The “Treehouse Of Horror” episodes of The Simpsons are one of the finest Halloween traditions around. The 25th entry recently aired, and to honor the occasion, I’m ranking every episode in the series from worst to best. Will “Treehouse Of Horror V” take the cake on the strength of “The Shinning,” or will Homer’s trip to the third dimension take the top honor? Read on to find out!
25. “Treehouse Of Horror XVII” – Original Air Date: November 5, 2006
Well, one of these had to be the worst, and there just wasn’t that much to enjoy here. In the first segment, Homer becomes a giant blob, which isn’t all that scary, and kind of happens in every episode, anyway. Then, the segment with Bart using Krusty’s golem to torment his bullies falls flat, and under-utilizes Richard Lewis. Finally, the take on War Of The Worlds references the infamous Orson Welles broadcast, in which people thought Earth was really being attacked by aliens, but rather than adding anything new, it just re-tells the story, adding some weak political satire at the end. The Halloween specials are normally brilliant, but there wasn’t much to like about this one.
24. “Treehouse Of Horror XXII” – Original Air Date: October 30, 2011
A huge part of why this episode is so low is the first segment, “The Diving Bell And The Butterball,” which is by far the worst THOH segment ever. It’s an inexplicable parody of The Diving Bell And The Butterfly, in which Homer communicates through farts, and absolutely no laughter is produced. Things get a little better in the next segment, a spoof of Dexter in which Homer has Flanders kill his enemies by pretending to be God. But the final segment is a questionable Avatar parody which seems to exist simply for the sake of existing. There just isn’t much to get excited about here.
23. “Treehouse Of Horror XIV” – Original Air Date: November 2, 2003
This one just felt like a lot of wasted opportunities. In “Reaper Madness,” Homer plays Death, but frankly, it was done better on Family Guy. Then, in an inspired bit of casting, Jerry Lewis plays Professor Frink’s father, but the segment doesn’t really go anywhere. The only enjoyable segment is the third one, where Bart and Milhouse have a watch that can stop time. Their antics with this watch are thoroughly enjoyable, even if the source material (the 2001 flop Clockstoppers) was likely lost on most viewers. Still, one good segment can only raise this one so much.
22. Treehouse Of Horror XVI – Origial Air Date: November 6, 2005
The first segment, which parodies A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, came four years too late and didn’t make any sense. Things got a little better when Homer and the power plant workers were hunted as Mr. Burns played The Most Dangerous Game. Really though, the only enjoyable segment here was the final one, in which in angry witch turns the citizens of Springfield into their costumes. That was not only funny, but actually a bit frightening. Still, this one was a disappointment overall.
21. “Treehouse Of Horror XV: Original Air Date: November 7, 2004
It’s difficult to enjoy a THOH segment if all you’re thinking about is how much better it was done on Futurama, and that’s what was running through my head during the Fantastic Voyage spoof in this episode. The Sherlock take is also kind of bland, and tries to pack too much storytelling into too little time. Still, this one isn’t without its charms. The parody of The Dead Zone that begins the show is quite enjoyable, with Flanders gaining the ability to see people’s deaths. Overall, this one was pretty mediocre, but certainly not a total waste of time.
20. “Treehouse Of Horror XVIII: Original Airdate: November 4, 2007
I mean…did we really need a parody of Mr. And Mrs. Smith? Let’s be honest, that movie is pretty much only noteworthy for spawning the Pitt-Jolie union. The E.T. parody was also pretty uninspired, with the joke about Kang’s 700 testicles being the only memorable thing about it. But hey, at least we get a pretty funny Se7en parody to close things out. It was particularly enjoyable to see Flanders reprise his role as the devil.
19. “Treehouse Of Horror XXI: Original Air Date: November 7, 2010
I’ll be honest, when I started putting together this list, this was the only episode where I actually had to think just to remember what even happened. But once my memory was jogged, I remembered that the Jumanji parody was quite enjoyable, mostly because Jumanji was practically built for The Simpsons to riff on. I got less mileage out of the parodies of Dead Calm and Twilight, though, with the only memorable thing about the latter being the inherent humor of Daniel Radcliffe playing the Edward Cullen character. Overall, not necessarily a bad episode, but not all that memorable either.
