Treehouse of Horror!

The Simpsons at their Spookiest Best!
October 14, 2011

The Simpsons At Their Spookiest Best!


People have lots of opinions about what the best TV show of all time is, but for me, it is pretty much a no-brainer: simply put, there has never been a better television program than The Simpsons. Yeah, we can complain about the decline in quality over the years, but I do not think there has ever been - or ever will be again - a show that has had the impact and longevity that this show has had.

Every year, I would get pumped for the fall, because that meant - among other things - new episodes of The Simpsons. And I would get SUPER-PUMPED every Halloween, because that meant that I got a new installment of the TREEHOUSE OF HORROR. . .which HAVE to be among the greatest horror specials in the history of ANY kind of media.

Over the years, the annual TREEHOUSE OF HORROR episode has turned into an inseparable aspect of the holiday itself - every year, we carve pumpkins, eat lots of candy, watch some old slasher movies and kick back with the latest non-canon adventures of Western Kentucky s favorite nuclear family (and the hundreds of equally memorable characters that populate their burgh.)

If there is a horror movie trope or cliche that has been invented, the Simpsons have probably parodied it in one of the TREEHOUSE OF HORROR episodes. To commemorate both the show and Halloween, I decided to carve (get it?) out my own list of my favorite TREEHOUSE OF HORROR stories, ranking what I consider to be the ten best vignettes of the show s golden years. Now, I know just how rabid Simpsons fanatics can be, so if your favorite story does not make the list (or worse, if I make a mild quotation error or something), please try to avoid going cuckoo-bananas: it's just my opinion, so feel free to add your two cents to the comment box below if you have any complaints, grievances or challenges. . .especially after that purple monkey dishwasher bit.

So without further ado, let us kick back, open up a can of corn nuts and soothe our jangled nerves with my list of the TEN GREATEST TREEHOUSE OF HORROR MOMENTS. . .EVER*!

*now with a free frogurt and your choice of toppings!

Terror at 5 1/2 Feet

Season V, Treehouse of Horror IV

The base parody for this vignette was an old Twilight Zone episode starring William Shatner as an airline passenger battling a destructive gremlin that, apparently, only he could see. If you ever caught the Twilight Zone Movie, you saw an update of that one featuring John Lithgow, which I believe was directed by George Miller - he of Road Warrior and Babe fame, if I am not mistaken. Anyway, since we already know the basic gist of the story, what makes this particular installment so fun is how it incorporates the pathos of so many Springfieldianites in what is a fairly subdued story arc. I guess my favorite scene in the vignette is when Bart tells Otto that there is a gremlin on the side of the bus, and he responds by shunting Hans Moleman (driving an AMC model Gremlin) off the road, resulting in a fiery explosion. There is also the teaser of the psycho boarding the bus (whom turns out to be Principal Skinner), as well as some really great exchanges between the Springfield Elementary kids - the bit about Martin s Wang Computers shirt, Milhouse talking about the dreaded rear admiral and of course, a rare exchange between Bart and Uter that I thought was really, really funny. That, and you have to LOVE the twist ending involving Ned (well, parts of him, anyway), don t you?

King Homer

Season IV, Treehouse of Horror III

King Kong has been parodied so many times now that it is really difficult to find a way to ape (yes, pun definitely intended) the film without feeling cliched and contrived. In this top-notch homage, however, the Simpsons writers find a way to turn one of the most recognized stories in all of film into something new and refreshing - by and large, by pretty much avoiding the main story of the source material altogether. As a kid, my favorite scene was when Homer ate the Shirley Temple doppelganger. . .I m not really sure why I thought that scene was so funny, but hey, that is just the kind of things kids think are funny, I suppose. There were plenty of other good bits too: Mr. Burns being unable to lob the gas grenade, Homer eating Lenny against his wishes, and the fact that Homer, on an all human diet, could not even get past the second story of the Empire State Building are all chortle-inducing scenes. I guess my favorite line would have to be Mr. Burns talking about Al Jolson running amuck in downtown Springfield. . . I never really understood the line as a kid, but now that I know who Al Jolson actually is, it is a pretty humorous line (as is the newspaper line that heralds the birth of Dick Cavett, too). That, and who doesn't enjoy seeing the Simpsons in classical, animated black and white, too?

