As with everything The Simpsons, the annual, Halloween-themed "Treehouse of Horror" episodes have been running for a long, long time. In aid of delving into the series' yearly cavalcade of genre parodies, pop culture references, and gratuitous animated bloodletting, here's a definitive ranking of every Treehouse , ever. Episodes are ranked from worst to best and graded according to an unfailingly Frink-esque scientific system. So if you disagree, then please refer to the professor's admonition, "You won't enjoy it on as many levels as I do."
Treehouse of Horror XXII (Season 23)
It's probably not a great sign when the abbreviated cold open is the best part of a Treehouse of Horror, but the 127 Hours manner in which Homer (spiriting off the kids' Halloween candy thanks to that switch-witch bullcrap) is trapped under a boulder and chews through all four limbs to get to his purloined treats. That the segment ends with a nihilistic, Bart-driven twist worthy of one of those Jim Thompson, nobody-wins desert scenarios is especially and impressively dark. But things go down hard from there. Raise your hand if you were clamoring for a Simpsonized take on the touching and completely non-horror-related The Diving Bell and the Butterfly centered on the paralyzed Homer only being able to communicate through farts. Yeah, we're going to keep an eye on you.
The mid-segment switch to a Spider-Man parody (but, you know, keeping the whole fart motif) does nothing to redeem things. The Ned Flanders becomes a murderer piece starts out feinting toward a Taxi Driver riff, then switches to Dexter, before God shows up to kill Homer for tricking Ned into killing Homer's enemies thanks to a speaker-gimmicked bible. Follow that? The episode concludes with yet another Avatar parody, only with 10-year-old Bart having deceptive and copiously procreative sex with a Rigellian. Yeah, ew. The whole Avatar thing had been done to death, even then, and while there are a couple of amusing embellishments (I liked the planet-defending pterodactyls dropping eggs filled with piranhas), lines like Bart's, "How dare you betray the planet I got laid on!," and Bart's mate revealing she got "space warts" from sleeping with a traitorous Milhouse are enough to make one space-barf.
Treehouse of Horror X (Season 11)
The 10th anniversary of the Treehouse Of Horror franchise sees this once-inventive goof of a yearly premise succumb to slapdash laziness so fast it's unnerving. The cracks started to show in the previous season's shaky outing but the three stories here feel less like a chance for the writers to air out some great ideas that wouldn't fit into the series already elastic continuity, and more an exercise in cynical formula and terribly-aged topicality. Plus, the commitment to the horror part of Treehouse Of Horror is essentially tossed out the window, as two of the three stories contain no horror elements at all, while the first simply slams two horror premises together and calls it a day. The Ned Flanders-centered riff on I Know What You Did Last Summer at least rustles up a little tension as the supposedly run-over and dead Ned stalks the family down a lonely lane. But the swerve into a werewolf story is basically just the show hitting the eject button on a story with no center.
Plus, here and throughout, the show is all about breezy cruelty, with Marge being the primary victim of character drift as soon as a given story needs her to do something uncharacteristic. ("Please be a dog," she pleads after running over Flanders on one of his nightly fog-walks.) The middle segment is a superhero takeoff, with the malfunctioning town x-ray machine granting Lisa and Bart superpowers. (Technically this is a Halloween tale, only so far as the machine was inspecting the kids' candy.) Lucy Lawless turns up, because why not, and seeing the Xena actress beat the crap out of a decidedly rapey Comic Book Guy supervillain is at least a bit cathartic. (Although not as much as Lawless shutting down the nitpicking Frink over Xena inconsistencies by stating unequivocally, "Whenever you notice something like that, a wizard did it.")
The Y2K segment, meanwhile, sees Homer's typical carelessness infecting every computer in the world on New Years Eve (cue pointless Dick Clark cameo), leading to a pair of escape rockets for the world's best and brightest (including Lisa and plus-one Marge), and worst and most mediocre (including Bart, Homer, and a parade of tiresome celebrities, including a guesting Tom Arnold). There's hardly a joke to be found, the inclusion of Spike Lee in the sun-bound loser rocket is an ugly bit of cultural blindness on the show's part, and this whole, would-be momentous anniversary outing is just a straight-up bummer. Set the controls for the heart of the sun.
Treehouse of Horror XVIII (Season 19)
Seriously, though, don't mess with Treehouse of Horror. At least that's Marge's lesson as the logos for all the Fox programming that caused this installment to, once more, be shunted into the first week in November are turned into meatloaf for the cold open. The long-in-coming E.T. parody has Kodos popping up in the Simpsons backyard, being befriended by Bart, and dropping far too many hints that he's not a harmless visitor from the stars. (Her name's Kodos the Destroyer, for crying out loud.) In a rushed conclusion, Bart finds out the truth, the military wipes out the invading aliens with ease, and Homer smothers the captive Kodos with a pillow. If there's a real laugh to be found, I didn't. Same goes for much of the parody of the decidedly non-horror movie Mr. and Mrs. Smith, which…exists.
There's something about watching Homer and Marge (leading double lives as secret assassins) trying to straight-up shoot each other that's just off-putting. (Maybe it's Homer's decades of bad, often hurtful neglect. Just a thought.) And if a soon-dispatched Wiggum's description of the couple's "elaborately choreographed, high-octane ultra-fight" is the segment's biggest chuckle, having Bart and Lisa tearfully plead with their murderous parents, "Whatever we did, we're sorry," only adds to the no-thanks factor. "Heck House" takes a swipe at those fundamentalist exercises in child-shaming and psychological damage, the right-wing evangelical haunted house (as documented in 2001's harrowing documentary Hell House).
After Bart, Milhouse, Nelson, and a reluctant Lisa's trick-or-treat rampage turns Springfield into a toilet-papered heck-scape, Flanders offers to scare the kids into his notion of straight, eventually seeking Satan's help to show the rascals just how high the wages of sin are. ("I was only in it for the sin," an excited Nelson states after Ned lets slip that sin has some rewards.) It's the best one of a mild bunch, but still about as bland as Flanders' Bosch-lite version of Hell.
Treehouse of Horror XXIX (Season 30)
Homer bests Cthulhu in an oyster-eating contest to save the Simpsons' souls to kick off this 2018 outing. And if that sounds like an epic battle for the ages, it's most assuredly not, as the episode riffs on Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Split, and Jurassic Park, to almost no effect whatsoever. Part of the issue at this point in the series is how the anything goes, occasionally supernatural elements that were previously confined to the annual Halloween episodes have seeped into the show proper. (Reminder that Kang and Kodos actually now exist in the Simpsons' world proper, thanks to one of the worst episodes of all time.)
Thirty seasons and 29 Treehouses in, and these episodes become an exercise in plucking out a lonely original chuckle or two from a lukewarm sea of rote pop culture references. Here, that means praising Yeardley Smith for enlivening the Split outing with some impressively varied voice acting (and for belting out a song). It means appreciating a funny personality test in which Willie vainly tries to determine if Superintendent Chalmers is not a pod person with a quiz about Scottish rugby lineups. ("I don't know! Is there a Rudy?" "There's always a Rudy!") And that's about it, unless you find the show's Apple/Mapple jokes about a certain ubiquitous computer company as hilarious as the writers continue to.