18. “Treehouse Of Horror XXIII” – Original Air Date: October 7, 2012
The opening segment, in which Lisa discovers a black hole, is easily the best here. It makes perfect sense that Homer would ignore Lisa’s warnings about making the hole grow bigger and use it as a garbage disposal. The Paranormal Activity parody was just sort of average, and suffered the late-period Simpsons trend of simply re-enacting the events of the subject matter, rather than truly spoofing them. I did like the last segment, however, in which Bart goes back in time so that Marge can marry Artie Ziff and be rich. This was particularly enjoyable for The United Federation Of Homers Throughout History, which gives us all the Homers we could ever dream of.
17. “Treehouse Of Horror XX” – Original Air Date: October 18, 2009
I’ll be the first to admit, after seeing The Simpsons do so much stuff with zombies over the years, I was a bit irritated to see them do yet another segment on the topic, but there was enough quality material to keep this one enjoyable. Most notably, the final segment, which parodies Sweeney Todd was hilarious, with Homer’s blood being used the secret ingedirent in Moe’s beer, while he attempts to woo Marge. The first segment, which parodied Strangers On A Train was also solid, even if they were a bit too fond of having the characters say “criss-cross.”
16. “Treehouse Of Horror XII – Original Air Date: November 6, 2001
They probably could have done more with the 2001 parody, but the prospect of a homicidal Pierce Brosnan is amusing enough that I’m willing to overlook that segment’s lack of jokes. The second segment, in which a gypsy curses Homer is genuinely frightening, with Bart committing suicide after living with a stretched-out neck becomes unbearable. The best segment, though, was “Wiz Kids,” which gave us an inspired take on Harry Potter. The horrible creation that Bart conjures up is hilarious, as is the sight of Smithers as a snake. Interestingly, this segment came out 10 days before the first Potter movie, and was more a spoof of the books. It’s probably a good thing they got this one in early. A parody of the movies would’ve likely been straightforward and dull, but in this segment, the writers really used their imaginations.
15. “Treehouse Of Horror XIX” – November 2, 2008
I’ll be honest – a huge part of why i didn’t rank this one lower is because the Charlie Brown parody is just so brilliant. Not only is the Grand Pumpkin (I guess they couldn’t call him the Great Pumpkin) real, he’s homicidal, and racist against yellow pumpkins! That whole segment was so great that I’m willing to overlook the just-okay parodies of Transformers and Mad Men. Not the most consistent Halloween special, but the last segment was great enough to make up for a lot. Pumpkin segregation forever!
14. “Treehouse Of Horror XXIV” – Original Air Date: October 6, 2013
The best thing about this one was probably the inspired opening sequence, directed by Guillermo Del Toro. The actual segments are pretty solid, too, though. The final bit is probably the best, with Homer and Marge as carnival geeks at the turn of the century. Once again, Moe is after Marge, but this time, Homer makes the mistake of helping him. By the end, he’s turned into a monstrous chicken hybrid. The Cat In The Hat parody, which uses Seussian rhymes throughout, was also quite inspired. The middle segment was the weakest, with Bart’s head being attached to Lisa’s — that happened with Homer and Burns 22 years earlier! Still, overall, the good far outweighs the bad here.
13. “Treehouse Of Horror XIII” – Original Air Date: November 3, 2002
There’s two good segments, and one questionable one here. First, the good: “Send In the Clones,” while not especially scary, is hilarious from start to finish, particularly when Peter Griffin pops up among the clones. “The Island Of Dr. Hibbert” is both funny and a little bit frightening, with everyone in Springfield turned into an animal. Poor Professor Frink is turned into a turkey and eaten! The only weak segment is “The Fright To Creep And Scare Harms,” in which zombie cowboys rise from the dead after Springfield rids itself of guns. The whole thing is more awkward than scary, and there aren’t enough jokes to carry it. Everything else is great, though.
