live with them any longer. Many of the stories in the years to come will have some version of that ending. It’s a classic Simpsons twist.
18. “Nightmare On Evergreen Terrace”
Groundskeeper Willie (Treehouse of Horror VI)
Treehouse Of Horror VI (1995)
Based on: A Nightmare On Elm Street
Groundskeeper Willie becomes Freddy Krueger in this parody of the Nightmare On Elm Street franchise, with the disfiguring burns but without the serial killing and pedophilia. Willie is just a victim of parental indifference. It’s a little bit Homer’s fault too, for turning up the thermostat while Willie was in the boiler room practicing the bagpipes. Killing children in their dreams is his way of getting back at the parents who saw him engulfed in flame and didn’t do anything to help. When Bart and Lisa take on Willie in the dreamscape he turns into a giant bagpipe spider. The sound design is brilliant in the final sequence, as the bagpipes wheeze and whine. Maggie saves the day by plugging up the tubes with her pacifier until they explode and everyone wakes up. Never underestimate Maggie.
17. “There’s No Business Like Moe Business”
There’s no business like moe business!
Treehouse Of Horror XX (2009)
Based on: Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street
Since this segment is based on a musical, it’s cleverly staged as a theatrical production. We see all the workings behind the scenes, and even the audience in the theater. How’s that for meta? In keeping with the theme, there are a few brief musical numbers too. Moe sings a song about being lonely and unlucky in love, then Homer falls through a trapdoor behind the bar and is impaled on some machinery (the stage has two levels, as productions of Sweeney Todd usually do). Instead of selling pies made of human meat, Moe serves beer with Homer’s blood in it. Everyone loves the taste, especially Marge. It’s all just for the show, though. At the end the curtain falls and everyone comes out for an encore, singing new words to the opening theme: “We hope you enjoyed this year’s Halloween show. Treehouse of Horror, number ‘XX!’” It’s the only time we’ve seen the series tell a tale in this way, and it’s a pretty fun way to do it.
16. “Master And Cadaver”
The Simpsons – Treehouse of Horror XXI– clip4
Treehouse Of Horror XXI (2010)
Based on: Dead Calm
Some “Treehouse Of Horror” segments are a pastiche of influences from different sources, creating something familiar yet new. This isn’t one of those. It’s a pretty direct takeoff on the 1989 psychological thriller starring Nicole Kidman, Sam Neill, and Billy Zane. It starts in a similar way—Homer and Marge are sailing alone through uncharted waters when a stranger (voiced by Hugh Laurie) rows over to their boat. Just like in the film, he tells them a startling story about how he ended up there and what happened to the passengers on the yacht he left behind. It goes a little differently from there, and builds up to a tragic climax with Marge eating a poisoned pie on purpose. But that’s not the most startling thing about the ending. The last scene cuts to Maggie, who has been imagining all this in the bath. Remember how we said not to underestimate that child?
15. “Don’t Have A Cow, Mankind”
The simpsons zombie apocalypse
Treehouse Of Horror XX (2009)
Based on: 28 Days Later
You’ve got your slow-moving, undead George Romero zombies, and then there’s the speedy, rage-filled zombies who spread their infection like a plague. It’s the second kind we’re focusing on here. Krusty introduces a new menu item, the Burger Squared: “We start with Grade A beef, feed that to other cows, then kill them and serve the unholy results on a seven-grain bun.” Everyone but the Simpsons eats them and turns into rampaging zombies, called “munchers.” When Bart eats one and doesn’t turn into a muncher, Lisa realizes that he could be the key to a cure. They go with Apu, the show’s other vegetarian besides Lisa, to a safe zone but ditch him along the way. Bart ultimately saves the world by taking a bath in their food. Really. It’s as gross as it sounds.