Treehouse of Horror XIII (Season 14)
Man, Marge has it rougher than anyone else when it comes to these Treehouse episodes. Commentary on the traditionally limited and often insulting roles for women in the genres being parodied, but in this so-so outing, the poor lady is either almost having sex with an abomination or having sex while turned into an abomination. The former almost happens in the slapdash "Send in the Clones," where a magical hammock(?) allows Homer to whip up some marginally dumber clones to help out around the house. Naturally, things get way out of hand, resulting in Flanders' murder, drained Duff factories and devoured crops, and the potential overrunning of the entire country. And the unsuspecting Marge having to sleep with an imposter Homer, which eventually happens anyway after the government's donut-baiting plan kills off the real Homer. Ick.
Gun control is the subject of the second episode, but even the Fox-iest viewers have nothing to write barely coherent Second Amendment letters about, as Lisa's firearms purge consists of one speech, a quick comeuppance thanks to a resurrected and heavily armed Billy the Kid (?), and some Frink-assisted time travel shenanigans that render the whole hazy gag irrelevant. A couple of funny jokes help a bit — cop Lou complains that, without his gun, all he has left to prove his manhood is his "enormous genitals." The third story is an Island of Doctor Moreau riff, although more referencing the original story than the eminently mockable 1996 Marlon Brando vehicle, which would have been a bit more lively. Here's where Marge, kidnapped and transformed into a blue cat woman by a mad Dr. Hibbert, pounces on the horny Homer, who hardly notices that his wife has a tail and fangs until she devours a bird the next morning. Again, Ick.
Treehouse of Horror XVI (Season 17)
Kang and Kodos help The Simpsons take revenge for the previous year's World Series-delayed Treehouse outing by speeding up this year's Series until the entire universe is destroyed. Overkill, but don't mess with The Simpsons annual ratings cash cow. There's a temptation to throw logic out the window in these episodes, but throwing even each story's internal logic away in pursuit of usually not very big laughs too often smacks of randomness for its own sake. The A.I. knockoff where a comatose Bart is replaced by a perfect robot son named David isn't anything special (the joke that "booting up" you new robo-child is foot-kickingly literal is decent), but the wrapup in which Homer wakes from a dream only to discover that we're actually in another Exorcist scenario is that randomness without payoff as previously mentioned. The Most Dangerous Game knockoff sees Burns hunting all the male regulars for sport. Carl and Lenny's pre-hunt speculation is a highlight ("What kind of motive do you think he has? "Ulterior."), but the unmotivated absurdity knob is turned up again once Terry Bradshaw turns up to reveal that Fox is airing the whole bloodbath as part of its "Must Flee TV" lineup.
The tortuously titled "I've Grown a Costume on Your Face" sees a real witch transform the townspeople into their costumes in revenge for being cheated out of a best costume gift certificate. (The Dracula-clad Hibbert, referred to as "Blacula" by Mayor Quimby, grumbles about this being the 21st century, for crying out loud.) In the end, thanks to Maggie being dressed as another witch, things almost go back to normal (ultimately, everyone is turned into giant binkies), with the episode ending once more in head-scratching fashion when Moe and a cameoing Dennis Rodman make a plea for adult literacy. Look, a good absurdist twist is welcome stuff, unless said twists come off more like the writers waving their hands and declaring that these Treehouse stories don't require the effort to make the gags land.
Treehouse of Horror XVII (Season 18)
It's "King Homer" meets "King Size Homer" in the first segment tonight, "Married to the Blob," in which Homer scarfs down some glowing meteor goo and transforms into an insatiable food monster. (Insert joke here if you must.) Unfortunately, the whole enterprise is just one string of fat jokes (Homer eats a Facts of Life reunion, ha ha), concluding with an eating-the-homeless gag that the show seems to sign off on uncritically. Oh, and they managed to squeeze ubiquitous TV quack Dr. Phil in there, but at least he gets dissolved in stomach acid. (Also, Sir Mix-a-Lot gets a check for refashioning a Homer-centric "I Like Big Butts.")
The show's take on the Golem trots out Richard Lewis, Fran Drescher, and a whole lot of Jewish jokes to little effect. Some have praised the edginess and bleakness of the concluding segment, "The Day the Earth Stood Stupid," far beyond what's actually presented in sepia-animated Depression-era glory. Maurice LaMarche brings his stellar Orson Welles to the tale of a Springfield inevitably suckered by the star's War of the Worlds broadcast, and there's a very funny gag where Welles' trusty Foley artist holds up a "screw you" sign when asked for a particularly elaborate effect.
But the meat arrives in the form of Kang and Kodos, whose actual alien invasion lobs some moderately pointed but prosaic criticism of George W. Bush's unnecessary Iraq War. (The aliens complain that they were told they'd be greeted as liberators, rumors of human WMD's are laughably fake, and their invasion is called Operation Enduring Operation.) It's all a bit flat and shoehorned in, although the episode's ending is suitably somber, with the bombed-out Springfield burning to the warbling soundtrack of "I Don't Want to Set the World on Fire."
Treehouse of Horror XXX (Season 31)
Suitably for the show's 666th episode, this one opens with an Omen parody intro, where Maggie's the Simpsons child with the infernal number on her scalp (right next to a tattoo of the corporate mascot of new Simpsons' overlords Disney). Plucking out genuinely funny gags in a watery Treehouse is only fair, so Homer's shriek upon seeing Maggie's posters in her bedroom mirror is a classic. ("Palindrome!," he cries after seeing a reflected "racecar.") A visually sumptuous episode all around, the first, Stranger Things-themed short sees Lisa wandering through a genuinely unsettling-looking "Over-Under" version of Springfield, weaving with creepy tendrils and there are some funny asides in addition to every 1980s reference the writers can jam in here. Homer saves the day while explaining that Mr. Burns (natch') is responsible for all the mayhem thanks to a "secret government program to find monsters." And Milhouse's chalk outline after being taken out by one of said monsters also lovingly details the sheer amount of terror-pee involved. It's the little things.
The Heaven Can Wait parody, on the other hand, is careless and limp (and not a little creepy, in the not-Halloween way), as the dead Homer is slotted into various replacement bodies, while poor Marge is left to cope. The ending makes no sense, Archer did this gag much better the same year, and only Homer's lament at seeing the aged bodies he's got to choose from made me laugh: "It's a real tragedy more young people don't die." The Shape of Water gets its turn in the Treehouse next, with cleaning lady Selma falling for the imprisoned and very slimy Kang. So, so many truly terrible sci-fi sex puns, you guys. (Whoever wrote "wookie-nookie" needs to explain themselves.)