12. “Treehouse Of Horror XI” – Original Air Date: November 1, 2000
This episode started the off-putting trend of airing the Halloween episodes in November, but the episode itself is pretty good. Homer has 24 hours to do one good deed on earth, and naturally, he screws it up. Later on, Springfield is taken over by killer dolphins, and poor Lenny is killed while nightswimming. The best segment, though, is “Scary Tales Can Come True,” a warped take on the story of Hansel and Gretel. The sight of Homer as a chicken crapping out a giant egg is just too hilarious for words.
11. “Treehouse Of Horror X” – Original Air Date: October 31, 1999
Every segment is strong here, but The Simpsons‘ take on the Y2K bug is probably the most memorable. The apocalypse goes down, and Bart and Homer are stuck on a rocket ship to the sun with mediocre celebrities. Elsewhere, we get a solid spoof of I Know What You Did Last Summer, with Homer telling the kids to hide in every horror movie cliche imaginable (“And I’ll go skinny dipping in the lake where the sexy teens were killed a hundred years ago tonight!”). Finally, Bart and Lisa become super-heroes and fight Comic Book Guy as The Collector. They defeat him by sticking him in Lucite, and he makes sure to die in his favorite Battlestar Gallactica pose. Best. Death. Ever.
10. “Treehouse Of Horror XXV” – Original Air Date: October 19, 2014
It’s possible that I’m afflicted by recency bias here, but I thought this was the best Halloween special in a long time. Bart succeeding in an elementary school in hell makes perfect sense, particularly his final torture against Homer. Then, we get a spot-on parody of A Clockwork Orange — honestly, it’s surprising it took them so long to get to that one, but at any rate, the finished product was glorious. Finally, The Simpsons are haunted by their early incarnations from The Tracey Ullman Show. Really, everything here was great, and it was the funniest THOH since the golden years.
9. “Treehouse Of Horror IX” – Original Air Date: October 25, 1998
Bart and Lisa being trapped in an “Itchy & Scratchy” cartoon is such an inspired idea, particularly when Itchy stops tormenting Scratchy, and the two team up to take them down. Poor Bart ends up having his insides devoured by piranhas! Elsewhere, Snake’s hair turns Homer into a murderer, and Kang proves to be Maggie’s real father, which leads to an appearance on Jerry Springer. That final segment was less scary than just weird, but overall, this was a fine episode.
8. “Treehouse Of Horror VIII” – Original Air Date: October 26, 1997
The best bit here is probably the opening sequence, in which the “Fox Censor” gets stabbed repeatedly, with the show’s rating getting higher every time, before settling on TV 666. The segments are great, too. Particularly the second, in which Bart swaps his DNA with a fly, and the family grows to love the monstrous creation that comes as a result (“Okay, it’s your sugar, Bart.”). The opening segment, in which Homer is the last man on Earth, is also pretty solid, especially Comic Book Guy’s reaction to the nuclear bomb that annihilates everyone but Homer (“But Aquaman, you can’t marry a woman without gills. You’re from two different worlds … Oh I’ve wasted my life!”). Finally, in “Easy Bake Coven,” Marge and Patty and Selma are witches who inadvertently invent Halloween when everyone gives them candy in the hopes that their children don’t get eaten. This is when the show was just starting to go downhill, but the Halloween specials were still fantastic.
7. “Treehouse Of Horror” – Original Air Date: October 25, 1990
The original Halloween special! First, there’s “Bad Dream House,” a take on The Amityville Horror which might actually be scarier than the source material. Then we get “Hungry Are the Damned,” which gives us the immortal “How To Cook For Forty Humans” bit, as it turns out Kang and Kodos weren’t planning to cook and eat the Simpsons after all. Finally, there’s the demented take on “The Raven,” where Raven-Bart torments Homer endlessly. Other Halloween episodes would be more ambitious, but this was a fine beginning, to be sure.
6. “Treehouse Of Horror II” – Original Air Date: October 31, 1991
In the second THOH installment, we get the fantastic monkey’s paw segment (“The turkey’s a little dry!”), in which the cursed paw wreaks havoc on the Simpsons’ lives, but works perfectly for Flanders. Then, we get an inspired Twilight Zone parody, with Bart as the boy who has scary powers, and can do horrible things to anyone who displeases him. The image of Bart “bonding” with Homer after he turns him into a jack-in-the-box is too good for words. Finally, Mr. Burns tries to create his own version of Frankenstein’s monster, but foolishly chooses Homer to be his subject. Should he have really been surprised that he wasn’t a model power plant worker?
