By now, it’s a Halloween tradition up there with apple bobbing and attempting to ignore trick or treaters. The Simpsons Treehouse of Horror episodes bring the scares every year – and have done now for three decades.
That means there are over 90 spooktacular mini-slices of The Simpsons to watch if you want the complete Treehouse of Horror experience, with more still planned.
If you dare to wade through modern Simpsons, we’ve tallied them all up across the next three pages, from the snoozefests to the more cromulent, best Treehouse of Horror episodes that are liable to keep you up at night. That includes what works, what doesn’t work, and even a certain Treehouse of Horror that ranks up there with some of the best Simpsons episodes ever made. Mmm… spooky.
30. "Treehouse of Horror XXII"
Worst. Treehouse of Horror. EVER. It's never nice to actively hate on The Simpsons, but every segment in the 22nd Halloween special leaves a bad taste in the mouth. Seven minutes of fart jokes is bad enough, but the first vignette is also a cruel, niche parody of The Diving Bell and The Butterfly, a real-life, tragic story of locked-in syndrome. Flanders as a serial killer sounds like fun, but is delivered like terrible fan-fiction with a weirdly mean-spirited take on religion. There's even an Avatar parody with Bart having tentacle sex. Because that's exactly what we wanted.
29. "Treehouse of Horror XXIX"
Nearly every criticism thrown at latter-day Simpsons can apply here. The episode feels simultaneously rushed, yet lazy in its execution, and there’s barely a joke that lands without another quickly coming along to try and tickle our funny bones before inevitably falling flat.
There’s an Invasion of the Body Snatchers parody that doesn't rise beyond a couple of mildly amusing sight gags (Otto transforming into a marijuana leaf is a decent highlight) and a bizarre Split-style short with Yeardley Smith rattling through a bunch of passable impressions and kooky accents after Lisa loses the plot over getting a Bart-concocted F.
At least "Geriatric Park" – a suitably lazy Jurassic Park rip-off – offers up a pretty damn hilarious (literal) flyover of the Jurassic Park parks and their increasing ludicrousness, plus the elderly-turning-into-dinosaurs bit surprisingly doesn’t outstay its welcome. But, all in all, this feels like an episode that barely knows what to do with itself. It feels like the Treehouse of Horror formula is, unfortunately, wearing thin.
28. "Treehouse of Horror XIX"
You would think someone on The Simpsons staff would do their research. Not only does this episode kick off with a skit surrounding a toy that's not what it seems, it also murders other toys. You're not suffering déjà vu: they've both been done before on the show. "How to Get Ahead in Dead-vertising" at least brings the traditional guts and gore, even if it's a standard Mad Men parody. The Charlie Brown homage, however, manages to tick all the right nostalgia boxes, but this episode is filled with montages and corner-cuts everywhere. One to avoid.
27. "Treehouse of Horror XXVII"
Oof. It's always a bad sign when an episode is stalling for time just three minutes into its runtime. It doesn't get much better from there. "Dryhard" is a try-hard Hunger Games parody about a drought. Apt, then, that it's running empty on jokes. "BFF RIP" is almost as painful to watch as the various murders Lisa's imaginary friend Rachel commits. And if you're expecting a funny and smart Bond parody from "Moefinger", you'll be overjoyed to know all you're getting is a one-dimensional Kingsman parody. The Bond theme send-up, to celebrate 600 episodes, just about keeps this one from plummeting to the very depths of the Halloween canon.
26. "Treehouse of Horror XVI"
The warning signs are there from the beginning. A two-minute long preamble about how boring baseball is gives way to a trio of uninspiring and downright unfunny tales. "Bartificial Intelligence" seems to have been a case of come up with bad pun first, story second. And "Survival of the Fattest" doesn't know whether it wants to have a jab at reality TV, FOX, or hunting (it fails at all three). At least "I've Grown a Costume on Your Face" is fun to look at, even if it comes packed with, in hindsight, one of the most awkward jokes in the show's history. You'll know it once you hear it.
25. "Treehouse of Horror XXVI"
I would really love to recommend this episode. Yet, homages and tributes to other properties have been done countless times already in Treehouse of Horror episodes, and none were as borderline offensive (what's up with those Japanese accents?) or unfunny as Homerzilla. Sideshow Bob killing Bart isn't nearly as funny as you would hope, and "Telepaths of Glory" is a pale imitation of Stretch Dude and Clobber Girl. Boo-urns.