Treehouse of Horror XIV (Season 15)
After a particularly nasty, domestic violence cold open ("Will everyone please stop fighting and burning?," Marge pleads, before shotgunning Homer), this year's Treehouse falls in the promising premise/indifferent execution badlands. Homer kills the Grim Reaper, first leading to a world without death ("If I knew, I'd tell you, I swear!," pleads the bullet-riddled Frankie the Squealer to a confused Fat Tony), and then a much worse world where Homer is forces to take up the scythe. The family murder vibe continues when it looks like Homer's got to reap Marge, but a Selma switcheroo and a concluding motorcycle chase outsmarting God(?) Puts things mostly back to normal. Professor Frink proves himself superior to his inspiration when Jerry Lewis guest stars as Frink's late, India Jones-esque scientist father, whose resurrection thanks to Frink's tinkering results in some resurfaced father-son rivalry and, oh yeah, a Springfield-wide organ-napping spree. Hank Azaria's prime Frink gibberish outclasses the sleepy Lewis, although the segment never finds much interesting to do with the whole conceit.
Then it's Twilight Zone time again, as Bart and Milhouse's mail order time-stopping watch (cribbed from a 1970's Batman and Rhoda comic) allows them to freeze the world in its tracks. Unsurprisingly, they use their newfound power to pants pretty much everybody (occasionally bringing in Nelson for a hearty "Haw-haw!") Before realizing that with great power comes the need to frame Martin for all the trouble they've caused. Like Bart and Milhouse, the writers never find anything especially inventive to do with their freedom from continuity and the laws of reality, although the idea of the boys time-napping the frozen Oscar De La Hoya just so they can take turns socking him in the breadbasket at least sounds like something they'd come up with.
Treehouse of Horror XXIII (Season 24)
Hard to argue with a writing trophy from the 65th Writers Guild of America Awards, but here goes. This was… fine. The then-timely Mayan calendar end times prophecy forms the backbone of the opening, with Moe being tricked by a seductive Marge into taking Homer's place as the apocalypse-averting sacrifice. Sure, it causes the present-day destruction of all that is and ever was (including Mayan gods making the Mount Rushmore presidents kiss), but at least love prevailed. Lisa adopts a miniature black hole in another story based on loopy conspiracy nonsense when Springfield's new particle accelerator negatively answers Mayor Quimby's ribbon cutting speculation about whether the machine will "answer certain obscure questions of subatomic physics or destroy the universe." Still, Lisa keeps things relatively under control until Homer opens up his "Magic Craphole Waste Removal" service, causing everyone to be sucked into a world where our jettisoned junk is another species' worshipped treasures. (Cue Zune joke.)
Paranormal Activity's found-footage conceit sees Homer repeatedly trying to trick Marge into homemade porn (ew), before a flashback-laden backstory reveals how Marge saved Patty and Selma from an unwise childhood deal with the devil (who looks like Moe). Oh, and Homer winds up having a videotaped threesome with a pair of immediately regretful male demons. Back to the Future closes things out, with Bart's pursuit of a rare 1974 comic book leading him to alter the past so that Marge winds up with that creepily handsy Artie Ziff instead of Homer. For such a well-trod target, complete with the Marge-Homer love story for added dimension, the segment never really finds anything original or affecting to do, even when Marge seemingly weds an entire "United Federation of Homers" after realizing her long-ago mistake. (Once more, Marge is on the hook for a creepy misogynistic genre denouement.)
Treehouse of Horror XV (Season 16)
With curtain-pullers Kang and Kodos mocking the fact that the 2004 World Series has postponed Season 16's Treehouse of Horror until well after Halloween, it'd be nice to say that this installment was worth the wait. Yes, it would be nice. "The Ned Zone" is a strong enough opener, with Flanders' conk on the head giving him future-predicting powers and the vision of Homer blowing up the entire town sending the church-y fellow on an unlikely mission of neighbor-murder to prevent it. An economical and intermittently tense game of fate-avoidance, the segment boasts Ned's post-concussion cries of "Concussion-didlly… injury-bodily," alongside Homer's delighted guess at how he'll die. (Sadly, "naked girl avalanche" isn't what Ned sees.)
The Jack the Ripper meets Sherlock Holmes tale "Four Beheadings and a Funeral" similarly subsists on a few clever touches (Victorian Comic Book Guy admonishes detective Lisa, "You may examine my curios, but do not touch my oddities," before being murdered), and the cast having obvious fun with their plummy British accent work. Apu gets framed for the crime initially, bobby Wiggum's order to "Lock him up until we find someone darker" one of the show's welcome broadsides against institutional racism, before Lisa finally solves the crime, despite suspect Homer casually tossing waif-thin opium addicts to block her path. The Fantastic Voyage parody that concludes things is pretty standard stuff, with a shrunk-down Maggie needing to be rescued by the family inside a decrepit Mr. Burns. ("While you're in there, grab as much cancer as you can," he requests airily.) In the end, Marge gets objectified in typical '60s sci-fi fashion, Homer enlarges to become Burns' Cronenbergian interior passenger, and everything wraps up with a song. As the professor repeatedly states in order to get this middling installment over with, "Frink out."
Treehouse of Horror XIX (Season 20)
Ah, 2008, when an opening gag about rigged voting machines and a democracy on the verge of gerrymandered Republican thuggishness was just a fun little throwaway gag. Seriously, though, this Treehouse proper has one standout segment out of three, with concluding chapter, "It's the Grand Pumpkin, Milhouse," putting some lovingly disreputable spin on a beloved holiday classic. Milhouse is the Linus here, his childlike faith in the mythos that Bart made up as a goof actually conjuring a giant, jolly pumpkin god—who immediately goes into a murderous rampage once he discovers how his gourd-y brethren are treated on Halloween. Stylistically, the piece is charming, with everything from the retro look to the stiff walking animation, to Marge's actual trombone practice standing in for adults' voices evoking some autumnal nostalgia.
On the beloved special-desecrating front, the joke that the Grand Pumpkin is actually a racist jerk serves well. "I'd rather die than hate!," screams Nelson as he's devoured (Even though LGBTQ+ groups protested Nelson's earlier use of "gay" to insult Milhouse's beliefs.) The best thing to say about the Transformers tale is that it's preferable (in length at least) than any of the Michael Bay smash-fests, with Lisa's new Malibu Stacy roadster activating all Springfield's gadgets to continue the species' civil war.
The Mad Men-style opening animation to the middle segment "How to Get Ahead in Dead-Vertising" is a bait-and-switch. Homer does get into the ad game after his accidental wood chipper murder of Krusty brings him to the attention of some unscrupulous mad men looking to mine the likenesses of dead celebs for tasteless monetization. Cue Homer killing George Clooney, Prince, and Neil Armstrong to the tune of "Psycho Killer" before the denizens of Celebrity Heaven team up to get vengeance. In retrospect, watching Homer bloodily kill Prince is a bit of a wince, and, like two of the three segments this time, there's a serious lack of substance.
Treehouse of Horror XI (Season 12)
Homer's a ghost, the family gets Grimm, and dolphins take over on this middling Treehouse. If there's a demarcation to be made between the good and bad episodes, it can be seen in how the characters came to service the premises, and not the other way around. Here, there are a few decent lines. The dead Homer, faced with the task of doing one single good deed to get into heaven, rebuts Marge's ready list of necessary household chores by scoffing, "I'm just trying to get into heaven, I'm not running for Jesus," which is some prime Homer logic.
