Editor's Note: The following article has been updated to include "Treehouse of Horror XXXIII"Halloween: when spirits walk the land, the powers of darkness strengthen, and the damned souls tuning in to the newest season of The Simpsons vainly search for any rationale to its continued existence.
It’s easy to be cynical about the state of America’s premiere mustard-colored family. But for all that can be said of The Simpsons’ later years, its ongoing "Treehouse of Horror" series has become a staple of American Halloween TV. From movie parodies to alternate realities, genuine frights to gross-out weirdness, these holiday specials have covered everything even tangentially related to the horror genre. There have been years where the "Treehouse" is the highlight of the season – and in other years, not so much. Ahead of this year’s Halloween, we’ve ranked every "Treehouse" of Samhain Past.
Honorable Mention: "Not It"
Oh, look! It's late-period Simpsons doing a parody of a pop culture flash-in-the-pan several years past its relevance! If you'll forgive the cynicism, spoofs like this showcase the decline of the series in a unique way. The looseness and inventiveness of "The Shinning" or "Bart Simpson's Dracula" is gone, and in its place is a rigid walkthrough the film's plot, stuffed with easy gags, throwaway references to current events that probably won't age well, and showing off a knowledge of Stephen King stories. That said, there are a few decent chuckles, a surprising use of Comic Book Guy, and some great, genuinely creepy animation of the It-ified Krusty to be had.
Honorable Mention: "Thanksgiving of Horror"
If you can get past the cynical and heavy-handed intro, "Thanksgiving of Horror" is better than the bottom 10 "Treehouses." The middle segment is the weakest, a "Black Mirror" spoof that doesn't amount to much more than another marital spat between Marge and Homer. But its closer, "The Last Thanksgiving/The First Blarg-sgiving," is a fun mash-up of various sci-fi/horror pictures that could have worked in a regular "Treehouse" (and was also the final performance of Russi Taylor as Martin Prince). Best of all is the opening "A-Gobble-Ypto," a rare parody from the show's later years with the fun and imagination of its early spoofs. There are laughs, drama, and even some intensity as Homer and family go through the horrors of being a turkey during a Puritan Thanksgiving.
Honorable Mention: Halloween of Horror
Nearly every series has an episode where a character has to act arbitrarily for a plot to work. Lisa's terror of all things Halloween comes out of nowhere and is hard to swallow. But if you can get past the contrived premise, and an anemic B plot with Bart and Marge, "Halloween of Horror" is funnier and scarier than even a few mid-tier "Treehouses." Homer's efforts to be a good dad to his daughter is always pleasant to see, and he has some really good lines here as he deals with a creepy trio of stalkers.
33. Treehouse XXII
The worst of the "Treehouses" tend to share the same sins: minimal connection to the Halloween season, lazy “parodies” that go for the lowest-hanging fruit, indulging the most cynical and mean-spirited interpretation of the characters, and a lack of thrills or laughs. “Treehouse XXII” is guilty of all of these. It holds probably the worst individual segment, “The Diving Bell and the Butterball,” essentially one long fart joke. “Dial D for Diddly” leans heavily into the “Jerkass Homer” characterization. And “In the Na’vi” is about as basic an Avatar spoof as you can find, with gags that were tired within a few months of Avatar’s release. Even the opening, which can usually be counted on for some fun, goes for the most obvious jokes. This is an easy "Treehouse" to skip.
32. Treehouse XXIII
There isn’t much daylight (or moonlight) between the bottom entries on this list. “Treehouse XXIII” has almost all the same problems as its immediate predecessor. “The Greatest Story Ever Holed” is one gag stretched across an entire segment. “Un-normal Activity” goes for the easiest riffs on Paranormal Activity, but deserves credit for spoofing a horror movie. The same can’t be said for “Bart and Homer’s Excellent Adventure.” Besides having nothing to do with Halloween, this time travel story plays the father-son relationship between Homer and Bart at its nastiest setting possible. One could argue that a "Treehouse" episode is the place to do that, but The Simpsons had long fallen into the trap of making its stars be horrible to each other on a regular basis by the time this episode aired.
