Spooky season is upon us! For some that might mean a lot of stressful scares and gory horror, but for those among us who are a little more cowardly when it comes to getting in the seasonal spirit, alternate means are required. Thankfully, The Simpsons has been filling my Halloween need for the best part of three decades now. Here are some choice selections for your Treehouse of Horror watch list.
Time and Punishment (Treehouse of Horror V, 1994)
Any Treehouse skit that is just Homer constantly trying to undo his own goofs, but freed from the typical constraints of him doing that on almost any other episode of The Simpsons, is always going to be good. But the future where Ned Flanders is world leader and lobotomizes everyone for re-Neducation? Classic gag.
Homer³ (Treehouse of Horror VI, 1996)
The Simpsons’ first experimentation with CG might look dated today, but “Homer³” still has a certain kind of retro charm in its take on an alternate world of computer graphics. Beyond that, it’s still classic Simpsons charm, and once again Homer just digging himself deeper and deeper into a problem of his own making — albeit this time to try and grant himself a reprieve from Patty and Selma. Plus, a 3D Homer finding an erotic cakes shop in the real world as the credits roll will always be fantastic.
Hungry Are the Damned (Treehouse of Horror, 1990)
The Simpsons’ resident aliens Kang and Kodos are a Treehouse staple for good reason, but their first proper appearance in the very first Halloween special still remains a high point. Comedic misunderstanding! The twist that the Rigellians actually did want to be nice to the humans they’d abducted! The true horror that maybe Lisa isn’t always right! And then, of course, the To Serve Man bit.
Nightmare on Evergreen Terrace (Treehouse of Horror VI, 1995)
If Kang and Kodos are one great Treehouse staple, then one oddly consistent other is a bit more down to earth: Springfield Elementary’s own Groundskeeper Willie, who really comes into his own during Halloween season. Casting him this time as the antagonist in a riff on Freddy Kreuger, not only is this skit actually quite chilling at times, it’s maybe one of the show’s best direct homages to a piece of iconic horror.
Terror at 5 1/2 Feet (Treehouse of Horror IV, 1993)
Loving homages are the name of the game in Treehouse of Horror, and taking on an all-time classic Twilight Zone tale but transposing it onto Otto’s elementary school bus is a twist of absolute genius. Plus, the little Homer-esque imp that plagues Bart here is actually kind of adorable, when he’s not quite so murderous.
Citizen Kang (Treehouse of Horror VII, 1996)
The perfect entry point to mid-‘90s American politics — pitting Kang and Kodos against each other in disguise as Bill Clinton and Bob Dole. Not only is this segment jam-packed with great lampooning of the election season, it delivered us the all-time perfectly quotable rejoinder for when things aren’t going someone’s way: “Don’t blame me, I voted for Kodos.”
The Devil and Homer Simpson (Treehouse of Horror IV, 1993)
A third, vital addition to the recurring staples of Treehouse of Horror is none other than Ned himself. An absolutely perfect turn here in casting Flanders as actual Satan (with maybe one of the all-time great devil designs, perhaps), tempting Homer to trade his immortal soul for a doughnut, makes for so many excellent moments. However, a special shout out has to go to the trial sequence, and more specifically, Marge being the homebody host she is, awkwardly trying to find extra chairs to house the Jury of the Damned.
The Shinning (Treehouse of Horror V, 1994)
Has there been a Treehouse bit that has so many notable quotes as Homer taking on Stephen King’s most iconic horror tale? “Shh! You wanna get sued!?” “All work and no sleep make Homer something something” “Oh no! We left grandpa back at the gas station!” “Hmm, that’s odd, the blood usually gets off at the second floor.” A pitch-perfect homage to an all-time great.
The Raven (Treehouse of Horror, 1990)
There are two ways a Simpsons homage goes: more often than not, the show tends to avoid directly placing the family within an homage, and simply has the premise transposed atop life in Springfield. But perhaps the best example of that direct transplant is turning Homer and Bart into the subjects of Edgar Allan Poe’s classic poem of haunted madness. Let me tell you: this was the best, best way to learn about the works of Poe as a kid, more than any English lesson could be capable of.
Bart Simpson’s Dracula (Treehouse of Horror IV, 1993)
We’ve written before about just how clever this skit is, not just for its vampire shenanigans. The way it uses the fact that it’s Bart Simpson’s Dracula shines a light on the way Bart really loves his sister beyond all the sibling jibes and really just makes it one of the finest Treehouse tales around. Plus, who doesn’t love a super happy fun slide?