24. "Treehouse of Horror XXVIII"
The Simpsons equivalent of a well-worn jacket. It's comfortable, you know what you're getting, but you really want that looser, more freeing one from a few decades ago. This episode reads like a checklist of typical Treehouse of Horror segments: an old movie property? Check. Different animation styles on occasion? Check. Meta moments and callbacks? Double check. After 28 of these, it becomes difficult to be shocked, let alone scared by the classic anthology series.
23. "Treehouse of Horror XXI"
If the opening segment – "War and Pieces," a fun frolic through board games past – was in any other episode further up the list, it'd make for an instant classic. It's just that the rest of the episode doesn't stack up. "Master and Cadaver" is a tired old plot that limps through its seven minutes, and why the writers thought it'd be a good idea to ape Twilight, I'll never know.
22. "Treehouse of Horror XVII"
This feels like an early-season Treehouse of Horror wrapped in modern-day sensibilities. But that's not quite the compliment it sounds. The stories cut to the chase far quicker than some of the show's later episodes, but that still doesn't excuse the crude, shock humour more akin to Family Guy. However, the show's use of older, more traditional sci-fi and horror influences, such as Golems and War of the Worlds, feel far more refreshing than they would have had this aired during the first nine seasons.
21. "Treehouse of Horror XXX"
The most recent effort on this list, “Treehouse of Horror XXX” again goes back to the well of semi-recent parodies for “Danger Things,” a light-hearted spoof that sends up Stranger Things (and the '80s) with several precisely-aimed jokes. The 666th episode, though, doesn’t quite get out of first gear, with the Shape of Water-style romance between Kang and Selma being a particularly bad offender. Still, there are plenty of smirks and snickers to be had here, with a little jab at new corporate overlords Disney being the highlight of this season 31 episode.
20. "Treehouse of Horror IX"
"Treehouse of Horror IX" is a strange beast. On one hand, it features a perfect fit with Itchy and Scratchy bringing the blood and guts. But, on the other, it presents a show in the death throes of its most creatively fulfilling period. "Hair Toupee" is a fairly decent effort, if a little too reliant on a tertiary character, but "Starship Poopers" gives us a glimpse at a Simpsons future that relies heavily on guest stars and shock value. This being The Simpsons, it's still 22 minutes of great animated fare, it's just a middle-of-the-road Treehouse of Horror outing.
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19. "Treehouse of Horror XXIII"
For all the talk about The Simpsons' switch to a more sterile HD look, this is one of the most gorgeous Treehouse of Horrors to date. "The Greatest Story Ever Holed" involves some really great animation and – for once – a recent parody (in this case, Paranormal Activity) doesn't descend into a shoulder-shrug of a knock-off. Bart's foray back into 1974 is pretty bog-standard in the grand scheme of things and, yet, it still amounts to one of the more fun Halloween episodes of the past decade.
18. "Treehouse of Horror XI"
"Treehouse of Horror XI" makes such a solid start that you'd be forgiven for expecting it to be much higher on this list. Unfortunately, the fantastic first act of "G-g-g-host D-d-d-ad" is quickly supplanted by a lazy fairytale parody that offers nothing in the way of particularly amusing material. Adding on to that, "Night of the Dolphin" just meanders along and is all too predictable. It's still not bad, per se, but there are plenty of Treehouse of Horror episodes you should watch before this one.
17. "Treehouse of Horror XX"
This episode kicks off with a critique on the modernisation of Halloween costumes. It's fitting, then, that this episode spotlights a triumvirate of traditional tales: Hitchcock – an influence the show loves to mine – musicals and, *sigh* zombies again. If you thought that well ran dry a decade prior then, boy, have I got news for you. For a big anniversary, this episode feels fairly standard – but Moe's deliberately terrible song and dance numbers bring the pizazz and cap off a nice episode.
16. "Treehouse of Horror XIV"
Guillermo del Toro's couch gag and the Dr. Seuss tribute are overflowing with such joyous creativity that it's a real kick in the teeth that the rest of the episode doesn't live up to the ridiculously high benchmark of the opening 10 minutes. Dead and Shoulders's concept has been done far better in the show's cousin Futurama and, ironically, isn't given room to breathe because of the clipped runtime. The circus segment is a series of one-shot jokes and visual gags that don't quite knit together the threadbare plot it comes with. Still, this is a real animation tour-de-force, and well worth a watch.