31. Treehouse XXXII
Who thought a Bambi parody was a good fit for Halloween? The most recent Treehouse was hyped as having five segments instead of the usual three, but the opening parody and a stylized interlude with Maurice LaMarche as Vincent Price are so short that they come off as padding cobbled together to reach 22 minutes. There are still three fully-developed segments, all of them duds. There’s a Parasite spoof that serves as a framework for lazy class warfare jokes, a potentially fine tale of walking trees that doesn’t know where to go, and yet another “Lisa finally gets a friend” story. The “Poetic Interlude” with LaMarche is the best part of this Treehouse, most of that value coming from the homage to Edward Gorey in the design.
30. Treehouse XXVI
Some of the lesser "Treehouses" are sadder than they are unpleasant, because they contain great ideas that end up poorly executed. Sideshow Bob finally killing Bart is one such concept, but “Wanted: Dead, Then Alive” doesn’t seem to know what to do with it except have Bob do the deed again and again. “Homerzilla” could have been a fantastic spoof, but it ends up another movie parody that plays things safe and toothless. Never having seen Chronicle, I couldn’t tell you if “Telepaths of Glory” is similarly uninspired, but taken on its own merits, it’s a shapeless segment that happens to have a cute ending of Maggie messing with reality. This episode also has a wonderful opening tune with wacky animation by since-disgraced cartoonist John Kricfalusi.
RELATED: Why It's The Perfect Time to Take a Risk on a New Simpsons Movie
29. Treehouse XXXI
This Treehouse sets the tone early with an Election 2020 opening that, while accurate to that hell of a year, goes for every obvious (and unfunny) joke you’d expect latter-day Simpsons to go for. The gags in Pixar parody “Toy Gory” don’t amount to much more than “isn’t Bart awful,” and the time loop of “Be Nine, Rewind” is as lazy as Comic Book Guy says it is in-show. But the middle segment, “Into the Homer-verse,” is almost a Hail Mary for the episode. It’s arguably a more creative spin on the “multiple Homers” idea of an earlier "Treehouse," and it has fun with alternate versions of Mr. Burns and Smithers as well. Unfortunately, it’s also less funny than its predecessor. The references the various Homers represent are more clever than comedic, something the segment seems proud of. It’s a symptom that’s plagued The Simpsons for years in and out of the Halloween season. Nothing hurts cleverness like being a show-off about it.
28. Treehouse XXXIII
Yes, the Death Note parody looked great. Sure, The Babadook parody had some honest chills in it. Yep, the Westworld parody demonstrated some self-awareness about The Simpsons being past their sell-by date. But all three have something in common: these flashes of fun and creativity briefly break through competent but largely unremarkable efforts. The Babadook spoof is probably the best, being built around a character (Marge) who rarely gets to cut loose even in "Treehouse" episodes. The Westworld send-up is the weakest. Callback-heavy stories even outside the "Treehouse" season are more a sad reminder of what the show once was than a funny stroll down memory lane.
27. Treehouse XXVII
This "Treehouse" might be the worst offender at being less a Halloween special than an excuse for random ideas that wouldn’t work in an average episode. The Hunger Games and Mad Max are a far cry from Halloween movie fare, but with that said, “Dry Hard” is one of the better parodies from the later "Treehouses." The cheap shots are there, but mixing and matching dystopias helps to liven things up a bit. “MoeFinger,” a mash-up of James Bond and Kingsman, can’t pull off the same alchemy; The Simpsons did better by Bond with Hank Scorpio. Awkwardly sandwiched between these movie spoofs is “BFF R.I.P.” With its themes of grisly murder and imaginary figures coming to life, it’s at least tangential to the holiday season. More appropriate is the opening, where Sideshow Bob leads a team effort of death, vengeance, and Riverdance.
26. Treehouse XI
This entry from the early middle years of The Simpsons has generally good reviews, but for my money, it was the first "Treehouse" where all three segments were underwhelming. “G-G-Ghost D-D-Dad” is a little too much Jerkass Homer for my liking. “Night of the Dolphin” is certainly a more creative movie parody than later seasons – but it is downright weird, to the point where the weirdness overpowers the comedy. In between is “Scary Tales Can Come True,” a fairy tale spoof that goes for a lot of easy jokes but also boasts some great visuals. There’s also a Munsters spoof in the opening which is funnier than the rest of the episode.