The fairy tale story sees Lisa, after Homer ditches her and Bart, Hansel and Gretel-style in the deep, dark forest, noting matter-of-factly, "Face it, they're not good parents." And the evil witch who fattens Bart up for the over is amusingly proven not a liar when her seemingly made-up boyfriend, George Cauldron, actually shows up after the family turns the tables on her. When Lisa pulls a Free Willy on a beleaguered captive dolphin, the resulting land invasion by the righteously pissed off sea mammals sees one finny soldier panic at being trapped in a stray volleyball net, before a comrade slaps some sense into him. There's nothing terrible (perhaps apart from someone deciding it would be hilarious to have Homer include the glory hole among humankind's greatest inventions in his rousing speech), but nothing special either.
Treehouse of Horror XXVI (Season 27)
Sideshow Bob finally succeeds in murdering Bart! And now what? Nope — there's not much of an answer to that question here, as Bob Terwilliger's (Kelsey Grammer) gory triumph (seriously, there are intestines and everything), and subsequent leprechaun-aided and repeated resurrection of his nemesis shows that it's all about the chase. Sure, Emperor Joker mined the same concept for gory yucks, but the Clown Prince of Crime had his fathomless madness to liven things up as he tormented and slaughtered his bat-eared foe again and again. Bob's monomaniacal pursuit of outsized vengeance is more compelling in inevitably thwarted futility than this segment's wan, if temporary, ultimate victory, and there's nothing especially inventive in his disillusionment.
"Homerzilla" is the definition of warmed-over storytelling, with Homer now a giant lizard instead of a giant ape ("King Homer"), with plenty of tired gags at the expense of Japanese culture and the then-current Gareth Edwards 2014 Godzilla remake. Beyond-tired gags about Japanese movie dubbing are almost too lame to complain about, and the shots at the not-that-bad 2014 American version of the beloved kaiju are weighed down with expiration dates.
"Telepaths of Glory" takes on Chronicle and the whole found-footage genre, with Milhouse gaining telekinetic powers thanks to some of Springfield Nuclear's abundant and carelessly stored green goop. The idea of everyone's favorite nerd going mad with unaccustomed power has promise. (Milhouse drops bully Dolph into a volcano after a wedgie, Dolph crying out, "This is not a proportional punishment!" as he plunges to his doom.) But, as often occurs in latter-day Simpsons episodes, the references are counted as the jokes far too often, rather than serving as a springboard for some character-based humor, even in the heightened narrative of the Treehouse. Points off because the pre-Treehouse full Halloween episode, "Halloween of Horror," written by Carolyn Omine, is a truly excellent Simpsons story, with enough heart and scares for a dozen Treehouses.
Treehouse of Horror XII (Season 13)
Call it oversensitive if you must, but the first segment in this twelfth Treehouse bandying around the slur "gypsy" throughout has aged particularly badly. (Seriously, not ever the ever-sensitive Lisa objects.) That aside, the old fortune teller's curse tale doesn't have much going for it, as the family is afflicted with hirsuteness (Marge), stretch-neck (Bart), ladybug body (Maggie) and horse body (Lisa), all thanks to Homer wrecking the psychic's shop. (Not even the tarot card referencing "the flaming jerk" could predict Homer setting the joint on fire.) Still, there are a few good lines. Lenny, hearing that only a leprechaun can lift the curse, suggest Jesus, since "he's like six leprechauns," while the fortune teller taunts the imp-carrying Homer with a cackling, "How's that curse I cursed you with cursed-y?"
The best of the bunch, the Pierce Brosnan guest-voicing "House of Whacks" does the 1977 techno-horror Demon Seed, with a pinch of Hal 9000 as Marge's purchase of a robotic house upgrade comes complete with a creepily omnipotent robo-stalker. Thankfully, Brosnan's peeping bot never gets as familiar with Marge as its predecessor did with poor Julie Christie, but there's a queasy comedy to the former Bond's futile efforts to supplant Homer in Marge's life. (After Marge surreptitiously phones the cops, the intercepting Brosnan soothingly advises her in his unmistakable Irish accent, "This is Constable Wiggum. We'll be right there—remove your knickers and wait in the bath.") Oh, and Brosnan's celebrity voice is chosen after the Dennis Miller version causes this exchange—Lisa: "Isn't that the voice that caused all those suicides?" Marge, helpfully: "Murder-suicides."
Then it's Harry Potter's first turn in the Treehouse, in a middling tale of sibling rivalry and occasional frog-transformations. ("Lisa's casting spells at an eighth grade level," Mrs. Krabappel scolds Bart, "You created a crime against nature.") Thankfully, the nascent Potter phenomenon doesn't weigh too heavily on the plot, which has the once-more villainous Burns tell his snakey assistant Slithers why he won't call on Satan for help in capturing Lisa. ("I'm ducking him. His wife has a screenplay.") Stay for the denouement, when the bereft Slithers, promising the dead Burns they'll always be together and then, very, very slowly, devouring his beloved in graphic detail.
Treehouse of Horror IX (Season 10)
The first truly creaky Treehouse Of Horror isn't bad, exactly, but it is glib, cruel, and, for the first time, overall uninspired. The parade of celebrity cameos don't help, either, especially the concluding appearance by an animated Jerry Springer, adjudicating custody of half-alien Maggie once it's revealed that Marge was sexually assaulted by Kang several years earlier. (Sure, it was done via a painless ray gun, but it's still a creepy concept to build a segment upon.) Ed McMahon shows up in a swipe at Fox's sensationalistic reality programming when Snake is sent to the highly televised electric chair, and a live-action Regis and Kathie Lee are jarringly inserted into Bart and Lisa's Stay Tuned-style TV adventure.
It all smacks of disposability rather than inventiveness, with the relatively lackluster trio of narratives not good enough to offset things. When Marge scolds Lisa for explaining that Homer's hair transplant (from Snake) is the cause of Homer's murderousness by moaning, "Oh please Lisa, everyone's already figured that out," it's an early warning sign for the sort of self-referential exhaustion the series was to traffic in for so long after.
Treehouse of Horror XXVIII (Season 29)
Great visuals and some effective, story-specific guest performances bump this Treehouse outing up a few limbs. After a little 3D animation throwback gag to kick things off, the why-has-it-taken-so-long Exorcist parody recruits Ben Daniels (from the not-bad TV iteration of the demon-dispelling tale) to scare the Pazuzu out of a possessed Maggie. (Homer accidentally ordered the demon online, thinking he was getting pizza.) Nothing groundbreaking (or censor-baiting) occurs, although the overmatched Reverend Lovejoy does bail after uttering a defeated, "I'm afraid they didn't teach me those at Pepperdine." The Coraline riff brings in none other than its creator Neil Gaiman, whose drollery as "Coralisa's" talking Snowball II guide is pretty delightful. (Secretly the most intelligent beings in the world they may be, but Gaiman's kitty is gonna chase that flashlight beam.)
It's when Lisa finds her way to an alternate world and family that the episode kicks into high gear, with the 3-D version of the button-eyed Simpson clan capturing Gaiman's otherworldly creepiness nicely. It's too brief (Lisa's awestruck, "For a Halloween show middle segment, this is amazing!," hints at the added costs involved), but that works in its favor, too. And then Homer finally eats himself, in a "Survivor Type" self-cannibalization tale that remains pretty bloodless, considering.