15. "Treehouse of Horror XIII"
Number 13: Unlucky for some, but the thirteenth Treehouse of Horror shows that some of the magic was still there. "Send in the Clones" in an inspired story and – as we near number one spot – the trend of entertaining characters carrying stories rather than vice-versa becomes readily apparent. The imagery of the Island of Dr Hibbert is also very strong, but the second story not only glamorises gun violence, it also steals a premise from eleven years earlier. Two out of three ain't bad, though.
14. "Treehouse of Horror XXV"
Fittingly for such a big milestone, the 25th Treehouse of Horror works as a fine-tuned microcosm for the changing face of the Simpsons' Halloween anthology. Parodies, again, are the name of the game and "A Clockwork Yellow" is one of their better efforts. Bart going to Hell, surprisingly, took this long – and it doesn't disappoint, with gruesome gags aplenty. "The Others" is also a neat, knowing nod for classic fans, which is nice. A terrific effort all round.
13. "Treehouse of Horror VIII"
Following on from such a brilliant run of "Treehouse of Horror" episodes in the mid-to-late '90s, VIII feels like a slight letdown, but it's not without its moments. Homer – at his most obtuse – carries "The Homega Man" and its paper-thin premise. He also gets the best moments in "Fly vs. Fly" and "Easy Bake Coven", but the former lacks Jeff Goldblum and the latter feels like, for better or worse, a more restrained Halloween effort after previous years shambled onto the scene. A solid effort, if not a great one from The Simpsons' Golden Age.
12. "Treehouse of Horror III"
Probably the most disappointing of the early Treehouse of Horrors, though an average season four Simpsons episode is still better than most shows ever produced. "King Homer" may be beautifully animated, but it rarely strays from full-on parody, and, while" "Clown Without Pity" features one of the show's most unsettling images in a knife-wielding Krusty the Clown doll, it doesn't really bring the laughs (cursed frogurt aside). The final segment, "Dial Z for Zombies" bring you guessed it, zombies into the Treehouse of Horror fore. Except the shambling undead will be covered in far funnier and fateful Treehouse of Horrors further down the line.
11. "Treehouse of Horror XII"
Season 13 really marked the point where the show reached such a downturn that it was seen as the end of many fans' love affair with the longest-running animated show in history. "Treehouse of Horror XII", though, is a strong start to the season. Gypsies curses, Pierce Brosnan playing a knockoff HAL, and a half-baked Harry Potter parody (saved by the serpentine Smithers) all come together to form an episode that is a bit all over the place thematically, but still proved the writers weren't (and, frankly, still aren't) as creatively bankrupt as many would have you believe.
10. "Treehouse of Horror XIV"
A kinda meh Frink story aside, this is a great collection, and well worthy of a spot in the top 10. Homer taking up the mantle of the Grim Reaper, and trying to fool God, is hilarious as it is dark. Milhouse and Bart getting a watch that stops time is perhaps the least scary Halloween story to date up to this point, but it still makes for a genuinely intriguing plot based around the subservient blue-haired best friend of Bart. Fun fact: This is also the first Treehouse of Horror to use a "Treehouse of Horror" title card in the actual episode – and it's painted with Homer's blood.
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9. "Treehouse of Horror XVIII"
"Treehouse of Horror XVIII" is a love letter to the show's past. Not only is it a fitting tribute to The Simpsons Halloween canon, with neat spins on well-established narratives, it has some fantastic references for long-time fans of the show, too. The Kodos/Homer shower scene is awkward as hell and you'll be laughing throughout, "Mr. and Mrs. Simpson" is a parody that lets the action and Marge's chemistry with Homer do the talking, and "Heck House" is joyfully anarchic, finally shining a spooky light on Springfield's kids. Don't let the season fool you, this is just as good as the classics.
