The Best of The Simpsons’ Treehouse of Horror Episodes

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Since the entirety of October is officially Halloween this year (shut up, you!), we at Psycho Drive-In have decided to attempt to fill the month with thirty-one recommendations for horror-related movies, comics, books, TV shows, toys, games, and everything in-between. It’s gonna be a grab-bag of goodies we feel you should be exposed to, whether you like it or not! But don’t expect your standard suggestions for Halloween fun, we’re digging into some stuff that we love in the hopes that you might make this October a little bit weirder than usual.

Weirder in a good way. Not like what’s going on outside in the hellscape of 2020.

The Simpsons (1989-) have been around for most of my life. I remember getting dolls of the characters for Christmas presents and plastic smaller versions with Burger King Kids’ Meals. Finally, my mom put a ban on “that ol’ Bart Simpson” when she heard a commercial for an inappropriate upcoming episode. The damage had already been done to my sense of humor, though, and The Simpsons is still on the air.

The show that was once considered so controversial that President George H.W. Bush said that American families needed to be “a lot more like the Waltons and a lot less like the Simpsons” has lasted for over three decades and can now be found on Disney +. The characters are still yellow, still have not aged a day, and still offer up an entertaining Halloween special!

The Simpsons’ Halloween Special debuted in the second season. At the beginning of the episode, Marge appealed to the at home audience and warned parents that the episode may be frightening or upsetting to children watching. The episode was inspired by 1950s horror comics and includes three segments or stories. The form of the first Halloween Special is still followed today. The special contains three stories that are unrelated, not canon to the show, and are often parodies of science fiction, horror, and fantasy films, television shows, novels, and short stories. This episode also was the debut of the aliens, Kodos and Kang, who also appear in every Halloween episode, although in varying degrees.

The Halloween episodes of The Simpsons are my favorites and are also the favorites of many of fans, but some hit the mark better than others. The following are my favorite episodes that any horror fan will enjoy!

1. The Simpsons’ Halloween Special (Season 2, Episode 3; Originally Aired 1990)

Not surprisingly, the very first Halloween episode is the best! Bart, Lisa, and Maggie sit in the treehouse on Halloween night while Bart and Lisa try to outdo each other by telling spooky stories. This will set the tone and bar for all other Halloween episodes. The first segment “Bad Dream House” parodies the classic horror films The Amityville Horror (1979) and Poltergeist (1982). The Simpsons move into a beautiful home but can only afford it because it is haunted! The house is an entity and tries to scare away the Simpsons and even tries to trick them into killing each other. Marge confronts the home and the house destroys itself instead of agreeing to live in harmony with the Simpsons!

The second segment, “Hungry are the Damned,” is a parody of the classic (and one of my personal favorites) The Twilight Zone (1959) episode “To Serve Man.” This segment introduces us to Kodos and Kang, a pair of aliens that bring the Simpsons aboard their spaceship and feed them constantly while traveling to their home planet, Rigel IV. The Simpsons accuse them of fattening them up to eat and the aliens finally return them home after becoming disgusted with their mistrust.

Lastly, Lisa reads the classic Edgar Allen Poe poem “The Raven.” With Bart as the raven, Homer as the lead character of the poem, Marge as Lenore, and James Earl Jones narrating, this is a great way to get kids to understand the meaning of the poem, plus, it is funny as hell!

2. The Simpsons’ Halloween Special II (Season 3, Episode 7; Originally Aired 1991)

The episode starts with Marge reminding parents that she had warned them the previous year about the special. This time, she warns that the episode is going to be scarier than the first, but jokingly says, “Oh well, if you didn’t listen to me last time, you’re not going to now!” Instead of the Simpsons children telling stories, Lisa, Bart, and Homer have nightmares from eating too much Halloween candy.

The first segment, Lisa’s nightmare, “The Monkey’s Paw” is based on the W.W. Jacobs’ short story of the same name. The Simpsons visit Morocco and buy a severed monkey’s paw. The paw grants wishes which all backfire. This is a great segment because it makes a lot of fun of the Simpsons franchise.

The second segment, Bart’s nightmare, “The Bart Zone,” is based on another classic The Twilight Zone episode title “It’s a Good Life.” In this segment, the entire town lives in fear as Bart has the power to read the minds of everyone and can change reality if he does not like what people think. Just like the source material, he even turns someone into a Jack-in-the-Box! “It’s a Good Life” was also recreated in Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983) and was Nancy Cartwright’s (voice of Bart Simpson) debut film.

In the third segment, Homer’s nightmare, “If I Only had a Brain,” Mr. Burns has decided to use Homer’s brain to power a robotic ultimate worker. Unfortunately, the worker begins to act like Homer and completely backfires. This is a hilarious take on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

3. The Simpsons’ Halloween Special IV (Season 5, Episode 5; Originally Aired 1993)

This time, the opening and introduction to each of the three segments of the episode are parodies of Night Gallery (1970).

In the first segment, The Devil and Homer Simpson, a parody of the film The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941), Homer proclaims he would sell his soul for a doughnut. The Devil, who turns out to be Flanders, makes Homer sign over a contract exchanging his soul for a doughnut. Homer thinks he can outsmart the devil by not finishing the doughnut. Of course, Homer’s self-discipline does not last long.