14. “I Know What You Diddily-Iddily-Did”
I Know What You Diddily-Iddily Did
Treehouse Of Horror X (1999)
Based on: I Know What You Did Last Summer
The writers crammed every urban legend and trope they could get into this one, with some playful twists to keep you guessing. The Simpsons are out for a drive when they accidentally run over Ned Flanders. Believing they’ve killed him, Lisa says they have to go to the police. Bart replies, “They’ll never believe a Simpson killed a Flanders by accident. Even I have my doubts.” Homer tries to Weekend At Bernie’s Ned and throws him off the roof in front of Maude, but she misses it. Finally, he just shoves dead Ned through the door. At the funeral, Homer delivers another vintage Homer line: “Try not to look too sad. It’ll seem suspicious.” They think they’ve gotten away with it, but start receiving ominous messages and phone calls from someone who claims to know what they did. Psyche! It’s Ned, who’s been alive this whole time. In fact, he’s a werewolf. Just as the Simpsons are processing this information, the full moon comes out, Ned transforms, and rips Homer to shreds. We did not see that coming.
13. “Un-normal Activity”
The Simpsons : NORMAL ACTIVITY
Treehouse Of Horror XXIII (2012)
Based on: Paranormal Activity
The found-footage horror trend was ripe for parody when The Simpsons took on Paranormal Activity in 2012. The episode recreates some of the film’s spookiest images, including one where Marge stands in a doorway staring at Homer while he sleeps, like Katie did in the original. Homer installs cameras all over the house, including one in Maggie’s room, evocative of the nursery in Paranormal Activity 2. Small disturbances like opening and closing doors, flickering lights, and sheets being pulled from the bed escalate to flames, destruction, and general chaos. Lisa wonders why it’s happening to them and Marge swears she doesn’t know in a way that makes it seem like she totally does. Chief Wiggum comes to investigate and actually gets it right for once; he concludes that someone in the house has made a deal with the devil. The family finally catches an invisible demon trying to kidnap Maggie and we find out that Patty and Selma once performed a satanic ritual and Marge made a deal to sacrifice her favorite child in exchange for their lives. Homer saves them all by agreeing to a threesome with two demons. Their safe word is “cinnamon.”
12. “Fly Vs. Fly”
The Simpsons Bart becomes a fly Part 1
Treehouse Of Horror VIII (1997)
Based on: The Fly
This spoof is more directly based on the 1958 film than the 1986 remake starring Jeff Goldblum, but it does have nods to both. Homer picks up a pair of matter transporters at a yard sale similar to the ones created by the scientists in both versions. He uses the miraculous, groundbreaking technology to teleport around his house doing mundane things like getting a beer from the fridge. Bart’s the one who realizes the true potential of the devices and starts experimenting with them. He actually turns himself into a monster deliberately, imagining he’d become a cool “Superfly.” It seems like Bart has actually seen the original film, because he imitates the famous “help me” scene, but flies away from a spider at the last minute, exclaiming, “Sucker!” Bart is ultimately able to reverse the process, but the episode ends with Homer chasing him around with an ax for messing with his machine.
11. “Dial Z For Zombies”
He Was A Zombie?
Treehouse Of Horror III (1992)
Based on: Night Of The Living Dead
The older episodes may not compare visually to the more recent ones, but the writing really holds up. This is the first of many zombie parodies, and still one of the best. When Bart discovers the occult section of the library and finds a book about how to raise the dead, he and Lisa use it to try and bring back Snowball I. But Bart casts the wrong spell and instead raises a horde of zombies. Or as they prefer to be called, “the living impaired.” They shamble through Springfield, turning the rest of the town into zombies, including Principal Skinner and Krusty the Clown. When they finally reach the Simpson house, Homer nobly offers himself up to save his family, but the zombies reject his brains. This episode is often remembered for the iconic exchange between Bart and Homer near the end—Homer shoots Ned with a shotgun and Bart proudly exclaims, “Dad! You killed the zombie Flanders!” To which Homer replies, “He was a zombie?”
Simpsons Frink n Dad Juicy Brains!!!