The Shinning

Season VI, Treehouse of Horror V

At first glance, the idea of doing a parody of The Shining with the Simpsons brood does not really seem like it would translate into an excellent homage, but this is really a fantastic send up of one of the most popular horror flicks of all time. As a kid that really, really loved horror movies (then AND now), my favorite aspect of the vignette were the cameo appearances by Freddy, Jason and Pinhead. . .scenes that, for some reason, were shaved off the syndicated airings a couple of years later. I really liked the idea of Homer playing Jack Nicholson in this one - right down to his reiteration of the famous Here's Johnny line to incorporate the ENTIRE case of 60 Minutes, instead. That, and the story contains one of the single most hilarious, laugh-out-loud moments in the show s history: the scene where Homer makes crazy faces, sees himself in the mirror, shrieks, and passes out. If you ever feel your urge to kill rising, this is a downright tremendous episode to get you in a more amicable mood. . .especially if you are thinking about having chili that evening.

Homer's Nightmare

Season III, Treehouse of Horror II

There is a super obscure, early 70s horror movie out there called The Thing With Two Heads. Fundamentally, it is about an evil rich dude that is racist that has his head grafted unto the body of a black dude. It really is not a good movie by any stretch, but the fact that the Simpsons writers were able to turn the basic plot of that flick into a vignette is reason enough to include it on this countdown. The gist of the story is that Mr. Burns is basically Dr. Frankenstein, and he wants to build a robot that operates with a human mind. As soon as we see that the robot resembles a certain donut-eating, beer guzzling safety inspector, we know how this one is going to play out. There are some really great, macabre scenes in this one - I especially like the scene where Mr. Burns chastises Smithers for giving him an ice cream scoop to do brain surgery, and especially the scene where Mr. Burns slaps Homer's brain on his own noggin and proclaims that he looks like Davy Crockett. The M. Night style ending is pretty obvious, but it remains a very memorable - and in a lot of ways, legitimately creepy - entry into the universally beloved Treehouse of Horrors pantheon.
Dial Z For Zombies

Season IV, Treehouse of Horror III

What could be more awesome than a mishmash of The Simpsons and Night of the Living Dead? The answer, in short, is not very much, and this superb vignette proves that the only thing worse than a brain dead small town is an undead small town. The story begins with Bart and Lisa attempting to raise their cat from the dead, but unknowingly, they manage to resurrect ALL of the formerly deceased in the Springfield cemetery (although for Homer, he s just glad they did not wreck the car in the process). There are a lot of great sight gags in this one, from the over the top (the ruffians at Springfield Elementary playing kickball with Skinner s head) to some downright stellar deadpan lines (like when the zombies forego attacking Homer, since he apparently lacks brains). There are a lot of cameos in this one - well, I GUESS showing up as a flesh-craving cadaver counts as a cameo, anyway (although for the life of me, I still cannot figure out how Shakespeare and George Washington ended up getting buried in Springfield.) I guess my favorite part is the scene where Barney starts chewing an a severed arm. . .not because he has become one of the living dead, but just because he wants to fit in with everybody else. This vignette is pretty much everything that makes The Simpsons great - fan of the show or not, you really need to see this episode.

Nightmare on Evergreen Terrace

Season VII, Treehouse of Horror VI

Groundskeeper Willie has always been one of the creepier characters on The Simpsons, so who better to play a parody of Freddy Krueger than Springfield Elementary s already unnerving maintenance man? The episode serves as an homage to the beloved Nightmare on Elm Street series, and has a number of top-notch lines and moments - I suppose my absolute favorite is when Martin dies in class, and they accidentally uncover his corpse twice to the incredible dismay of the students. I also really like the exchange the kids have on the schoolyard regarding their communal nightmares - especially the character that says that he was run over by Willie on his floor buffer. Really, there is just so much to take in visually here that it is kind of hard to do it justice in a write-up. . .that, and how could we not pay respects to the vignette that forever stamped the term SMARCH into the American lexicon?

The Devil and Homer Simpson

Season V, Treehouse of Horror IV

It is such an obvious idea for a vignette that you would have to be a genius to think it up: a parody of The Devil and Daniel Webster, with Homer Simpson playing opposite Old Scratch. Although satirizing the source material really is not anything new, the Simpsons managed to take the standard plot and turn into an extremely funny, extremely memorable vignette that remains a fan favorite installment all these years later. The episode begins with Homer desiring a doughnut. In fact, he wants one so badly that he offers his soul to the devil in order to procure one. To Homer's surprise, the devil (who, apparently, is Ned Flanders) shows him and gives him said doughnut, but much to Satan (and our) shock, Homer finds a technicality that would allow him to temporarily maintain possession of his own soul. Of course, Homer being Homer, he forgets his own plan, consumes the doughnut and finds himself on trial against the Prince of Darkness, alongside a jury that consists of Benedict Arnold, Richard Nixon and most of the mid 1970s Philadelphia Flyers lineup. After a stint in purgatory (where he really seems to enjoy the eternal punishment of perpetually eating pastries), Homer ends up being saved by Marge, who as it turns out, is the legal owner of Homer s soul. Of course, this being a Halloween episode and all, Homer ends up receiving a punishment that is every bit as awful as being sent to Hell. . .and if you do not know what that punishment is, you really need to find this one on Hulu.