The next segment, “Terror at 5 ½ Feet,” parodies the most famous episode of The Twilight Zone, “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” an episode that once again was remade in Twilight Zone: The Movie. In this version, Bart has had a nightmare of the school bus wrecking. The next morning, Bart sees a gremlin on the school bus, but no one believes him.

In “Bart Simpson’s Dracula,” an obvious parody of Dracula (1992) with nods to The Lost Boys (1987), the Simpsons are invited to Mr. Burns’ mansion in Pennsylvania. Mr. Burns turns Bart into a vampire who in turn transforms his friends once they return home. In order to return everyone to normal, the head vampire must be killed.

4. The Simpsons’ Halloween Special V (Season 6, Episode 6; Originally Aired 1994)

If the very first The Simpsons Halloween Special is the ultimate best, this is a close second. Not only are the jokes and references to horror movies on point, but the writers really build suspense. Of course, the cartoon is not frightening, but you are left on the edge of your seat to see what will happen next.

This episode marks the last time that we see tombstones with funny names or Halloween puns during the opening theme. It is also the first time that there is no bookend wrap-around form holding the segments together, which allows for more time during each segment. We do still get a warning from Marge who says that the episode is so gory that Congress will not allow it to be aired, a comment on the censorship and ratings Congress was attaching to video games at the time.

The first segment, “The Shinning,” is based on Stephen King’s The Shining. This time Homer is driven mad by the lack of beer and television as the family try to survive acting as caretakers for Mr. Burns’ haunted lodge.

In “Time and Punishment,” a reference to Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment and a parody of the Ray Bradbury short story “A Sound of Thunder,” Homer makes modifications to the toaster he broke which allow him to travel through time. Each time he travels back in time, he falls victim to the Butterfly Effect and kills some bug, plant, or animal resulting in a changed future. During this segment, we are treated to a cameo by Peabody and Sherman from The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show (1959) and references to Jurassic Park (1993). James Earl Jones makes also makes another super brief guest appearance.

The final segment takes the focus away from Homer and places it back on Bart in “Nightmare Cafeteria,” a reference to the short-lived television show Nightmare Café (1992) and a parody of Soylent Green (1973). In this segment, Lunchlady Doris is forced to use Grade F meat and Principal Skinner is plagued with an overcrowded detention hall. When Jimbo Jones trips Lunchlady Doris, spilling stew all over him, Skinner comes up with a solution to solve both problems. Lunchlady Doris cooks the students in detention while Skinner and the teachers become addicted to the entrees.

5. The Simpsons’ Treehouse of Horror XVI (Season 17, Episode 4; Originally Aired 2005)

It is tempting to suggest only watching the first five of The Simpsons’ Halloween Specials and, even though, they are quite entertaining, I feel that would be lazy writing. Outside from the first five Halloween Specials, The Simpsons’ Treehouse of Horror XVI is a great installment to the Halloween episodes.

By this time, the specials have been titled “Treehouse of Horror,” a reference to the first Halloween special and the only one set in the treehouse. The renaming started with the 13th Halloween special.

This episode starts with “B.I. Bartificial Intelligence,” a parody of A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001). In this segment, Bart is in a coma and Marge and Homer replace him with a robot boy that is the perfect son. When he finally awakens, Bart feels that he is no match for the robot and Homer agrees. Bart is taken to the woods where he finds a group of abandon robots. He steals their parts and makes himself a cyborg large enough to destroy the robot son. Homer wakes up to discover this is just a dream, but he is actually possessed. Although I enjoyed this segment, it would have been stronger without the tag at the end about a possessed Homer. If anything, it should have been a nightmare that a possessed Bart had. This tag seems a disjointed attempt to make sense of the segment, which the Halloween specials do not do.

The other two segments are why I like this episode so much. In “Survival of the Fattest,” a parody of Richard Connell’s short story “The Most Dangerous Game,” Homer and several of the men of Springfield are invited to Mr. Burns’ mansion to go hunting. They do not realize, however, that Mr. Burns will be hunting them and the hunt will be broadcast on national television! Terry Bradshaw makes a cameo in this one.

The final segment, “I’ve Grown a Costume on Your Face” is a parody of The Twilight Zone episode “The Masks.” The citizens of Springfield attend a costume contest and the winner is a witch. Turns out, she actually is a witch and her award is rescinded. The witch puts a spell that turns each citizen into whatever their costume is. Bart becomes a real werewolf the runs around eating rats, Dr. Hibbert turns into a vampire that carts of a gorilla Grampa Simpson, and Lisa changes into Albert Einstein and tries to use her brain to turn everyone back.

The end of the episode makes fun of the “very special episode” of sitcoms past and Dennis Rodman makes a cameo. It is a funny spoof that makes you wonder what would happen if the costume you picked were real and what it says about your character.

The Simpsons’ Halloween Specials/Treehouse of Horror episodes are some of the best episodes of the show. They reflect the best of the best and keep flesh blood pumped into the cartoon. Disney + has all of them packaged in a nice Simpsons Halloween Collection. If you are like me, you have a lot of classics and new films to watch this month in preparation for Halloween. If you want to watch some spooky and fun Simpsons episodes, but do not have time to watch the entire collection and feel over whelmed by all the choices, you cannot go wrong with the episodes I have mentioned here. They will not only entertain with some of the best work of The Simpsons, but they will return the nostalgia of a childhood from the 1990s and rev you up for some horror movie watching!

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