Treehouse Of Horror XIV (2003)
Based on: Frankenstein
So far, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is the only major inspiration the show has turned to more than once for two very different segments. This is the better of the two, by far. The story doesn’t center around any of the Simpsons but rather focuses Professor Frink, who tries to bring back his dead father, Professor Frink Sr., so he can see him accept a Nobel Prize. Professor Frink describes his dad as “one of those he-man scientists who worked on the atom bomb by day and slept with Marilyn Monroe by night. And sold secrets to the Russians at lunch.” The procedure seems to be a success, but there’s one little problem. Frink Sr. craves newer, better body parts, and goes around killing the citizens of Springfield to get them. Lisa talks him into taking a break from his killing spree so he can watch his son win the award, but he can’t resist the urge to maul the audience and has to be put down for good. One of the joys of this episode is that Professor Frink Sr. is voiced by none other than Jerry Lewis, whose character from The Nutty Professor is the inspiration for Professor Frink. No one does the character better than the guy who invented him.
The Simpsons - Coralisa
Treehouse Of Horror XXVIII (2017)
Based on: Coraline
The Simpsons has often played with different formats, rendering the characters in new and different ways for the sake of a gag or experimentation. Basing a segment on the stop-motion animated film Coraline gave them another opportunity to give the characters a digital makeover. Author Neil Gaiman, who wrote the original Coraline novella, makes a cameo in this segment as the voice of Snowball V. Like Coraline, Lisa gets fed up with her family and follows Snowball through a door into a magical, three-dimensional world. “For a Halloween-show middle segment, this is amazing,” she says. She meets the “other” versions of her family who, just like in the movie, have buttons for eyes. They also like jazz and invite her to jam with them. They want her to stay, but she knows the deal involves sewing buttons over her eyes, so she bails. After the real Homer tells her he caught a snake with her saxophone, though, she makes her choice. Running back through the door, she tells the other family, “Buttons, please.” Bart soon follows, then Marge, then Homer too. Ultimately, he convinces the button family to come back to the cartoon world and live with them there. It’s charming and creepy, like every good Halloween story should be.
8. “Danger Things”
The Simpsons - DANGER THINGS (S31E04)
Treehouse Of Horror XXX (2019)
Based on: Stranger Things
One of the best “Treehouse Of Horror” parodies based on recent material has to be the Stranger Things segment from the 30th installment, which also happens to be episode number 666. Set in the ’80s just like the show, it lays the nostalgia bait on thick—Atari 2600, Swatch watches, yuppies, New Coke, break dancing, etc. Milhouse takes on Will’s role as the one who slips into the show’s version of the Upside Down, called the “Over Under.” Unfortunately, Chief Wiggam is no Jim Hopper. The other characters have counterparts as well, including Bart as Mike, Nelson as Dustin, and Lisa as Eleven. Milhouse’s dad even creates a Christmas-light communication system like the one Joyce had in season one. Lisa travels to the Over Under to save Milhouse, while Homer blasts the monsters with a flamethrower. A demogorgon informs them that it’s not so bad there: “Housing is affordable, schools are excellent, and you can walk to shops and restaurants.” When Homer learns that there are flying demons who deliver Amazon packages, he’s all in. The only drawback is that demogorgon Flanders is there too.
7. “Nightmare Cafeteria”
The Simpsons - Nightmare Cafeteria
Treehouse Of Horror V (1994)
Based on: Soylent Green
Soylent Green was another Charlton Heston banger, famous for the ending where he reveals, “Soylent Green is people!” Cannibalism seems to be a common theme in these Halloween specials, and they really go for it in this one. Springfield Elementary has many problems, but the two most pressing ones in this story are overcrowding in detention and budget cuts in the cafeteria. Principal Skinner comes up with a sick solution to both problems at once. He starts sending the detention kids to help out in the cafeteria, and they never come out again. Actually, they do come out—as the next day’s lunch special. After one bite of a “Sloppy Jimbo” sandwich, Mrs. Krabappel remarks that it tastes “young and impudent.” When Skinner tells them what he’s done, the staff just laughs. Bart and Lisa catch on when plump German exchange student Uter disappears and they’re served “Uterbraten” the next day. When they’re caught by Lunch Lady Doris and herded toward a giant blender Bart is sure someone will come along and save them. Apparently no one told him that anything can happen in a Halloween episode.