Clown Without Pity

Season IV, Treehouse of Horror III

So how many times has the killer doll shtick been used before? Well, this vignette takes one of the most done-to-death premises in all of fiction and manages to turn into one of the funniest eight minutes in Simpsons history. The premise is that Homer forgets Bart s birthday, so he ends up picking an evil doll at a forbidden shop as a last ditch opportunity to save face. That scene ALONE contains one of the all time great Simpsons bits, as Homer banters with the shop keep over the numerous caveats attached to the stores items - so although the product Homer buys is cursed, he at least gets a free frogurt - which despite being cursed, comes with his choice of toppings. Of course, the doll - modeled after Krusty the Clown - makes numerous homicidal attacks against Homer, including trying to drown him, yank out his tongue, and even harpoon him while he takes a bath. Although Homer s initial attempts to rid himself of the doll backfire, he ultimately figures out the defect with the doll all along had been that someone had set it from good to evil - and the vignette concludes with Homer basically making the doll his slave. Really, there are just so many great moments in this one, from the guy trying to get rid of hundreds of nude photos of Whoopi Goldberg to the quip Selma makes upon seeing Homer running naked through the house. And if you do not remember anything else from this episode, try to recall this: sodium benzoate is bad.

Nightmare Cafeteria

Season VI, Treehouse of Horror V

As far as Halloween episodes went, this one was about as far out there as The Simpsons got. This vignette is far and away the goriest and blackest humored of all of the Treehouse of Horrors yarns, and as a result, it remains one of the most equally adored and criticized of Simpsons stories. The basic premise here is that there are so many delinquents in Springfield Elementary that the faculty decides to cut costs by serving students as lunch. Bully Jimbo disappears, and the next day, Sloppy Jimbos are served in the cafeteria. Then, the German exchange student Uter disappears, and the school holds an entire week of Uterfest in the lunchroom (complete with the immortal Principal Skinner line where he pretty much gives away his plans to eat the rest of the children.) Bart and Lisa ultimately decide to fight back, but do they really stand a shot at overcoming the cannibalistic administrators and their gigantic blender, especially after Groundskeeper Willie and Milhouse get killed off? Yeah, do not hold your breath. And to make the vignette even MORE awesome, it is directly filled with what is possibly the greatest ending credits in Simpsons history, as the pun-filled spooky credits roll over footage of the family doing a song and dance number. . .only with their skin turned inside out.


Season VII, Treehouse of Horror VI

Coming up with a number one Treehouse of Horror vignette was no easy task, but at the end of the day, I decided to go with the one that wowed me the most when I first saw it. OK, computer generated animation is pretty much the standard these days, but back in 1995 (when the first Toy Story film was released), it was still a new and compelling direction for the art form to take. Getting a chance to see Homer - one of the most beloved two dimensional characters of all time - become a polygonal character was a pretty amazing sight to behold at the timeframe, and never ones to rest on gimmicky laurels, the vignette also contains a number of really funny character exchanges, too (like when Homer laments the fact that apparently, nobody has seen the movie Tron.) The climax of the episode is what made it really stand out to me, as the very last image of the vignette involved a 3D Homer exploring what appears to be our real-life world. . . A notion that terrifies him, until he realizes that he can pick up erotic themed cakes on pretty much any street corner in Los Angeles. Of all of the vignettes talked about in this article, I would say that THIS is the one that made my eyes widen the most. . .and for that very reason, I believe it deserves status as the best Simpsons Halloween mini-episode ever.

And so, that's my feeble list of my favorite TREEHOUSE OF HORROR moments. Your list probably differs, but this much, I think we can all agree upon: all of these old school Simpsons episodes are tremendous TV, and WELL worth going out of your way to catch this Halloween season. . .just as long as you don t have to punch Lenny in the back of the head to get to them, of course.


James Swift is the author of How I Survived Three Years: At a Two-Year Community College: A Junior Memoir of Epic Proportions and Mascara Contra Mascara: A Tale of Two Masks. He is currently a freelance writer living in the metro Atlanta area.
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