The Simpsons is known for prodding at pop culture, but its skewers are at their sharpest every October, when the show airs its annual Treehouse of Horror anthology. These episodes have become a Halloween tradition, allowing writers and animators a Purge-style free pass to maim, murder and otherwise humiliate the citizens of Springfield. With three off-the-wall segments in every Treehouse, there have been more than a few horror movie parodies in the show’s decades-long run. We’ve narrowed The Simpsons’ many slasher send-ups down to just its 10 best.
Episode: “Treehouse of Horror XV”
Ned Flanders might seem like an odd substitute for Christopher Walken in a riff on Stephen King’s The Dead Zone, but he’s the perfect character to bestow with the power to see how someone will die. Similarly, it might seem like we’ve spoiled Homer’s fate with the picture above, but it wouldn’t be Halloween without a goofy twist ending.
Ned: “Homer, stay away from the nuclear plant.”
Homer: “Fine, I’ll never go back… starting tomorrow. Today is Lenny’s birthday and they’re having ice cream cake.”
Ned: “But you’re gonna kill us all!”
Homer: “But ice cream cake!”
Episode: “Treehouse of Horror I”
Airing in 1990, the very first Treehouse segment is a fun pastiche of haunted house flicks like Poltergeist and The Amityville Horror. It’s got some of the awkward timing issues and animation kinks you’d expect from a second season episode, but here those quirks work in its favor.
Marge: “I’m not going to live in a house of evil just to save a few dollars.”
Homer: “Don’t be so stubborn! We’re not talking about a few dollars, we’re talking about a few thousand dollars!”
Episode: “Treehouse of Horror X”
After years of undue torture at the hands of Homer, the Simpsons cap it off by accidentally running over their neighboreeno Ned Flanders—though if you’re familiar with I Know What You Did Last Summer, it’s no surprise when Ned returns for vengeance. It’s common for Ned to be cast as an unlikely villain in Treehouse episodes, but his manslaughter almost makes you root for him to give Homer’s noggin a floggin’. The ending is a bit of a letdown, but the segment more than makes up for it with the morbid Weekend at Bernies shenanigans in the opening minutes.
Homer: “Okay Marge, you hide in the abandoned amusement park; Lisa, the pet cemetery; Bart, spooky roller disco; and I’ll go skinny dipping in that lake where the sexy teens were killed 100 years ago tonight.”
Episode: “Treehouse of Horror VI”
One of the best parts of any Treehouse parody is seeing how legendary movie monsters graft to the world of The Simpsons. In this case, Groundskeeper Willie is an uncanny stand-in for the iconic Freddy Krueger. A killer still haunts the lethal nightmares of children, only now there’s more lawn equipment and bagpipes. And plaid. Lots of plaid.
Lisa: “Bart, don’t you realize what this means? The next time we fall asleep, we could die!”
Grandpa: “Eh, welcome to my world.” [snores]
Episode: “Treehouse of Horror IV”
You could argue that this segment holds up better than the source material. Whereas Francis Ford Coppola’s uneven take on Bram Stoker’s Dracula suffers from wooden performances by Winona Ryder and Keanu Reeves, The Simpsons has no such problem. Oldman, Langella, Lugosi and Nielsen be damned—there is no more perfect Dracula than Mr. Burns.
Homer: “Oooh, punch!”
Lisa: [sniffs] “Ew, dad, this is blood!”
Homer: “Correction—free blood.”
Episode: “Treehouse of Horror III“
Even in an age where zombies are about as fresh as a reanimated corpse, The Simpsons manages to wring fresh blood from a withered trope. Highlights include Bart’s farcical incantations, the questionable murder of zombie Ned Flanders and the undead’s fruitless search for the brains supposedly housed inside Homer’s skull.
Marge: “Homer, did you barricade the door?!”
Homer: “Why? Oh, the zombies. No.”
Episode: “Treehouse of Horror VIII“
Waking up in a lifeless Omega Man/28 Days Later hellscape would be a nightmare for most, but it’s paradise for Homer. You rarely get the chance to see the brighter side of being the sole survivor of a nuclear holocaust; not only can you watch Chris Farley movies in a theater all by yourself, but you get to dance naked in church without fear of reprisal. Well, unless you count the skin-eating mutants.
[reading a comic, eating a hot dog]
Comic Book Guy: “But Aquaman, you cannot marry a woman without gills. You’re from two different worlds!”
[sees missile rushing towards him]
Comic Book Guy: “Oh, I’ve wasted my life.”
Episode: “Treehouse of Horror IV“
In another sharp translation, Bart’s ride to class is stalked by a gremlin who threatens to tear the school bus apart. The commitment to the specifics of the old Twilight Zone episode (and movie)—which took place on a plane—is especially enjoyable, culminating in the blowout of an inexplicably pressurized bus interior.
Principal Skinner: “Hello, Simpson. I’m riding the bus today because Mother took my car keys to punish me for talking to a woman on the phone. She was right to do it.”
Episode: “Treehouse of Horror V“
Beyond the kooky gags and lampoons, the visuals of Treehouse episodes are almost always top-notch. There’s an incredible amount of work put into segments like “The Shinning,” which has an extra “n” for legal reasons. From the opening helicopter shot to Maggie’s blocks spelling out “REDRUM” to the frigid closing scene, nearly every aspect of the segment evokes Stanley Kubrick’s classic adaptation. Minus the actual “shining” part.
Groundskeeper Willie: “If yer da’ goes gaga, ye just use that ‘Shin’ of yours tae call me and I’ll come a-runnin’. But don’t be readin’ my mind between four an’ five! That’s Willie’s time!”
Episode: “Treehouse of Horror III“
Though the murderous Krusty doll at the center of this piece is yet another slant on a Twilight Zone episode (and maybe an old Stephen King story), the origin is irrelevant when the end product is so memorable. The hilarious bit that bounces between Homer and the shopkeeper at the House of Evil is one of comedy’s all-time classic scenes. The ending, which sees a mechanic reveal the doll’s Good/Evil switch in a casual Charles Bronson drawl, is perfect in its logical absurdity. The quintessential Treehouse segment.
Shopkeeper: “Take this object, but beware it carries a terrible curse.”
Homer: “Ooh, that’s bad.”
Shopkeeper: “But it comes with a free frogurt!”
Homer: “That’s good!”
Shopkeeper: “The frogurt is also cursed.”
Homer: “That’s bad.”
Shopkeeper: “But you get your choice of topping!”
Homer: “That’s good!”
Shopkeeper: “The toppings contain potassium benzoate.”
Homer: [blank stare]
Shopkeeper: “That’s bad.”
Homer: “Can I go now?”