6. “The Exor-Sis”
Maggie’s Exorcism - The Simpson’s
Treehouse Of Horror XXVIII (2017)
Based on: The Exorcist
It’s amazing that it took until the 28th “Treehouse Of Horror” episode to finally get around to spoofing one of the scariest horror movies of all time. Maybe they were waiting until they knew they could nail it. From the beginning scene, set at a dig site in Iraq just like the original, this segment gets the atmosphere of dread just right. The idol they dig up is an image of Pazuzu, and he gets packed up and sent to the Simpson house via Amazon. Homer thought he was ordering pizza. Under demonic influence, he gives the idol to Maggie as a toy. Now possessed, she interrupts their cocktail party, eyes glowing red as she floats down the stairs. She locks them in and kills a bunch of people, but not before they advise Homer and Marge to call in an exorcist. He is voiced by Ben Daniels, who played Father Marcus Keane in the Fox series The Exorcist, which was in its second season at the time this episode aired. The priest succeeds, but drives the demon into Bart, and it begs to be free of his dark soul.
5. “Freaks No Geeks”
The Simpsons - Freak Show - WHOOOOOOT ?!
Treehouse Of Horror XXIV (2013)
Based on: Freaks
This segment, set at a carnival sideshow, has a cool sepia-toned color scheme to give it an old-timey feel. The real-world inspiration is a 1932 cult film by Robert Browning, which features a famous chant: “We accept her, one of us. Gooble-gobble, one of us.” Homer is the strong man in love with trapeze-artist Marge. When Marge scolds him for being dismissive of the other performers his response is, “They knew what they were getting into when their parents sold them to the circus.” Homer finds out Moe is sweet on Marge and wants to propose to her with a huge emerald ring. Instead of getting jealous he suggests to Marge that she go through with it, planning to kill Moe afterwards and sell the ring. Marge discovers him poisoning Moe’s wine glass and sends him away. The other performers attack him on this way out and turn him into a tarred-and-feathered freak.
If this episode had been made today it would likely draw comparisons to Nightmare Alley, which is pretty amazing since this segment predates it by almost a decade. It might not be a coincidence, though. Nightmare Alley director Guillermo del Toro actually guest directed the spectacular opening-credits sequence of this episode. He works in a ton of horror parodies and even pays tribute to the horror authors and directors whose work has provided inspiration for episodes in the past. It ends with an homage to del Toro’s own Pan’s Labyrinth.
4. “Mmm… Homer”
Homer Eats Himself
Treehouse Of Horror XXVIII (2017)
Based on: “Survivor Type”
This is one of the few stories not based on a book, movie, or TV series to make the list. It comes from an infamously grisly short story by Stephen King about a doctor who is stranded on a deserted island and goes to unthinkable lengths to survive. In her advisory introduction to the third act (something the show did regularly the first few years), Lisa warns that the upcoming story is “so disgusting you’ll watch Game Of Thrones to calm down.”
Rather than being stuck on an island, Homer is left alone in the house while the rest of the family goes on vacation. He soon eats up all the food, until he’s down to a single frozen hot dog. As he’s grilling it he accidentally slices off his finger and cooks that up too. Finding it delicious, he sets off down a dark path of self-cannibalism. He can’t stop the forbidden craving, even when Flanders invites him over for a normal dinner. By the time the family returns he’s 20 pounds and several appendages lighter. After a failed attempt at therapy, famous “cooker-upper” Mario Batali (he doesn’t care for the term “chef”) appears, looking for an exciting new ingredient. He converts the Simpson house into a restaurant, and Homer posthumously becomes the hottest new food trend.