The Exorcist director William Friedkin is on hand for some reason as the marriage counselor helping Marge cope with her gradually limbless husband, and the tradition of one truly unforgivable line ("spaghetti with my-balls") continues. If there's one boundary-pushing gag, it's nothing to do with pea soup vomit, and everything to do with the now-deceased Homer seeing the world swept by Homer-centric cuisine and asking Jesus if he knows what it's like having people eating his body all the time.
Treehouse of Horror XXXII (Season 33)
Shaking things up after 31 previous installments doesn't seem like the worst idea in the world, even if this first Treehouse of Horror to include five full segments instead of the usual three isn't anything special on its own. The opener is a long-overdue screw-you to corporate parent Disney for traumatizing generations with tales of mother-murder, as deer Marge reassures fawn Bart that stag Homer has finally speared hunter Burns with his mighty horns. ("And today your name is Herb," Homer-stag says to the bleeding Burns, who thinks the designation "herbivores" will save him.)
Bong Joon-ho makes his first appearance on The Simpsons, as the family's sojourn as fraudulent servants to a wealthy family follows the Oscar-winning Parasite's plot in so-so lockstep. Homer, after complaining that Bart's annual treehouse scare tales follow the formula, "Two of them good and a lame one in the middle," tries to chop down the signature treehouse, only for Springfield's flora to go on an ent-style rampage. ( The only joke that stands out is Lenny inexplicably cocking his weaponized shovel before the climactic battle.)
Maurice LaMarche brings his fine Vincent Price to a brisk, Edward Gorey-esque rhyming couplet stylized tale of Bart's monthly depredations. And "Dead Ringers," while thankfully not a Simpsonized version of David Cronenberg's tale of sexually questionable twin gynecologists, instead does The Ring with a maximum of visual flair, but a dearth of great gags. The shortened running time for the expanded number of stories seems less about creatively breaking format and more about cramming a lot of half-baked ideas into the same bulging Halloween treat-bag.
Treehouse of Horror XXVII (Season 28)
The best Treehouse of Horror stories remain tethered to the characters' reality while the plot spins off into whatever heightened conceit is on the menu. "BFF/RIP" is a fine little Lisa imaginary friend story that manages to service Lisa's character while incorporating everything from a child-murderous make-believe pal (Sarah Silverman as Rachel) to Homer's own imaginary friend, naturally a giant wiener named Sergeant Sausage. Throughout, Yeardley Smith finds Lisa's ever-lonely center, bemoaning, amidst the murder of enough kids to necessitate a Lisa Simpson wing of the local cemetery, that it'd be nice if an actual living person ever liked her as much as her vengefully abandoned ghost playmate. Smith's Lisa is so indelibly rendered by this point that her cry of sorrow at the Rachel-caused death of her therapist ("Ms. Mancuso-Gluckman!") is funnier for how well the segment understands that Lisa, even in extremis, would refer to a strong female authority figure by her full name.
The leadoff Hunger Games/Mad Max: Fury Road mashup is energetic enough to overcome some of the quick-hit reference comedy. The evil Mr. Burns' elaborately water-intensive clean-up procedure underscores his water-hoarding villainy with a patient elaborateness, while Lisa gets to play hero again, storming Burns' citadel and freeing the land from his tyranny. Sure, it backfires, because Lisa's good intentions can't compete with the world's inherent unfairness. The James Bond/The Kingsmen riff that ends the episode isn't horror by even the most tenuous definition, allowing Bart to gadget up and take on a traitorous Homer, whose cover is insufficiently concealed by his evil organization's acronym, REMOH. (D'oh!)
Replicating both series' smutty penchant for leering misogyny might be accurate, but having Bart's version of M urge him to have "a little Sherri" in reference to one of those underage twins is skin-crawlingly gross in practice. Oh, and in the wraparound, poor Frank Grimes is resurrected as part of a Homer revenge squad, only to be summarily slain once more. Poor Grimey.
Treehouse of Horror XXI (Season 22)
There's room in the Treehouse of Horror format for some actual scares and drama, as proven in this Season 22 outing's "Master and Cadaver," a Dead Calm riff that ends with a grief-stricken Marge committing suicide (by poisoned pie) at the realization that she and Homer have killed a boat-load of innocent people. Naturally, things are aided by the participation of overqualified guest star Hugh Laurie as the ship's hunky cook whose life raft rescue by the second-honeymooning Homer and Marge kicks off the web of murderous suspicion and occasional flare gun murder. As the couple's as-it-turns-out unfounded thought that Laurie had murdered his own boss and crew plays out, the segment works up a respectable head of comic —and dramatic—steam, with Homer's desperately bloody coverup proving too much for Marge, who dies in Homer's arms. That the whole thing turns out to be a bathtime daydream of the secretly spooky Maggie is a continuation of a joke that some people like more than others, but it can't take away from the piece's overall quality. The opener (apart from an amusing Frink cold open where the monster-creating scientist urges viewers to fast-forward rather than complain) is a Jumanji takeoff that's largely an excuse for the writers room to dust off the box of board game puns they had lying around.
It's okay, with Homer's Chutes and Ladders adventure ending in him bemoaning, "Oh, cruel hubris!" as he steps into that devious final chute, and Bart complaining how nobody ever, ever actually plays the day-saving game of Mousetrap. Best line: Bart seeing the cursed game box for Satan's Path and telling Milhouse excitedly, "It's gotta be good if Satan put his name on it!" Twilight finally gets its big Simpsons treatment in "Tweenlight," where moody new boy in town (voiced by a funny Daniel Radcliffe) sweeps Lisa off her feet and into a nearby belfry, only for Homer to sacrifice himself with his poisonously cholesterol-sodden blood to save Lisa's neck. Thankfully, the jokes are less specific to the interminable YA film series than they might be, with Radcliffe's pre-flight admonition, "Keep your mouth closed or you'll swallow a lot of bugs" vying with Homer's excited "Super-team, fly!" when jumping on Radcliffe's Dracula dad for a ride.
Treehouse of Horror XXV (Season 26)
Technical proficiency isn't a substitute for better writing, but it has to be said that latter-day Treehouses take full advantage of advances in the show's animation to pump up their fantastical elements. A relatively confident trio of tales, this outing goes all-in visually once Bart and Lisa wind up sucked into Hell's own version of Springfield Elementary attended by impressively conceived grotesques like screaming torsos and tooth-heads to the bleeding eyes with finger heads. And while it's mostly a gross-out gag-fest, there's ever room for a little heart, as when Bart reveals that, despite all the underwear piranhas and such, he finds his position as Hell's star pupil a boost to his self-esteem.
One of the most elaborately overstuffed bits ever is the "Clockwork Yellow" segment, where Bart and his violent "glugs" (Homer is Dum) wreak havoc through essentially every Stanley Kubrick reference imaginable. (Even if Comic Book Guy can't figure out that his shot-off leg is a straight pull from Barry Lyndon.) The mistaking of references with actual jokes is a trap that Treehouses have increasingly succumbed to over the years, but the sheer volume of breakneck Kubrick allusions here is a feast for film buff eyes, and there are enough actual jokes to keep things moving. (The worried Marge makes Homer/Dum promise to refrain from "glugging, shin-slicing, or eye-groining.")
