As polarizing as recent seasons of The Simpsons can be among fans, there is no question that the quality of the non-canonical series of “Treehouse of Horror” episodes has largely remained of high quality over the years. And, with more than twenty-five seasons worth of material, the long-running animated program’s Halloween fare has produced a lot of excellent moments. This article will explore ten of the highlights of these delightfully creepy and funny anthologies, ordered here by season rather than attempting to create a “best of” list.
“The Raven”, Treehouse of Horror I
Homer stars in a verbatim narrative of Edgar Allen Poe’s classic poem, as read by James Earl Jones and co-starring Bart as the titular corvid crowing “eat my shorts”! (Er, “Nevermore”.) The final installment in the very first TOH special, airing during the second season of the show, it proved early on that The Simpsons could take even classical literature and bring its own style and spin to it, without harming the integrity of its source material and without overt parody. Chillingly beautiful for an early foray into the fantasy realm of the TOH episodes.
“The Devil and Homer Simpson”, Treehouse of Horror IV
The fifth season’s TOH contained this gem, in which Homer finds the temptation to eat a forbidden donut too great to resist and is dragged to Hell by the Devil himself – who, it turns out, is none other than Ned Flanders. With the help of Lionel Hutz, Marge must prove to a jury of ne’er do wells that Homer’s soul is her property as of their wedding day to save him. The very idea that Flanders is, in actuality, Satan is probably one of the best meta jokes in the series, and of course the inclusion of one of Phil Hartman’s best characters brings some fantastic one-liners to the trial. Homer’s ‘ironic punishments’ while in Hell are hilarious visual comedy, taking the trope to levels only Homer can.
“Time and Punishment”, Treehouse of Horror V
Based loosely around concepts in Ray Bradbury’s 1952 tale “A Sound of Thunder”, Homer learns the dangers of changing events in the distant past when he is thrown into time travel by his malfunctioning toaster. The more he tries to rectify things to create the ‘correct’ present for himself and his family, the more he seems to mess up – and the alternate futures he creates are some of the zaniest fun the series has illustrated. Homer, at this point in the show’s run still merely a hapless buffoon with a generally good heart, is sympathetic and silly – a world without donuts, even when everything else is absolutely perfect, completely terrifies him.
“Homer³”, Treehouse of Horror VI
Pacific Data Images (PDI)’s Mind’s Eye-like CG animation sends Homer through a portal into the third dimension while hiding from Marge’s awful sisters. Packed full of nerdy mathematical jokes and visual gags about 3-D animation and design, the scene brings Homer and Bart into a new realm for the time during which it was animated – CG television being a rather new concept at that point, and fairly expensive (a fact which Homer lampshades). Homer, of course, nearly destroys the entire dimension when he opens up a wormhole in its floor and falls into it. He is eventually dumped into the most horrifying dimension ever – ours. But, hey, at least there are erotic cakes!
“Citizen Kang”, Treehouse of Horror VII
Although dating itself by making characters out of Bill Clinton and Bob Dole, the idea of Kang and Kodos (the green aliens who make appearances in every Treehouse of Horror episode) taking over their identities and overtaking the American election is timelessly funny – even if it does lampoon the two-party system and the futility of a third-party vote, which seems to be the most horrifying point ever to come up in a Halloween special, especially during the current election…
“Life’s a Glitch, Then You Die”, Treehouse of Horror X
What’s funniest about this particular segment isn’t so much its setup as a Y2K bungle from, you guessed it, Homer – but its use of celebrity cameos. As the world plunges into millennial chaos, the family Simpson is separated as Lisa is chosen to accompany the best and brightest to a new Martian colony. Homer and Bart sneak onto a second rocket, only to find it crowded with celebrities like Rosie O’Donnell, Tonya Harding, and guest star Tom Arnold. They quickly realize they’re headed straight into the Sun instead – and decide to eject themselves. Some of the celebrity references are, of course, dated – but the ending, especially, is hilarious anyway.
“B.I.: Bartificial Intelligence”, Treehouse of Horror XVI
An obvious parody of A.I. Artificial Intelligence, this segment has a lot of really clever visual gags – especially when it comes to David, the robot boy the Simpson family adopts after Bart falls into a coma. When, after Bart sneaks from the hospital to return home, David is told to eat his shorts, he complies – and turns them into a teddy bear for Maggie. David proves to be so much better than Bart, in fact, that as a twist on the original movie’s plot he ends up driving his natural son out into the woods to be abandoned, so he can keep his robot son instead. It’s a genuinely good subversion of the film right up to the ending.
“Heck House”, Treehouse of Horror XVIII
Most TOH segments don’t take place in the everyday world of Springfield – nor do they generally return to previous ideas from the series, since they’re not considered canon. But this nineteenth-season offering brings back Ned Flanders as Satan, as he illustrates (with fundamentalist glee) to the Halloween prankster children of the town the Seven Deadly Sins, and the threat of a hellish afterlife. It works well, even though it isn’t exactly a parody of any specific franchise – although it begins with Flanders setting up his own version of a Halloween “hell house” to scare Nelson, Bart, and all the others straight. The best gags are the Deadly Sins, including a painful transformation of Homer into a plate of spaghetti for his gluttony.
“There’s No Business Like Moe Business”, Treehouse of Horror XX
Not only is this segment a loose parody of Sweeney Todd, as Moe uses a trapped and injured Homer’s blood to flavor his new micro-brewed beer, but it’s staged as a theatrical musical – and it’s the first TOH segment to feature complete songs. While it isn’t directly a send-up of the original musical, it does play around with theatrical tropes in some very adroit ways, making it one of the more unique segments in the series of specials.
“The Diving Bell and the Butterball”, Treehouse of Horror XXII
Certainly not the most highbrow of Simpsons segments, but admittedly, very much indicative of its current character, the idea of a spider-bite allowing Homer to only communicate by passing gas is genius. TOH segments get to play with reality, and even though the supernatural elements of this one are minor, it almost calls back to earlier episodes that explored Homer’s need to communicate his feelings in unusual ways. It is a definite reminder that, sometimes, The Simpsons can still get by on fart jokes.
So, now, we put it to you readers: what are some of your favorite Simpsons “Treehouse of Horror” segments? Let us know in the comments!
Pass on the horror!