A Halloween Tradition: Top 5 Simpsons Treehouse of Horror

by: Sean McLaughlin

              For over twenty years, Matt Groenig, Max Brooks and the other geniuses behind The Simpsons have been making sure that their long-running animated series, although sagging in both ratings and material for the past decade plus, remain a staple of the American Halloween celebration through the brilliant and perpetually-relevant Treehouse of Horror franchise.  Debuting back on October 25, 1990, these slices of annual Americana Horror have parodied horror movies, cultural phenomena and other gothic works of art with such stunning accuracy, and appropriate lampooning, that it almost seems that the writers spend the majority of the season tweaking and creating these masterpieces, and whatever time remains cranking out the remaining 21 episodes for the entire season.  Combining horror and suspense elements of The Twilight Zone, classic horror movies like The Shining and The Exorcist, and episodic style of Tales from the Crypt, these Simpsons creations are always sure to delight, repulse and entertain.

                As we barrel towards Halloween 2012, we at HNN felt now was a perfect time to take a look back at the iconic Treehouse of Horror series and pick the top 5.  Of course this list is subjective, but I’ll try to sum up my thoughts below each pick to justify the position.  As somebody who spent most of my nights in college studying the “golden era” of The Simpsons (seasons 3-8), I feel this list is a great representation of the best although it’s almost like trying to pick your top 5 Christmas mornings as a kid.  It must also be said that the remaining 18 episodes all deserve honorable mention.  Without further ado, we submit for your approval:


#5  Treehouse of Horror XIII (2002)

                Featuring “Send in the Clones”, “The Fright to Creep and Scare Harms”, and “The Island of Dr. Hibbert”, this one narrowly made the list.  The reason it does is the social relevance that this episode, and its three sub-tales, portray with humor and terror.  Zombies, mutated killer hybrids….all give us the producers views of artificial cloning, the Second Amendment and stem cell research.  Politics and gore, exactly what we love about The Simpsons!  Gotta love the blatant shot at Seth McFarlane’s Family Guy in “Clones” as well, and the obvious similarities that Peter Griffin seems to “borrow” from Homer.


Simpsons Treehouse of Horrors XIII 

#4  Treehouse of Horror II (1991)

                The best episodes are from early in the series’ run, with the second installment being one of the best.  Parodying the classic Monkey’s Paw tale, the Twilight Zone episode “It’s a Good Life”, and the general nightmare of having no free will/being grafted onto your worst enemy, part II let everyone know that The Simpsons had something with the entire Treehouse of Horror concept, which allows the producers the freedom kill off main characters and turn worlds upside down with no consequences, as these scenarios exist out of the reality world of the show.  This episode also begins to cement Homer’s role as the bumbling father who messes everything up, and the beginning of his deteriorating relationship with Bart as the first two stories show us.


Simpsons Treehouse of Horrors 2

#3  Treehouse of Horror V (1994)

                The fifth installment showed us many things, but mainly that Brooks, Groening and Simon are very spiteful artists.  Due to complaints that the series as a whole was becoming a bit too violent, the creators decided to kick the graphic nature up ten notches with this Treehouse of Horror.  A hilarious parody of The Shining, a time-wrecking and blundering voyage a al The Time Machine, and children being cooked and eaten in “Nightmare Kitchen”…..it was obvious they were going for as many gasps as laughs here.  More blood per second than any previous or subsequent episode, V still hits the mark hard.  Plus, a recurring gag throughout the stories of hapless Groundskeeper Willie running in to save the day, only to receive an axe in the back, will leave you howling each time.  Throw in a random scene of people being turned inside out due to “the fog”, and performing an impromptu rendition of a song from A Chorus Line.  In other words, all of the quirkiness that makes us fans in the first place.

 Simpsons Treehouse of Horrors 5

#2 Treehouse of Horror VI (1995)

                More than anything, this episode receives more kudos than any other for innovation.  A spunky horror yarn about our big, loveable advertising symbols coming to life and killing us provides a perfect opening (with Paul Anka to boot!).  “Nightmare on Evergreen Terrace” gives us perhaps their greatest horror film spoof, with Groundskeeper Willie bringing Freddy Krueger to vivid animation for all of our terror-ific benefits.  And finally, “Homer2” was the first ever episode to have a character step out of regular animation and in to the world of three dimensions with visually-stunning results.  The computer graphics needed were time-consuming and expensive but the end result proved to be worth it as the tactic brings the Poltergeist-like story to life.  To me, other than just being really cool VI also provides two of my favorite Simpsons quotes.  In “Attack of the 50-foot Eyesores”, Marge exclaims “These monsters are destroying everything AND everyone we hold dear!!!  And you kids should have jackets on.”  And in “Nightmare”, Marge spits out another gem with “Kids…..it’s time we told you the truth and put your fears to rest.  It’s a story of murder and revenge from beyond the grave!!!”.  Marge rules.

 Simpsons Treehouse of Horrors 6

#1  Treehouse of Horror I (1990)

                Of course, there is no topping the original.  Not only did the original Treehouse of Horror receive both critical and viewer praise for its writing, but it also holds up today culturally and in show relevance.  Featuring the original premise of each of the Simpsons kids telling a scary tale before bedtime (abandoned with each subsequent TOH sequel), the template of movie, show, and other spoof began in full force.  In “Bad Dream House”, the Simpson family tears down the walls of the Poltergeist house with equal parts comedy and cartoonish horror.  The first in a long line of Twilight Zone re-imaginings, the writers tackle, marvelously, the classic “To Serve Humans” episode that many point to as the greatest Rod Sterling creation of all.  High praise for both, as Groenig and company pull it off.  And in perhaps the greatest single moment in TOH history, Edgar Allan Poe receives the The Simpsons treatment with a word-for-word version of The Raven.  James Earl Jones narrates to add even more legitimacy, but this episode provided a huge turning point for the entire franchise.  No longer would The Simpsons be viewed as simply a kids cartoon, as the writers were able to show off their literary chops with incredible success.  And of course……in the process they made sure our Halloweens would be Simpsons-filled from now on.  A huge achievement for one of the most culturally-significant television shows of all time.


Simpsons Treehouse of Horrors 1

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Sean McLaughlin on Twitter
Sean McLaughlin
Staff Writer at Horror News Network
Sean McLaughlin has been writing for Horror News Network since 2012. Catch up with him on Twitter at @Makasupa and read his in-depth bio on our About Us page.
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