Then it's the original, Tracey Ullman Show Simpsons versus our present-day family in a marginal The Others parody, with the old versions haunting and eventually knocking off the newbies until (our) Marge's love for (our) Homer manages to save the day. Hearing the voice actors reach back to channel the embryonic iterations of each character is a trip (so, so much belching, plus Dan Castellaneta's old Walter Matthau Homer voice), and plety of nostalgic (if murderous) gags. Homer, to the ghostly, handsy original Marge levitating the bed: "I demand you put me down right after the sex!"
Treehouse of Horror XXIV (Season 25)
This installment brings in a ringer in director and Simpsons fan Guillermo del Toro, but actually stands relatively well on its own two feet. Del Toro's opener is, naturally, a visual feast, with plenty of Simpson-ified characters from Cronos, Pan's Labyrinth, Mimic, Hellboy, and other del Toro flicks, alongside lovingly animated tributes to everything from Phantom of the Paradise to The Car. (Poor Milhouse, once again). The initial segment is a high-effort imitation of Dr. Seuss' The Cat in the Hat, with a mischievous Homer (the Fat in the Hat) playing mean-spirited pranks on the mumps-afflicted Simpsons kids, all in Seussian rhyme. More clever than funny, it at least takes swipes at the abominable Mike Myers iteration and the even more offensive use of the nature-protecting Lorax to hawk SUVs.
The two-headed transplant middle section is the weakest of the bunch, although Dr. Hibbert's line explaining why he sewed Bart's severed head onto Lisa's shoulder is some prime Springfield malpractice. ("I'm sorry—this was the only way to lengthen Bart's life by a year while shortening yours by thirty.") But the final segment is the best in years, a Freaks parody both meticulously recreated and awash in fine jokes that stand on their own. This time, it's Moe who's the intended patsy for Marge's circus aerialist and Homer's strongman (who's in the best shape ever, for the 1930's), Moe's main attraction status as the most hideous being in the world (it's just Moe) making him the perfect target. Moe's proposal to Marge is a masterpiece of deadpan writing, with him offering his grandmother's ring by saying, "She gave it to me on her death bed. She also acquired it on her death bed. That was a very busy death bed."
Treehouse of Horror XX (Season 21)
The 20th Treehouse gets classic as the cold open sees the original Universal monsters crashing Homer and Marge's Halloween party after some bullying sends them to update their costumes with Iron Man, Harry Potter, and so forth. Sadly for them and those tired of hacky nagging wife humor both, the monster wives arrive with rolling pins in hand. Staying in the classic lane, "Dial 'M' for Murder, or Press '#' to Return to Main Menu" is, naturally, a Hitchcock riff, as Bart's murderous plans for a Strangers on a Train-style, teacher-torturing criss-cross with an uncomprehending Lisa watches the siblings war across a crisply animated, black-and-white montage of Hitch's greatest hits.
Especially enjoyable is the pursued Bart wandering through the Dali-inspired Spellbound sets, and Alf Clausen's spot-on score ups the tension all the way to the agreeably dark twist ending. 28 Days Later gets a turn in the Treehouse next, as Kursty Burger's latest cows-eating-cows "crime against nature" turns everyone into one of the walking dead. (The episode calls them "munchers" in deference to the Danny Boyle film's avoidance of the z-word.) With Bart revelaed as the infection-resistant "chosen one," vegetarian Apu sacrifices himself on a heavily armored drive to the safe zone (although he assumed the Simpsons wouldn't just drive off and abandon him), where Marge asks the outraged question of the scientists bent on turning Bart's body into curative edibles.
Then, things go Broadway for a community theater-level production of the Sweeney Todd-esque musical, "There's No Business Like Moe Business." After accidentally and copiously impaling Homer on his new basement microbrew equipment, Moe finds that drinking the Homer-infused brew imbues Marge with the warm feeling of her Homey. Naturally, he puts the moves on "Midge," accompanied by a sparse but clever score and some low-rent backstage vamping until Marge and Homer are reunited. With the still-pipe-stuck Homer asking sheepishly if Marge can still "love a man who's half beer" answered by Marge's show-closing, "I always have," it's the sort of sweet little character ,moment amidst all the comic chaos that early Treehouses used to be so good at.
Treehouse of Horror VIII (Season 9)
By its ninth installment, the Treehouse Of Horror team was feeling saucy enough to straight-up murder the Fox censor. With the stuffed-suit promising to "protect [us] from reality," including whatever it was that made him laugh uproariously before he struck it from the night's script, the newly-minted TV ratings logo itself did the deed, stabbing the guy until he lay dead and the TV-G rating changed to a menacing TV-666. Take that, killjoys.
The segment immediately following that bloodbath is itself bloodless, but only because a French neutron bomb turns all of Springfield into an empty, echoing graveyard of dusty corpses, with Homer (caught testing out a bomb shelter) seemingly the last man on Earth. Of course, there are mutants to wreck the suddenly over-it Homer's nude church dancing, and the family winds up also surviving, thanks to the layers of lead paint cloaking the Simpsons' house. Cue repentant mutants being shotgunned by Marge anyway, Comic Book Guy staring down the French missile with the realization, "Oh, I've wasted my life," and Homer running down the rock and roll Winters brothers with a heartily misguided, "Die, you chalk-faced goons!"
Things stay pretty dark once The Fly enters the mix, with Bart's transporter mishap leading to some escalating body horror after Homer low-balls Frink over the technology. ("Two bucks? And it only transports matter?") Concluding with the more general witch trial story about secret witches Marge, Patty and Selma inventing Halloween as an alternative to actually just eating the kids of their tormentors, this year's Treehouse is the darkest of these annual episodes to date, in keeping with the cold open's murderous statement of intent regarding standards and practices.
And while there are plenty of solid jokes around the margins (for some reason, the bereft Homer imagines Bart, Lisa and Marge all striking the same baseball pose), this is the first Treehouse Of Horror where a creeping callousness comes across, for better or worse. (Better: After Lisa attempts to save her accused mother from being tossed off a cliff by Puritanical misogynists by quoting scripture, constable Wiggum states, "The Bible says a lot of things — shove her!")
Treehouse of Horror XXXI (Season 32)
There's a lot to like in this more recent Treehouse thanks to some bulletproof source material, excellent animation, and some refreshingly blunt, cold-open, pre-2020 election Trump-bashing. (Seriously, Homer's screen-filling ticker of all the very real, hateful, traitorous, or just plain evil Trump BS is a serious screw-you to The Simpsons' parent company.) Regardless of your political bent, the rest of the episode zips by with an assurance sorely lacking from so many late-stage Treehouses.
