Everyone typically has their own Halloween season traditions. Some make candy apples, others carve pumpkins, and others watch scary movies. For my brother and I, it was watching the new Treehouse of Horror episode of The Simpsons once we were old enough to both handle and understand the content, while also spending time catching up on whatever Treehouse of Horror specials we weren’t yet born to see or were too young to watch at the time of their premiere. And throughout the years it’s been a great way to ring in the spooky month of fall.
The Simpsons “Treehouse of Horror” special has almost always been a thing for the show. It first premiered as episode three of Season 2 in October 1990. While other shows do Christmas specials or Thanksgiving episodes, The Simpsons does Halloween, and for the most part, it’s usually always lots of fun, blending creepy with funny in the best of ways.
Over the years, however, it’s become iconic and ingrained in our culture, as everything about The Simpsons is, and they’ve of course made countless parodies and references to classic books, TV shows, and films of or within the horror genre. Everything from The Twilight Zone to The Shining to Attack of the 50 Foot Woman to Coraline has been spoofed on a Treehouse of Horror bit. There was even one special year for Season 25 when Guillermo del Toro directed the opening, and incorporated at least 26 horror references into one three minute segment. So The Simpsons aren’t playing around when it comes to pulling in every bit of horror, sci-fi, fantasy, and just outright creepy element of story they can use for their Treehouse of Horror episodes.
While the special has become a key part of pop culture now, though, it was probably a little shocking for audiences when it first started. After all, The Simpsons have always been a little edgy with their jokes and references, even if a lot of it is pretty tame in comparison to many other adult animated programs today. But during a Treehouse of Horror episode, they pull no punches in terms of making the show scarier. There’s lots of gore, death, and some pretty eerie images that could frighten an audience, especially a younger audience.
At the beginning of the first few Treehouse of Horror episodes, Marge would come out at the beginning to address and warn the audience ahead of time. Eventually, these alerts from Marge went away, but they still make sure to make each opening distinct enough to where it’s clear from the get-go that this isn’t your average Simpsons episode, typically making it as bloody as possible. And even though there have been some non-frightening episodes among the bunch, that number is equally matched if not outnumbered by ones that can make your skin crawl while you’re having a good laugh.
This year marked the 29th Treehouse of Horror episode in Season 30. Every episode reliably has two things: three different stories and an appearance from Kang and Kodos. Sometimes episodes knock it out of the park with all three bits and other times only one if any stands out from the bunch. All I know is that they’re probably pretty difficult to put together, cramming three different beginnings, middles, and ends into one 22-minute show. Even the worst Treehouse of Horror is still a pretty admirable feat. So here they all are, ranked for your Halloween enjoyment.
29. Treehouse of Horror IX (Season 10, October 29, 1998)
Picking an episode to go at the very bottom of a ranking isn’t the easiest to do, but this episode just doesn’t really cut it for a Treehouse of Horror special. The segments are weak and nowhere near as funny as so many others. After Snake is executed, Homer gets his toupee and then is possessed by Snake so that he can get revenge on his enemies even in the afterlife. Bart and Lisa are stuck in an Itchy and Scratchy cartoon where Itchy and Scratchy try to kill them. And Maggie is actually the product of Marge and Kang? On their premises alone they sound interesting, but their execution is pretty unmemorable.
28. Treehouse of Horror XXI (Season 22, November 7, 2010)
Sometimes the openings on these episodes are more fun than the rest. Deciding to parody The Office’s opening is an interesting choice for introducing a Treehouse of Horror special, but it works really well. Not at all scary, but still a cool and different opening. That said, the episode itself falls flat. One tale plays into the Twilight craze of the time with Lisa crushing on a vampire, and it’s fine. Other than that, there’s not much going for it.
27. Treehouse of Horror XXII (Season 23, October 30, 2011)
This episode is all around strange, but it borders being good and just okay. There are some cool premises in it that just don’t really live up to what they’re trying to do. Sure it’s funny to see Homer become his own version of Spider-Man and communicate through farts, but it’s not really doing much else. The other two tales are a little better, where Ned becomes a serial killer and Bart travels to an alien planet, but I’m just not a fan.
26. Treehouse of Horror XIII (Season 14, November 3, 2002)
What begins pretty strong with a really great tale about multiple Homers becomes a little incoherent. Homer’s hammock continues to duplicate him, leading him to think he can use all of the Homers to do his different chores and responsibilities. Things get chaotic, however, which leads to the town deciding to get rid of the Homers by enticing them with donuts so that they jump over a cliff, which ends up attracting the real Homer to his death. It’s great. But the second tale engages in a bit of a messy and mixed message. After realizing the tragedies that can be caused by gun violence, Lisa bans guns totally, which then ends up causes more problems for the town when old outlaw gunslingers like Billy the Kid pop back up. And while “Hibberts Island” is an interesting and strange story, for the most part, it’s forgettable.
25. Treehouse of Horror XXVIIII (Season 30, October 21, 2018)
This most recent Treehouse of Horror episode is interesting because surprisingly, it’s the first of the specials to use a Jurassic Park premise. It seems that Mr. Burns would have wanted to cash in on “Geriatric Park” long ago. This tale definitely stands out amongst all the rest in the episode and is really fun because, of course, dinosaurs. But a retirement place where old people turn into dinosaurs? Now, that’s definitely a Treehouse of Horror.