25. Treehouse XXV
“A Clockwork Yellow,” the middle segment of “Treehouse XXV,” may take the prize for most movie references in a single segment. It’s also among the smuggest in lording its cleverness over characters and viewers alike, to the point where even Comic Book Guy admits he has no idea what piece of Stanely Kubrick’s oeuvre is being referenced. But a bit of cleverness may have done “The Others” some good. It’s another short that takes a great idea – the Simpsons meeting their Tracey Ullman Show ancestors – and spends most of it retreading tensions in Homer and Marge’s marriage that have become a regular go-to for the show. The opener “School is Hell” has the most fun, visually and narratively, with its premise of the underworld as an elementary school.
24. Treehouse XIV
There’s a good collection of Halloween-appropriate ideas in “Treehouse XIV;” I wish they amounted to more. “Reaper Madness” turns Homer into Death, and he uses and abuses that power in all the ways you’d expect him to. Predictable as it is, it does have a few laughs, and it’s the strongest segment of the three. Casting Jerry Lewis as Professor Frink’s father is the sort of choice that can feel inspired or hokey, depending on who’s watching; either way, “Frinkenstein” is another "Treehouse" segment that goes too weird for its own good. As for the finale, it’s basically Bart and Milhouse playing pranks. With how goofy The Simpsons had become by this point, in part because of characters like Professor Frink, the premise of Bart abusing a time-stopping watch wouldn’t be that out of place in a regular episode, which makes it a disappointing installment for a Halloween special.
23. Treehouse XXX
“Someone hasn’t seen Season 3,” Comic Book Guy says of Stranger Things in the first segment of this "Treehouse." I haven’t seen any seasons, so for all I know, this is a clever and insightful spoof. It’s certainly a well-designed cartoon. But it isn’t all that well-paced, or all that funny. Next up is “Heaven Swipes Right,” in the “what the hell does this have to do with Halloween” category. But “When Hairy Met Slimy,” a parody of The Shape of Water, raises the whole episode and pulls off a twist or two. The more obvious approach would have been to put Marge in Sally Hawkins’ place with Homer as the creature, but instead we get Selma’s romance with Kang the Conqueror, an Avengers gag, and a nice way to get Patty and Kodos in on the fun.
22. Treehouse XVIII
This one is another star-turn for Kang and Kodos. “E.T., Go Home” has fun with how blatantly evil Kodos is in the E.T. role, and how oblivious everyone is about it. It also goes plain silly throughout, from Homer’s ridiculous Southern accent to the funny faces of the Rigellians. Unfortunately, that promising start gives way to an uninspired Mr. and Mrs. Smith parody and a lackluster finale, “Heck House.” Casting Springfield citizens as the Seven Deadly Sins is fine in theory until the gags go predictable, and the overriding premise of the segment doesn’t amount to much more than Flanders being ultrareligious and reactionary.
21. Treehouse XXI
Some "Treehouse" segments suggest that someone had one good gag that no one realized wasn’t enough to sustain a short. “War and Pieces” is like that. Its spoofs of various board games are fun enough, but the connective tissue between them is threadbare. “Master and Cadaver” owes its one big laugh to the twist on whose fantasy it is; before that, it’s just Homer and Marge meandering through a Dead Calm parody. As for “Tweenlight,” the bites taken out of Twilight are rather tepid considering how rife for parody the source material is, and the character design of Daniel Radcliffe’s Edmund is among the worst celebrity renderings the series has seen. On the other hand, “Tweenlight” has Dracula playing jazz while Homer and Santa’s Little Helper dance, and that’s adorable.