The Toy Story parody (in impressive, Pixar-Esque 3D) casts Bart as his playthings' tortuous Sid, who maliciously maims his toys until a newly arrived Radioactive Man action figure teams up with a beleaguered Krusty doll to teach the little bastard a lesson. Complete with a pitch-perfect Randy Newman-style theme song condemning Bart's toy-killing ways and some title-appropriate gore it's called "Toy Gory"), and this is the sort of inventive, ambitious, and darkly funny tale worthy of the early treehouse name. The stellar inspiration that is Into the Spider-Verse yields above-average rewards once Homer's panicky quest to replace the family's Halloween candy sees him opening a nuclear plant portal to dimensions housing everything from a rotating Hanna-Barbera Homer, to an anime version, a black-and-white one, and others.
The ensuing battle between the Homers and Burns' evil army of matching alternate Burnses ends up with Marge—once more—preparing to bed down with some questionably human alt-Homers, but that's just a trope we've had to learn to live with. The death-happy, repeating-day concept of the excellent Russian Doll gives Lisa some seriously bloody do-overs as she and similarly time-looped Nelson try to find a way not to be destroyed at Lisa's never-reached ninth birthday party. Reaching out to a sci-fi savvy Comic Book Guy for guidance hears the uber-nerd explaining that the time-loop is "the most ambitious and laziest of the science fiction tropes," but, in the end, there's even a smidge of heart as Lisa tells her uncomprehending family, "No day is ever perfect, so just enjoy the day that you have."
Treehouse of Horror III (Season 4)
For the third Treehouse of Horror, Homer takes over from Marge for the opening warning to the "crybabies out there, religious types mostly" as to the nature of the impending, Simpsons-ized horrors. Sticking with the paper-thin commitment to keeping at least the Treehouse wraparounds in continuity, we're at the family's Halloween party this time (with Bart dressed as A Clockwork Orange's Alex DeLarge), where everyone attempts to spook each other after Homer eats the traditional witches eyeballs, hair, and other food-based effects. The three stories this time also stick to pilfering from well-known sources, with the evil doll tale "Clown Without Pity" cribbing from the Talking Tina Twilight Zone (and a little bit of Chucky), the black-and-white "King Homer" doing King Kong, and the concluding "Dial Z For Zombies" essaying a more generic zombie tale. (The zombies being able to talk and lusting after "braaaains" recalls Return of the Living Dead, while Bart's use of an evil book to resurrect poor Snowball II smacks of Pet Sematary and a whiff of the Evil Dead.)
As for Homer's warnings, there's a breezy indifference to human life throughout, as the ape-sized King Homer straight-up eats Lenny and Smithers, and Homer-sized Homer blasts away countless zombified Springfielders as he protects his family. (He was a zombie?," Homer deadpans after blowing the head off a brains-seeking Flanders.) As we're right in the classic Simpsons era, there are choice lines like that throughout, including the nude and fleeing Homer vainly warning Marge, "The doll's trying to kill me and the toaster's been laughing at me," and the ape-napping Mr. Burns assuring reporters that King Homer's Broadway debut will consist of watching a chained up ape for several hours, "followed be the ethnic comedy of Dugan and Dershowitz." As the Treehouses pile up, the premises will come to supersede the jokes, but here, there's nothing funnier than two exorcized John Smiths attempting to reclaim the same grave: "Excuse me, I'm John Smith." "John Smith 1882?" "My mistake."
Treehouse of Horror VI (Season 7)
The final segment, the still-impressive technical achievement in 3D animation, "Homer 3" gets all the love, but it's the middle riff on A Nightmare On Elm Street that's the true class of this sixth outing. As the Treehouse franchise ground on, too often the rush to cover the original's story beats left the jokes behind, but Willie makes for a truly memorable Freddy analogue (his quips, thanks to the season seven writers' room, are better than Freddy's ever were), with his swathe of sleepytime vengeance ginning up some genuine scares along with the gags. (The slow rise of the bloated tick Willie monster from behind Bart at the climax remains deeply unsettling.) That Willie's fiery fate was due to some typical Springfield kibitzing at a PTA meeting (Milhouse really shouldn't have two spaghetti meals in one day) is pitch-perfect, as is Bart's annoyed farewell to an also-trapped Lisa, "Hope you get reincarnated as someone who can stay awake for 15 minutes."
The opener is an original tale (although the goofy giants of size-obsessed director Bert I. Gordon come to mind), as Homer's larceny and an inconvenient lightning strike cause the town's many advertising mascots to go on a building-smashing rampage—not unlike in the video game Rampage. The denouement, with jingle legend Paul Anka saving the day with a giant-defeating earworm, is a neat way to end things. "Homer 3," leaps into the Twilight Zone episode "Little Girl Lost" with an impressive splash, as Homer's attempt to evade Patty and Selma finds him sucked through a portal into a world where his two-dimensional form is alarmingly, three-dimensionally bumpy.
The achievement of the 1995 segment's animation still stands tall, even as Homer calls out the fact that there's not much more than a stunt going on, story-wise. ("Man, this place looks expensive," Homer muses, scratching his now-bulbous butt, "I feel like I'm wasting a fortune just standing here.") Of course there are even more terrifying worlds to conquer, as the ending expertly places Homer in our world, where the perils, and the rewards, are equally exciting.
Treehouse of Horror II (Season 3)
The second ever Treehouse of Horror sees Marge once more trying to head off any angry letters, warning unwary viewers, "This year's episode is even worse. It's scarier and more violent, and I think they even snuck in some bad language, too." Well, the annual Halloween showcase would get significantly gorier in years to come, but in the Frankenstein-inspired final segment, "If I Only Had a Brain," we do see the more evil than usual Mr. Burns wearing Homer's scooped-out brain stem like a Davy Crockett hat, so Marge's isn't too off base. As in the first outing, there's an attempt to frame the three stories as part of the series' continuity, with an overindulgence of Halloween candy causing Bart, Lisa, and Homer to have nightmares. "The Monkey's Paw" is classic horror tropes done right, with Homer's foolish purchase of the titular cursed object backfiring spectacularly.
Taking a swipe at the then-ubiquitous Simpsons-mania sweeping the nation (including a joke at the expense of the Simpsons blues record), the segment quickly turns to another Twilight Zone takeoff (episode "A Small Talent For War") when Lisa's wish for world peace opens the door for Kang and Kodos to take over the demilitarized Earth. After being introduced as helpful would-be benefactors, this is where the slimy Rigellians go full evil, complete with the running gag that is their overlong maniacal laughter. The Twilight Zone gets another pilfering in the outstanding "It's A Good Life" parody, "The Bart Zone," where it's Bart rather than Billy Mumy who holds all of Springfield in enforced cheerfulness thanks to his capricious reality-altering powers. A hallmark of the best of these alt-reality stories is how the writers incorporate the characters we know into the fantastical events, and there's a conscientious and successful melding of elements in how Marge and Homer manage to reach their all-powerful son, at least enough that he changes Homer's form back from the jack-in-the-box abomination he'd previously conjured.
The final segment is a bit less focused, but still hilarious, as Mr. Burns' quest for the perfect robotic worker unwisely selects Homer for the necessary brain transplant. When things go wrong, necessitating a quickie two-headed transplant surgery onto Homer's body, the episode abandons the wraparound's comforting continuity to suggest the horrifying possibility that The Simpsons, from then on, will feature a grafted-on Burns head reminding Homer that they have to go to a reception for Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands.
