Halloween is a tradition rich holiday. Decorations, trick ‘r treat, and costumes remain comforting constants in our time. Second only to Christmas in marketability, due to easily identifiable and exploitable themes, networks make sure to produce several Halloween specials during the season. The most popular and longest running traditions American television has to offer of this variety would be The Simpsons “Treehouse of Horror”.
“Treehouse” is as much of an institution in this country as The Simpsons itself. Just because something is an institution, though, doesn’t mean it will be good. Many people find inconsistency in the quality of the past few seasons of The Simpsons, and this includes the hallowed Halloween Special. This year, The Simpsons celebrates it’s 600th episode and 27th “Treehouse of Horror”, so I sat down and watched every “Treehouse” to bring to you the top 3 episodes, as ranked by yours truly.
I thought about ranking the best segments overall (there are three segments per episode), but I couldn’t bring myself to separate them. After all, these stories were presented together, so they should be experienced together.
3. “Treehouse of Horror XXIV” (Season 25, Episode 2)
Original Air Date: 10/6/13
While it’s true the episodes from the early days of The Simpsons average more laughs per minute, this episode reminded us what the show has a team of Ivy League-educated writers breathing hot comedy into ancient horror films or twisting our childhood books into gore-soaked animation. The weakest of the segments (and the titles) is “Dead and Shoulders”, which takes its main gag from “Treehouse of Horror II”, where we see Mr. Burns’ head grafted to Homer’s neck. This time Bart’s head is grafted to Lisa’s neck, ending in a similar fashion to the twenty-two-year-old predecessor. Let’s backtrack to the first segment, “Oh, The Places You’ll D’oh”, where we see Dr. Seuss get a rewrite. I have to admit that I’m a sucker for poetry parodies, so when I heard the sly rewording of a childhood classic, I followed each alliterative rhyme with giggles of glee. The final segment, “Freaks No Geeks”, hearkens back from the black and white era of film: Freaks. The segment sets the forbidden love Moe harbors for Marge in an early-era freak show. Yes, most of the segments were funny, but the real reason to watch this was the opening—the pièce de résistance. The opening sequence of the this particular episode was directed by none other than famed Spanish director Guillermo Del Toro. Del Toro, a horror director himself, fit as many references to horror movies as possible in the minute long “Couch sequence” that normally precedes every single Simpsons episode. It would not be inaccurate to say that opening is why this episode cracked my top 3.
2. “Treehouse of Horror” (Season 2, Episode 3)
Original Air Date: 10/25/90
I’ve always found the first of something keeps a special place in the heart, and the same is true with the original “Treehouse”. The saga-starting segment, entitled “Bad Dream House”, spoofed most every haunted house movie there was. The jokes were original and fresh, largely due to only being two years old. “Hungry are the Damned” introduced our favorite alien invaders, Kodos and Kang, while delivering one of the best punchlines written for the show: How to Cook For Forty Humans. Remember a paragraph ago when I said I was a sucker for poetry parodies? Well, The Simpsons did me one better and adapted Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven” nearly word for word. The respect the writers displayed for the source material is not only emblematic of everything that is great about “Treehouse of Horror”, but creates a genuinely hilarious atmosphere. This episode didn’t just set the standard, but also set the tone for the next six Halloween specials.
1. “Treehouse of Horror V” (Season 6, Episode 6)
Original Air Date: 10/30/94
Before I sat down to watch every single “Treehouse of Horror” in a row, the first thought I had on the subject was “The Shinning”. “The Shinning”, a parody of Stephen King/Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, became such a prolific segment that it could launch any episode it was attached to straight to the top of this list. And it did. The other two segments, though, are nearly as memorable. “Time and Punishment” could serve as the textbook definition of the butterfly effect, while “Nightmare Cafeteria” could replace Soylent Green (the source material for the segment) and we would all be better for it. In fact, it would be fair to say this episode did more than pay homage to the horror stories it mocked, but—in many ways—this episode did it better.