5. “Treehouse of Horror III” – Original Air Date: October 29, 1992
It feels cruel to place this one so low, but that’s only a testament to how amazing these episodes have been. All three segments are great here. The first, “Clown Without Pity,” gives us the legendary “frogurt” bit (“The toppings contain potassium benzoate…..that’s bad.” “Can I go now?”), while the second has one of the greatest exchanges in Simpsons history:
Carl: “I heard we’re goin’ to Ape Island.”
Lenny: “Yeah, to capture a giant ape. I wish we were going to Candy Apple Island.”
Charlie: “Candy Apple Island? Whatta they got there?”
Carl: “Apes. But they’re not so big.”
Finally, “Dial ‘Z’ For Zombies” features Bart summoning the walking dead, and Homer seizing the opportunity to take down Flanders after all these years (“You killed the Zombie Flanders!” “He was a zombie?”).
4. “Treehouse Of Horror VII” – Original Air Date: October 27, 1996
We start out by learning the story of Bart’s evil twin, Hugo. As you might expect, the truly evil one was Bart the whole time. Try and look surprised. Then, we have Lisa’s tiny universe, which was famously referenced in the “Simpsons Already Did It” episode of South Park. But the real brilliance here — and why this one is ranked so high — is the final segment, “Citizen Kang,” which features some of the sharpest political satire this show has ever done, while giving us great lines like “As a child, I dreamed of being a baseball,” and “Don’t blame me, I voted for Kodos.”
3. “Treehouse Of Horror IV” – Original Air Date: October 28, 1993
The best segment here is obviously the first one, featuring Homer’s struggles with his forbidden doughnut. He outsmarts the devil, but can’t resist finishing the damn thing. But really, all three segments are fantastic. When Bart is the only one who sees the gremlin on the side of the bus, we both genuinely feel his horror, and laugh at Martin’s Wang Computers shirt. Finally, the third segment, a fairly straightforward take on Dracula, is everything you would hope it would be. Particularly the inspired ending, in which we discover that Marge was the head vampire the whole time. Hey, she does have a life outside of this house, you know.
2. “Treehouse Of Horror VI” – Original Air Date: October 29, 1995
When this episode first aired, Homer’s venture into the third dimension in the final segment was the big story, mainly due to its impressive display of animation. While that segment is fantastic, this THOH is brilliant from start to finish. The opening segment, “Attack Of The 50 Ft. Eyesores,” is probably the finest bit here. The sight of all the ads coming to life is truly frightening, and we get an inspired cameo from Paul Anka, singing “Just Don’t Look.” The second segment is a spot-on parody of Nightmare on Elm Street, with Groundskeeper Willie in the role of Freddie Krueger. This is one of the scarier segments we’ve ever seen, and it’s clear that Bart and Lisa are genuinely frightened as Willie attacks them on their dreams. This was a near-perfect Halloween special, and it also gave us an all-time Simpsons double-entendre, when Homer reaches for the thermostat – “Do not touch Willie. Good advice!”
1. “Treehouse Of Horror V” – Original Airdate: October 30, 1994
This was the obvious choice at #1, and it’s pretty much the platonic ideal of a Simpsons Halloween episode. All three segments here are brilliant, and feature the dark humor we’ve come to expect from the “Treehouse Of Horror” series. The opening segment is a spot-on parody of The Shining (“shh…you wanna get sued”), and Homer’s trip through time is inspired as well (“I wish, I wish I hadn’t killed that fish.”). Finally, the third segment, “Nightmare Cafeteria,” sees the children of Springfield Elementary being cooked by cannibalistic teachers. Amazingly, such a dark premise is used for dozens of laughs, and it gives us the immortal phrase “Sloppy Jimbo.” There were plenty of great “Treehouse Of Horror” episodes, but this one was absolutely flawless, and it clearly deserves the #1 spot.
Oh, and remember, no TV and no beer make Homer … something something.