Treehouse of Horror VII (Season 8)
An evil twin, a tiny civilization, and Kang and Kodos taking over the country are the focus of this stellar Treehouse entry, one that expands the formula outside of one-to-one parody and delivers more memorable gags than any so far. The idea that Bart is actually the bad one of a set of long-ago separated conjoined twins might explain a few things (including how bad health care really is in Springfield), with "The Thing And I" reaching into body horror (and a little Basket Case). Hugo, the supposed bad twin, might be a bit mad, but watching Bart run roughshod over the town while he's chained in the Simpsons attic eating fish heads will do that.
Lisa accidentally creating an entire, microscopic civilization for the science fair touches on the sort of existential questions Futurama would embellish later on, but there's plenty of queasy comedy in watching our own need for religious security play out on the small scale, complete with Lisa as God and Bart, naturally, as the devil. (Plus, the tiny Professor Frink babbles out some of the finest groveling gibberish ever heard.) "President Kang" does political satire with a peerlessly loony edge, as Halloween's favorite aliens impersonate a none-too-pleased Bill Clinton and Bob Dole, leading to their discovery that Americans' hunger of reassuring platitudes can wallpaper over even the sight of the two presidential frontrunners constantly holding hands (the better to exchange long protein strings), and winning over the electorate by promising, "But tonight I say, we must move forward, not backward; upward, not forward; and always twirling, twirling, twirling towards freedom!"
Treehouse of Horror V (Season 6)
Season six is The Simpsons about as confident as any show ever, and this Treehouse sparkles with a playfulness born of bulletproof success. The three segments — a The Shining riff, a time-travel story akin to The Sound of Thunder, and a garden variety "teachers eat the children" schoolhouse cannibal story — all bleed into each other, with Groundskeeper Willie's initial attempt at Dick Halloran-style heroics going down in gory defeat in each short. ("Ach, I'm bad at this," Willie muses upon being murdered for the third time.) The warning up top sees Marge noting that Congress has just banned this most recent horror showcase (the fictitious 1947 movie 200 Miles To Oregon is briefly broadcast in its place, before Bart's Outer Limits-esque signal interruption introduces the episode proper).
The segments themselves are rock-solid, noodling playfully with the expected source material. Overlook bartender Moe prods Homer to murder by noting gingerly, "Some of the ghouls and I are concerned the project isn't moving forward." The time-lost Homer carefully considers the ramifications of changing the past before a buzzing prehistoric insect sees him pivot to swatting with an abrupt, "Stupid bug! You go squish now!" The violence is amped up in the cannibal segment, especially when Milhouse is liquified (sorry, "gooified") in a giant food processor, with the closing thumbing its nose at the supposed "easily offended" (including, one assumes, U.S. President and avowed not-fan George H.W. Bush) as "the fog that turns people inside out" combines with a throwaway callback joke to see the rawly disemboweled Simpsons dancing to A Chorus Line.
Treehouse of Horror I (Season 2)
There's a reason why the Treehouse of Horror episode became a yearly staple on The Simpsons. Emerging fully formed as an out-of-continuity concept, the annual comedy fright-fest birthed with a trio of scare-themed segments that have truly never been topped. With Marge coming out to warn the viewing audience about watching a project she's completely washed her hands of, the episode then goes right to Bart's actual treehouse, where he and Lisa are trying to scare each other on Halloween night, with a mischief-seeking Homer unwisely eavesdropping from the branches outside.
"Bad Dream House" sets the template of specific horror movie parodies, riffing on Poltergeist, The Amityville Horror, and other haunted house tales when the Simpsons find that their conspicuously affordable spooky new home comes complete with a book-chucking, homicide-inspiring spirit whose only weakness turns out to be the prospect of actually having to live with the Simpsons family for all eternity. ("You can't help but feel a little rejected," Lisa muses as the house implodes.) The segment contains the funniest takeoff of an iconic movie scene ever, as Homer's irate call to the realtor about the requisite Indian burial ground in the basement sees him admit, "He says he mentioned it five of six times."
"Hungry Are The Damned" is another spot-on goof of a revered horror story, this time the Twilight Zone alien switcheroo episode, "To Serve Man." Introducing perennial tentacled Halloween nemeses Kang and Kodos, the segment sees Lisa getting suspicious about all the plentiful food the family's alien hosts keep supplying, only for it to be revealed that the cookbook she read as "How To Cook Humans," is, instead, "How To Cook For Forty Humans." Harry Shearer's Kang gets the most indelible laugh, scolding the chastened humans on behalf of the ship's chef with a withering, "Well, if you wanted to make Serak the Preparer cry, mission accomplished."
The third classic is Lisa's concluding reading of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven" by stellar episode guest James Earl Jones. The reading itself, in Jones' bone-chilling baritone, is a masterpiece with Dan Castellaneta matching him as the Homer-like narrator. (Hearing Homer cry, "Quaff! Oh, quaff is one of the true joys of television.) An all-around classic, this first outing remains the best.
Treehouse of Horror IV (Season 5)
Switching Rod Serling series inspiration, this fourth Treehouse sees Bart taking us through a Night Gallery-esque hall of painted horrors to introduce three outstanding shorts. (Sure, the final segment isn't actually related to the dogs-playing-poker portrait that drives Homer insane, but it's a funny gag.)
The best Treehouse of Horror stories make room for jokes outside the flow of the narrative being copied, and "The Devil And Homer Simpson" is wall-to-wall clever touches. From Homer being pissed that he'd left an "IOU one donut" note after the workplace snacks are gone ("Bastard! He's always one step ahead."), to the cursed donut-tempting Devil (Flanders, because it's always the last one you suspect) pausing mid-rant to acknowledge Bart's presence ("Hey Bart." "Hey."), to the choice of an infernal jury for Homer's soul including the entire starting line of the 1976 Philadelphia Flyers, this one is packed.
And that's not even mentioning Phil Hartman's turn as Lionel Hutz, assuring client Homer, "I watched Matlock in a bar the other night. The sound wasn't on but I think I got the gist of it." "Terror At 5 1/2 Feet" goes back to The Twilight Zone's William Shatner airplane gremlin episode for inspiration, with an increasingly panicky Bart unable to convince his bus mates of the existence of the saboteur monster in the wheel well. The jokes are there (Uter has his non-canonical introduction, offering the bound Bart some of his horrifying European candy), but the segment sticks with a scary story that works, ramping up the tension until Bart somehow saves the day by causing an explosive window decompression.
"Bart Simpsons' Dracula" is a more generic vampire tale (bloodsucker Burns' Gary Oldman bouffant hair being the most specific Bram Stoker's Dracula reference), but it's still plenty funny. ("Did everyone wash their necks like Mr. Burns asked?," an unwary Marge asks the very wary Bart and Lisa.) And, like the other two segments, there's a respectful feint toward actual horror, with vamped-Bart's entrance through a terrified Lisa's window getting a three-angle action beat. The wraparound closes by tossing the whole continuity issue out its own window, with the all-vampire Simpsons wishing us a happy Halloween, before breaking out in Peanuts holiday special dancing.