20. Treehouse VII
Coming from a season that is (sometimes) counted as part of The Simpsons’ “golden age,” this "Treehouse" has its fans, but I can’t see much to recommend. “The Thing and I,” with its “evil” twin lurking in the attic, starts as a good parody on an old stock character but ends up an excuse to put Bart in a bad light. The same is arguably true of “The Genesis Tub,” though here Bart stays at the level of bratty brother in Lisa’s funny Twilight Zone spoof. The greatest claim to fame this "Treehouse" has comes from final segment “Citizen Kang:” Homer’s final line, “Don’t blame me. I voted for Kodos.” It’s one of many Simpsons lines that spread like wildfire through the Internet. But with how American politics have evolved since 1996, this satire’s cynical insinuation about the parties being interchangeable hasn’t aged well at all.
19. Treehouse XXVIII
This "Treehouse" shows just how much comedy can do to salvage an otherwise weak episode. Both movie parodies on offer here are duds. “The Exor-Sis” coasts on cheap shots and low-hanging fruit all the way through (though props are due Dan Castellaneta for a haunting rendition of “Pazuzu’s Lullaby”). “Coralisa,” ostensibly a Coraline parody starring Lisa, derails into a story about Homer’s dumb luck in life (though props are due again, this time to Neil Gaiman’s guest appearance as Snowball). What saves this "Treehouse" is “MMM…Homer.” The premise of Homer gorging on himself is ridiculous, and it leans heavily into the gluttonous side of his character. But it’s played in such a lighthearted manner for such a gruesome concept that it seems all the funnier, especially with two great uses of music and an unexpected finale.
18. Treehouse XIX
If comedy alone can lift an otherwise weak "Treehouse," comedy plus charm and a strong Halloween connection can lift it even higher, though “Treehouse XIX” takes its time getting there. A dated political opening leads into a dull Transformers parody set at Christmas. “How to Get Ahead in Dead-Vertising” is one of The Simpsons’ many indulgences in celebrity cameos, and its premise is thin, but hearing the voice cast do their best impressions is a fun listen that starts to right the ship. And “It’s the Grand Pumpkin, Milhouse” puts it on a firm course. From the background styling to direct parodies of choice line readings from It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, this is one spoof that knows how to go for the big targets without feeling cheap. And in the vengeful and shockingly prejudiced Grand Pumpkin, it boasts a character that throws the segment in a new, and hilarious, direction.
17. Treehouse XVI
Depending on how relevant you feel monster-free sci-fi is to Halloween, this "Treehouse" has either one or two appropriate parodies on either side of a random spoof of “The Most Dangerous Game.” Yet that middle segment may be the funniest of the three. Its lead-in, “B.I. Bartificial Intelligence,” goes ugly with Homer and Bart’s relationship in an otherwise decently structured and occasionally fun spoof. “I’ve Grown a Costume on Your Face” is more firmly rooted in the Halloween season, has a great kick-off, and has a good mix of gags built around the cast trapped as their costumes.
16. Treehouse XVII
This "Treehouse" has three unambiguously holiday-appropriate parodies, and the back two are a lot of fun. Hopefully, you can get through “Married to the Blob” first, which avoids the most straightforward take on its namesake but can’t muster up much more than gross-out humor. Once that’s over with, “You Gotta Know When to Golem” pulls a character from an Expressionist silent film classic into Springfield, gives him Richard Lewis’s voice, and turns him loose. “The Day the Earth Looked Stupid” is a slight step down; of the three, it’s the one most guilty of picking low-hanging fruit to joke with. But Maurice LaMarche’s Orson Welles impression never disappoints, and it’s always nice when Kang and Kodos get more than a cameo.
15. Treehouse XXIV
I think nearly all the harsh words said of The Simpsons in recent years are true, but every so often, the show can still muster some of the old magic. “Treehouse XXIV” features my favorite couch gag of the series (courtesy of guest director Guillermo del Toro and his insane number of horror movie riffs), and what’s even better, the couch gag isn’t the best thing in the episode. “Oh, the Places You’ll D’oh!” is just as loaded with background gags and Easter eggs, and it’s one of the best parodies in the entire series. “Freaks, No Geeks” doesn’t do quite as well at spoofing Tod Browning’s Freaks, but there are laughs to be had and visuals to enjoy. It’s a pity that, in between these delightful romps, sits “Dead and Shoulders,” a Bart vs. Lisa story that can’t find anything new or funny in their dynamic.
