The Simpsons family consists of Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie and provides satire and parody on American culture, society, and the human condition. Over the years, The Simpsons universe has expanded to great heights. In 2007, The Simpsons made their big screen debut with The Simpsons Movie. The series has also been adapted into video games, various shorts, a theme park attraction at Universal Studios, and has made cameos in other popular shows like Family Guy.
There have been several memorable episodes of The Simpsons over the years, but some of the most signature segments are the Treehouse of Horror specials. The first of these Halloween-themed episodes aired on October 25, 1990, during season two. Each one features The Simpsons family and characters in a series of horror, sci-fi, or supernatural settings, sometimes inspired by popular media like Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven and The Twilight Zone.
Since the first special aired in 1990, there has been a new one each year, bringing the count up to 32 today. Just on their own, the Treehouse of Horror episodes have been wildly popular, inspiring a video game, a themed edition of Monopoly, action figures and a full collection of the Treehouse of Horror episodes available on DVD.
With 32 episodes to choose from, here are seven of the best Treehouse of Horror episodes to date.
7 Treehouse of Horror IX (Season 10)
This episode contains the three segments “Hell Toupee,” “Terror of Tiny Toon” and “Starship Poopers.” Each of the three stories in this episode is very inventive and entertaining. In “Hell Toupee,” the historically bald Homer gets a hair transplant that causes the spirit of a recently executed criminal to possess him and send him on a rampage. In “Starship Poopers,” it’s revealed that Maggie is actually half-alien, with the drooling, green alien Kang as her real father. But, the best of the three is “Terror of Tiny Toon.“
In this segment, Bart and Lisa are transported into an episode of the crazy violent Itchy & Scratchy Show. The cartoon violence is next-level and Bart and Lisa have to figure out how to escape unharmed. Itchy and Scratchy are recurring characters on the show, and each time they make an appearance it usually garners a laugh or two. But this segment also seems to double as a commentary on how violent some children’s cartoons are, which is something Marge is always commenting on, ironically enough.
6 Treehouse of Horror XIX (Season 20)
This Treehouse of Horror episode aired as part of the twentieth season in 2008 and contained the Transformers parody “Untitled Robot Parody,” the Mad Men-inspired “How to Get Ahead in Dead-vertising” and “It’s the Grand Pumpkin, Milhouse,” a spoof on the classic “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.”
The best of the bunch here, and the most Halloween-centric, has to be the Charlie Brown parody. It features the classic music, costumes, and character traits that Charlie Brown is known for, with a signature Simpsons twist. What’s funny here is when the Grand Pumpkin actually arrives, he’s horrified at how humans treat pumpkins on Halloween. From jack-o-lanterns to pumpkin bread; it’s basically pumpkin genocide.
5 Treehouse of Horror VII (Season 8)
During the eighth season, which aired in 1996, Treehouse of Horror VII was the first episode in the season. It featured “The Thing and I,” where Bart discovers he has an evil twin, “The Genesis Tub,” a parody of the Twilight Zone episode “The Little People” and “Citizen Kang,” a Citizen Kane parody.
“The Thing and I” is a parody of The Hunchback of Notre Dame and the 1982 horror movie Basket Case. In the segment, Bart discovers that he had a conjoined twin that had been kept chained in the attic since they were born because he was evil. But the evil twin escaped, and now wants to sew Bart and himself back together. It’s both a little creepy and funny, and is a perfect quick Halloween bite.
4 Treehouse of Horror V (Season 6)
Treehouse of Horror V aired as part of season six in 1994. The episode was perfectly timed and aired right before Halloween on October 30. This installment of the Halloween special featured “The Shinning,” and A Sound of Thunder parody, “Time and Punishment,” which featured a voice cameo from James Earl Jones (Star Wars), and the Soylent Green parody “Nightmare Cafeteria.”
Most notable here is “The Shinning” which is a parody of Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 film The Shining, which is based on the classic Stephen King novel of the same name. In this segment, Homer is hired as a caretaker for Mr. Burns’ mansion over the winter. It’s a hilarious take on the classic and parodies all the iconic scenes from the original.
3 Treehouse of Horror XXVIII (Season 29)
This episode aired in 2017 as part of the twenty-ninth season and features a unique CGI opening sequence called “The Sweets Hereafter,” loosely inspired by the 2016 comedy Sausage Party. It also features The Exorcist parody “The Exor-Sis,” and “Mmm…Homer,” inspired by Stephen King’s short story Survivor Type, and the Coraline parody “Coralisa.”
Each part of this episode is great and really stands out as one of the best Treehouse of Horror installments, but “Coralisa” may be the best one out of these three segments. It features a unique crossover between CGI and The Simpsons’ traditional animation style. It’s both funny and a little creepy — mainly thanks to the CGI animation. This episode of the Treehouse of Horror received pretty decent reviews, and was watched by over three million people when it originally aired.
2 Treehouse of Horror I (Season 2)
This is the episode that started it all. Airing on October 25, 1990, this was the first Treehouse of Horror episode and aired as part of season two. It all starts with Bart and Lisa swapping spooky ghost stories in Bart’s tree house while Maggie listens in. The stories told in this episode consist of The Amityville Horror parody “Bad Dream House,” a parody of the Twilight Zone episode “To Serve Man” titled “Hungry Are the Damned“, and a spoof on Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven.”
Each segment here is funny and makes great parody of some of the horror media prevalent at the time. There’s something hilarious about Homer chasing Bart around as Poe’s infamous Raven. Treehouse of Horror I makes the top of the list because it’s what laid the foundation for the other 31 episodes. While the first isn’t necessarily the best, it served as a baseline for the following episodes to improve upon.
1 Treehouse of Horror IV (Season 5)
One of the best Treehouse of Horror episodes so far has to be episode IV, which aired in season five in 1993.
In “The Devil and Homer Simpson,” a parody of Stephen Vincent Benet’s short story The Devil and Daniel Weber, Homer declares that he would sell his soul for a doughnut. This declaration makes the devil appear — in the form of Ned Flanders. It’s a hilarious take on the deal with the devil plot line, complete with a court trial debating Homer’s contract with the devil. “Terror at 5 1/2 Feet” is another Twilight Zone parody, based on the episode “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.” Bart has a nightmare about his school bus crashing and wakes up with intense paranoia. It’s a hilarious take on the iconic Twilight Zone episode that only The Simpsons could pull off. The last segment in this episode, which may be one of the best, is “Bart Simpson’s Dracula,” a parody on the classic Bram Stoker’s Dracula. It’s a hilarious take on vampires and how obvious the trope often is, but Lisa seems to be the only one that is catching on to Mr. Burns’ bloodsucking tendencies. This segment taps into all the well-known features of the vampire tropes, from wooden stakes to coffins stored in basements. It even has a nod to Stephen King’s ‘Salem’s Lotwith the iconic vampires floating outside the window scene.
With more than 30 years of spooky specials under its belt, The Simpsons has been excellent at adopting modern and classic horror works, and adding their own spin on it. With so many great episodes already on the books, it’ll be fun to tune in to see what they create next, as there’s currently no end in sight for this long-running series.