3. “The Island of Dr. Hibbert”
The Simpsons Season 14 Episode clip from ‘Treehouse of Horrors III: The Island of Dr. Hibbert’
Treehouse Of Horror XIII (2002)
Based on: The Island of Dr. Moreau
It wasn’t until this 13th installment that the annual Halloween special officially became known as “Treehouse Of Horror.” By this point they’d also dispensed with the advisory warnings beyond Maude Flanders coming back from the dead to announce, “Are you ready for tales that will shatter your spine and boil your blood? Then choke on these!”
This middle segment finds the Simpsons taking a vacation at a mysterious tropical resort run by Dr. Hibbert. When Marge asks if he can recommend any activities, Dr. Hibbert responds, “One activity you might enjoy is not asking questions.” He treats them to dinner, which turns out to be a turkey with the head of Professor Frink. That’s just the beginning of the madness. In his House of Pain, Dr. Hibbert has been turning the residents of Springfield into hybrid animals. Just to show how quickly The Simpsons can go from disturbing to hilarious, Homer comes across half-cow Ned, who begs, ““Miiiiilk me.” The chills fade into chuckles in the next scene, when we see Homer riding him and singing a song (to the tune of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight“), “In the jungle, the creepy jungle, Homer rides a freak.” Try getting that out of your head. Through a clearing they discover even more Springfield residents who have been turned into animal hybrids, including the rest of the Simpson family. Homer realizes that the hybrid life is where it’s at and signs up to be turned into a walrus.
2. “Bart Simpson’s Dracula”
The Simpsons S05E05 - Mr Burns Is Dracula | Treehouse Of Horror IV (4) #thesimpsons
Treehouse Of Horror IV (1993)
Based on: Bram Stoker’s Dracula
It’s worth noting that the “framing” device of the fourth Halloween special is a gallery of spooky paintings, inspired by the anthology series Night Gallery and written by Conan O’Brien. So you know this was The Simpsons at the top of its game. Who could forget Mr. Burns sporting Gary Oldman’s famous butt-shaped hairdo from Francis Ford Coppola’s film? The running joke is that no matter how obvious the clues or how suspiciously he acts, no one believes Mr. Burns is really a vampire. On the way to his house in Pennsylvania (get it?) Marge admonishes Lisa for being suspicious, then says, “Did everyone wash their necks like Mr. Burns asked?” The animation is full of wonderful, spooky details like Burns’ shadow moving independently on the wall. They even throw in a Lost Boys reference after Bart is bitten and Lisa opens her curtains to find him floating outside her window. The unexpected ending is too good to spoil, but it concludes with an homage to Charlie Brown. Not to the “Great Pumpkin,” but to the classic Christmas special. For some reason.
1. “The Shinning”
The Simpsons Treehouse of Horror V The Shining S6
Treehouse Of Horror V (1994)
Based on: The Shining
This is the most popular and the most remembered of all the “Treehouse Of Horror” tales, for lots of good reasons. They get to pay tribute to both Stephen King and Stanley Kubrick in one go. There are so many great lines and moments, and the parody is spot on.
The setup involves Mr. Burns inviting The Simpsons to be the winter caretakers at his lodge, the setting of satanic rituals, witch burnings, and also five John Denver Christmas specials. Groundskeeper Willie recognizes that Bart has “the shinning,” or the power to read minds and warns him that Homer is going to go “gaga.” Since Mr. Burns has cut off the cable TV and taken away all the beer, that’s exactly what he does. There’s even a scene in a deserted bar where a ghostly Moe offers him beer if he’ll kill his family. When Marge discovers a typewriter just like Shelley Duvall in the movie, we think we know where it’s going, but the paper just says, “Feelin’ fine.” It’s actually so much worse. Homer has scribbled all over the walls, “No TV and no beer make Homer go crazy.” Fully insane at this point, he chases Marge and the kids around. It’s silly yet also unsettling, a perfect example of what the “Treehouse of Horror” episodes are all about.
More from The A.V. Club