14. Treehouse XXIX
The best offering from the past five years, “Treehouse XXIX” at first seems a recipe for a let-down: three movie parodies in a late-period Simpsons episode. “Intrusion of the Pod-y Switchers” even recycles a twist from an earlier "Treehouse" segment. Yet it manages to improve on that twist, throw in some quick references to Fox’s sci-fi efforts, and give Lou one of his only featured roles in the Treehouse series. “Multiplisa-ty” lets Yeardley Smith go to town in a Split parody that ends rather sweetly. And “Geriatric Park,” in the tradition of the best "Treehouse" movie spoofs, takes just a few key elements of the movie it’s riffing on to build a horror-comedy that’s comprehensible and entertaining in its own right.
13. Treehouse XX
2009 was another year that went for three parodies, and all three turned out pretty good (as did the opening with the classic Universal Monsters). The Hitchcock pastiche is just stylized enough for the ultraviolent sibling rivalry between Bart and Lisa to feel appropriate. “Don’t Have a Cow, Mankind” mixes 28 Days Later with Children of Men and comes up with a nice spin on zombies. The final segment spoofs the general concept of a Sweeney Todd-type story more than the Stephen Sondheim musical, and its songs are hit and miss, but it still makes for a nice finale.
12. Treehouse XIII
This was the first "Treehouse" to be titled as such in the opening credits instead of “The Simpsons Halloween Special.” The occasion for this rechristening isn’t quite a masterpiece. Its middle segment is a lazy satire of America’s gun debate that hasn’t aged well. On the other hand, the first story, “Send in the Clones,” could have easily become a collection of lazy “dumb Homer” jokes, but goes so over the top with the concept that it can’t help but be funny. The best comes last in this "Treehouse," with an Island of Doctor Moreau spoof that’s inventive, hilarious, and even genuinely creepy (“milk me!”).
11. Treehouse X
The Simpsons hasn’t predicted nearly as many things as the Internet would have you believe, but “Treehouse X"’s middle segment did get in on superhero action well before comic book movies became the dominant film genre. It’s all the better for not having that trend to lean on, despite being divorced from Halloween. That’s not a problem with the first segment, an I Know What You Did Last Summer parody with a nice twist into werewolf territory. Unfortunately, an otherwise excellent "Treehouse" ends on a whimper thanks to “Life’s a Glitch, Then You Die,” a Y2K story that even its writer has admitted didn’t age well. Worse than that is the choice to have Lisa coldheartedly leave Bart and Homer to their doom, jettisoned into the sun with America’s worst celebrities.
10. Treehouse XII
The smooth charm of Pierce Brosnan carries “House of Whacks,” this "Treehouse"'s middle segment about a house AI run amok. The Irish have additional presence in the form of a leprechaun Homer needs to break a gypsy curse in “Hex and the City,” an opening segment that feels like a throwback to the earliest "Treehouses" in its simplicity. The final short leaves Ireland behind for a Harry Potter parody that was written before any of the films had come out; consequently, it looks much more unique than many a Potter spoof and has more fun with the plot.
9. Treehouse XV
Between “Send in the Clones” and the opening segment to this "Treehouse," “The Ned Zone,” it seems the secret to making a Halloween story that leans so exclusively on Homer’s stupidity work is to go wacky. Next up is a blend of From Hell, Sherlock Holmes, and a bit of My Fair Lady. It’s a little meandering, but it knows how to cast the characters within the parody and finishes with a nice twist. The final segment covers well-tread cartoon ground by spoofing Fantastic Voyage. It’s not very original in its choices, and sticking Homer and Mr. Burns together in the end had already been done. But if it isn’t original, it is at least very well-executed compared to some of the series’ lesser overdone parodies.
8. Treehouse IX
“Hair Toupée,” the first segment of “Treehouse IX,” takes its name and something of its premise from an old Amazing Stories episode, but there are echoes of the horror classic Mad Love here too. The first is the best in this "Treehouse," with minor antagonist Snake in one of his biggest and best roles in the entire series. The bar remains high with “The Terror of Tiny Toon” as the violence of Itchy and Scratchy is taken to hilarious and unnerving extremes. But the episode fumbles with “Starship Poopers.” It’s a decent enough premise: Maggie is actually a Rigellian, the spawn of Kang and Kodos. But nothing in the history of television has been made better by referencing The Jerry Springer Show.
