In the same way that The Simpsons has been a TV staple for more than three decades now, its “Treehouse of Horror” specials, which air every year for Halloween, have also become staples of the show. Many fans look forward to the annual tradition with anxious glee — the specials can and do get weird and slightly sinister, even when they’re still totally uproarious. They’re an opportunity to celebrate Halloween and get into the spirit of the season, sure, but they’re also the perfect occasion for the show’s creators to get downright weird when it comes to exploring wild plotlines that wouldn’t work as typical Sunday-night Simpsons fare.
With more than 30 seasons under its belt and just as many “Treehouse” episodes to match, the classic cartoon’s horror-sci fi-supernatural specials are downright prolific. But not all are created equal when it comes to the fright factor (or even the laughs). Ready to see what we mean? These 10 “Treehouse” episodes outshine the rest — and they’re sure to get you in a spooky mood in the days leading up to All Hallow’s Eve.
10. “Treehouse of Horror XIX” – Season 20 (2008)
The 19th “Treehouse of Horror” special featured famous parodies in its three segments — the format these Halloween episodes typically take. In “Untitled Robot Parody,” Transformers-esque robots are running amok in the show’s fictional setting of Springfield. However, the final segment, “It’s the Grand Pumpkin, Milhouse,” might be the best of the trio. In a short parody of the Peanuts television special It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, Milhouse Van Houten summons the Great Pumpkin, which becomes enraged after seeing humans carve Jack-o’-lanterns. Peanuts was always way too cheerful, wasn’t it?
9. “Treehouse of Horror II” – Season 3 (1991)
The earlier “Treehouse of Horror” specials are now considered classics — and not just because of their age. In the second special, there are references to famous horror and science fiction works, presented as dreams from Lisa, Bart and Homer. In “The Bart Zone” (a definite reference to The Twilight Zone), everyone must obey an all-powerful Bart…or suffer the consequences.
In another segment titled “If I Only Had a Brain,” Homer’s dream satirizes the famous horror story Frankenstein — with who else but the sociopathic Mr. Burns standing in for the titular scientist’s monster?
8. “Treehouse of Horror VII” – Season 8 (1996)
The season eight special aired during the 1996 presidential race between Bill Clinton and Bob Dole, so, naturally, it featured parodies of their political campaigns. The special’s third segment, titled “Citizen Kang,” sees two aliens enslaving Earth after Homer can’t determine who’s running the U.S. in the midst of an election cycle. And if that wasn’t enough, this special features a pretty sensational revelation about Bart’s evil twin — there’s a twist even Hitchcock himself would be proud of.
7. “Treehouse of Horror XIII” – Season 14 (2002)
The season 14 special is packed with movie parodies, starting with a Homeriffic take on the 1996 film Multiplicity. The first segment, “Send in the Clones,” sees the Simpsons patriarch replicating himself by way of a cursed hammock, and the results are disastrous. Sadly, real Homer is much more intelligent than the knockoffs — but not smart enough to keep them from committing some heinous acts around Springfield. Not even the most emphatic “toodly-doo!” can save Flanders from a frightful fate; fortunately, he reemerges in the third segment as a horrifying animal hybrid Homer is forced to milk. This Treehouse really has it all.
6. “Treehouse of Horror XI” – Season 12 (2000)
Didn’t get your fill of parodies from “Treehouse of Horror XIII”? This installment should do the trick. With callbacks to everything from The Munsters to The Birds and even to “Hansel and Gretel,” there’s a lot packed into this season 12 special. It’s probably best known, though, for its third segment titled “Night of the Dolphin.” Influenced by a 1973 science fiction film, The Day of the Dolphin, it sees the aquatic geniuses gain enough intelligence to take over mankind, fight a war and… You’ll just have to watch the episode to find out what goes down next — it’s not pleasant.
5. “Treehouse of Horror VI” – Season 7 (1995)
In the sixth Treehouse of Horror special, there are two major parodies: one of the 1984 slasher A Nightmare on Elm Street, and another on yet another episode of The Twilight Zone. In “Nightmare on Evergreen Terrace,” Groundskeeper Willie dons an appropriately Freddy Krueger-esque hat-and-sweater combo as he terrorizes the schoolchildren of Springfield and haunts Bart’s dreams, sharp rake in hand. Thankfully, Maggie stumbles onto a quick solution — and you’ll want to cover your eyes if you’re an arachnophobe.
4. “Treehouse of Horror IV” – Season 5 (1993)
Doughnuts and vampires might not be peanut butter and jelly, but they make for the perfect pairing in this Treehouse episode. This early special sees Homer willing to — what else? — sell his soul for one of the classic pastries before being banished to a version of Hell where every punishment involves pink frosting and sprinkles, much to his delight. But, as you might expect, the segment takes an even darker turn when Homer can’t resist a little self-cannibalism.
You might be glad to know the episode ends on a lighter note. The third segment, a parody of Dracula, eventually involves more Peanuts-related comedy and even brings Christmas into the fold.
3. “Treehouse of Horror VIII” – Season 9 (1997)
In the season nine special, The Simpsons brings more scares with witches, humanoid flies, apocalyptic beings and a surprising ode to the powers of lead paint. In the first segment, “The HΩmega Man,” Springfield is destroyed by a neutron bomb and Homer is the sole surviving resident of Springfield — or so he thinks.
Springfield also steps back in time to colonial Salem, Massachusetts, in the memorable third segment titled “Easy-Bake Coven.” A witchified Marge with Patty and Selma in tow hunt the town’s children in search of their next meal, only to be distracted by some much more delicious gingerbread cookies. In exchange for leaving Springfield’s children alone, the trio travels door to door collecting snacks — and thus the tradition of trick-or-treating is born.
2. “Treehouse of Horror III” – Season 4 (1992)
Dolls, clowns, zombies — you can’t ask for much more when it comes to scary Halloween creepers, and this special has them all. In the third Treehouse special, a murderous, Chucky-adjacent Krusty doll comes to life. Naturally it’s on a mission to kill Homer, who, despite every effort can’t seem to rid himself of the homicidal toy. It doesn’t seem like the horror will ever end, but in true Homer fashion there’s a straightforward, simple solution.
King Kong and Return of the Living Dead parodies round out this exceptional episode that, in a way only Simpsons writers can manage, blends humor and some seriously sinister vibes.
1. “Treehouse of Horror V” – Season 6 (1994)
“Treehouse of Horror” specials are iconic at this point. But so is Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. When the two come together, the result is a benchmark episode — not just among the show’s Halloween specials but when it comes to the entire series in general. Homer slowly descends into madness a la Jack Torrance while taking care of Mr. Burns’ haunted lodge in a segment titled “The Shinning,” and his behavior grows increasingly more disturbing and violent until technology saves the day.
The horror references don’t end there, though. The episode’s second segment is based on a classic short story by Ray Bradbury, and the climactic final segment, “Nightmare Cafeteria,” sees Bart discovering that humans are on the new lunch menu at the Springfield Elementary School cafeteria. If, for some strange reason, you only decide to watch one Treehouse special this year, make it this one.