8. "Treehouse of Horror XV"
"Treehouse of Horror XV" is the best Simpsons Halloween episode in the last 15 years. It's a sorry state of affairs that over half the show's output has been relegated to constant comparisons to its older, funnier brother, but "XV" proves it still has jokes and scary scenarios in abundance. Flanders steals the show with his futile attempts to stop Homer from dying; the Jack the Ripper parody has enough of that sweet, sweet Simpsons flavour to keep it fresh, and Homer *ahem* entering Mr. Burns through a shrunk-down ship is just as silly as you'd imagine.
7. "Treehouse of Horror II"
God bless Bonerland. The second serving of Treehouse of Horror mines its Twilight Zone influences to good effect as Bart's mind-bending powers steal the show with multiple alternative history test answers about the good ol' US of A. Homer's misuse of the monkey paw is only made funnier by the kicker that his last wish being a turkey sandwich, one that he curses for being a little dry. Oh, the humanity. Mr. Burns' robot slave story, though, is barely played for laughs and stops this episode from cracking the top five.
6. "Treehouse of Horror IV"
While "Bart Simpson's Dracula" and "Terror at 5 ½" feet rarely stray away from tried and tested material – including a William Shatner Twilight Zone episode – it's Homer's deal with the Devil that generates the most laughs and raises it from a very good Treehouse of Horror to an outstanding one. It certainly stakes (ahem) a claim for the best one-shot Halloween story in the show's history; Flanders as the Devil is a genius concept and the animation – including the Devil's Fantasia-style flourish – is up there with the show's very best. Lionel Hutz, though, steals the show. He's at his most brilliantly incapable here – and proves the format works best when it leans on Springfield and its characters rather than real-world horror influences.
5. "Treehouse of Horror VII"
The best seventh instalment of a beloved franchise since Rocky 7: Adrian's Revenge, "Treehouse of Horror VII" does away with its framing device altogether to craft an episode packed with some of the show's best, most ghoulish work. Misdirection a-plenty is the name of the game with both "The Thing and I" and "The Genesis Tub" but, while they both provide irony and scares in equal measure, it's Kang and Kodos' first full short in years that amazes. Filled with one-liners that are still used today, and a genuinely funny commentary on American politics, "Citizen Kang" is worthy of appearing on Treehouse of Horror's Mount Rushmore.
4. "Treehouse of Horror"
The original Treehouse of Horror, if not quite the best, still stands the test of time – and then some. "The Raven is," for my money, the definitive version of Edgar Allan Poe's poem. Elsewhere, "Bad Dream House" is a bit tame by later standards but features some delightfully spooky imagery and one of the show's greatest jokes: a haunted house that would rather implode than live with The Simpson family. The debut of Kang and Kodos is also wrapped up in a nice bait-and-switch story, in what would prove to be a longstanding Treehouse of Horror tradition.
3. "Treehouse of Horror X"
I know, I know. Putting something from post-season 10 this high up the list may amount to sacrilege for many a Simpsons stalwart, but "Treehouse of Horror X" deserves it. Being one of the most consistently fun (and funny) episodes isn't enough for you? There's Homer accidentally spilling the beans on Ned's death, a madcap Y2K story, and a campy comic book caper to boot. All in all, this well-rounded anthology proved The Simpsons hadn't missed a step in the Halloween department as its lustre began to fade.
2. "Treehouse of Horror VI"
The sixth Treehouse of Horror not only had some of the most inventive imagery found in any Halloween spin-off, it carries with it a playful, brighter tone that puts it head and shoulders above most episodes, old and new. "Attack of the 50ft Eyesores" and "Homer3" showcase Homer's selfish arrogance in a way that sees him get an entertaining comeuppance and, in case you thought things were getting too light, Groundskeeper Willie's there to give you the heebie-jeebies in a Nightmare on Elm Street homage. This episode is, Halloween or otherwise, a classic. It even comes with some great advice: "Do not touch – Willie."
1. "Treehouse of Horror V"
Simply put, this is the best Treehouse of Horror. The love and care put into "The Shinning," with its litany of Kubrickian nods, would ordinarily be enough to elevate it to greatness on its own, but every story is filled with belly laughs and increasingly gory deaths. Groundkeeper Willie's trio of axe-related deaths will still make you laugh, two decades later, as will Moe playfully poking at his brain matter, Homer leaving Grandpa at the gas station, Skinner's groan-worthy murderous puns, and many, many more. If you watch this and don't think it's the best, I owe you a Coke.