7. Treehouse VI
This "Treehouse" feels like a transitional time in the series. It was the first time there was no connective tissue tying all the segments together, and the first time where connections to Halloween seemed tenuous. “Giant evil advertisements” is a downright strange premise, and “Homer3” feels hollow 26 years after the novelty of CGI has worn off. But between these two so-so ideas is “Nightmare on Evergreen Terrace,” an inventive, hilarious, and even frightening short that’s among the best segments in the "Treehouse" series, and among the best parodies The Simpsons has ever done.
6. Treehouse II
The early "Treehouses" used framing devices to motivate the segments, and “Treehouse II” has a nice one: the candy-induced nightmares of Lisa, Bart, and Homer. Lisa dreams of a world devastated by a monkey’s paw, Bart casts himself as Anthony Fremont in a Twilight Zone parody, and Homer imagines a mad science experiment by Mr. Burns to create a competent nuclear technician. They’re all solid segments, though the framing device falters a little when two of the three get happy endings!
5. Treehouse VIII
Things start off gory in “Treehouse VIII” with a vicious attack on Fox Censor (actual character name), and the episode keeps heavy on the horror throughout. An Omega Man parody lets Homer face off against a mutated Springfield (and sing naked in church). That’s a decent lead-in to Bart’s wacky struggle to become human again in “Fly vs. Fly,” a "Treehouse" Bart and Lisa story that actually lets them care about each other. Even better is “Easy-Bake Coven,” a fanciful take on the origins of trick-or-treating: witch Marge and her sisters take bribes of sweets in return for not eating children.
4. Treehouse III
As with the worst of these specials, there isn’t much space between the best; those that are good are really good. The framing device in this early "Treehouse" is ghost tales told at a Halloween party, and it may be my favorite frame. Lisa’s “Clown Without Pity” gave animation one of its best hysterical cries of “EVIL!” and made Frogurt sound scary. “King Homer” is one of the earliest movie parodies to play things so safe, but the black-and-white has its charm and Smithers gets in a classic line. All hell breaks loose in the nightmarish finale, where a well-intentioned effort to bring back Snowball I unleashes a horde of zombies eager for brains…just not Homer’s.
3. Treehouse I
A wonderful thing about the earliest "Treehouses" is how nearly all the segments preserve the family’s relationships with one another; they place the Simpsons in horror situations without turning them into self-parodies or disregarding their bonds. That holds true in the very first “Treehouse of Horror,” framed as Bart and Lisa swapping ghost stories. Bart’s “Bad Dream House” may be the scariest "Treehouse" segment, and his “Hungry are the Damned” introduced the world to Kang and Kodos. Of course, Lisa turns to the classics, but “The Raven” is just a little too reverential of Edgar Allan Poe to completely work as a parody.
2. Treehouse IV
“Treehouse IV” has my personal favorite segment of the series, “Bart Simpson’s Dracula.” Besides being a great spoof of the Francis Ford Coppola film, it slips in nods to such random cultural milestones as the Three Stooges and Peanuts. “Treehouse IV” also has what I think is the funniest segment of the series, “The Devil and Homer Simpson.” And it has yet another Twilight Zone parody, featuring a gremlin that looks genuinely dangerous. With three fantastic segments and a framing device that spoofs Night Gallery, what could possibly top this?
1. Treehouse V
The framing devices left the series with “Treehouse V,” but all the segments were linked by the misfortunes of Groundskeeper Willie, incompetent horror hero. He can’t stop a psychotic Homer in “The Shinning,” the best movie spoof The Simpsons has ever done. He can’t get Homer back to his own timeline in “Time and Punishment,” the best thing ever to come out of a busted toaster. And he can’t keep the staff of Springfield Elementary from eating all the students in “Nightmare Cafeteria,” one of the most gruesome spectacles the series has ever presented. Add on a nice musical spoof for the credits, and you get the very best "Treehouse of Horror."