Our top 10 Treehouse of Horror shorts from The Simpsons
Halloween is arguably the greatest holiday we have. Sure, Christmas can be lovely, but Halloween is pure, unadulterated joy. The horror, the scariness that envelops our streets and our psyches. Seriously, what’s not to love? It’s a time when we break out our favourite tales, horror movies, terrifying video games – we actively go out of our way to scare seven shades of shit out of ourselves, it’s just so unbelievably wonderful; TV shows, understandably, cannot help but join in on the freaky feast that is Halloween, and why should The Simpsons be any different? Back in the day when The Simpsons was based in semi-realism, the annual Treehouse of Horror episodes were a great excuse for the writers to get silly and put our beloved characters in situations that they would otherwise never find themselves in (well, before season 12 anyway).
For the first two years, the Treehouse of Horror episodes began with Marge appearing on stage to warn viewers that the episode would be scarier than the show’s usual content as she was, of course, the voice of reason (aside from Lisa) in the family. That was up until the third episode which replaced level-headed Marge for unthinking Homer, who does not waste time before insulting the viewers. Anyway, every year these gholish episodes are broken down into three unconnected segments with each one uniquely parodying a well known book, TV show, or movie (and we may occasionally get an original story or two). “Why the Hell are the Halloween episodes known as Treehouse of Horror?” I hear you ask. Well, my friends, the answer to that is simple – you see, in the first special Homer returns from a night of trick or treating and happens to overhear Bart and Lisa up in the treehouse telling each other stories that suit the chilling time of year. Deciding to listen in on their haunting tails, Homer ends up absolutely terrified by the end of the night. Thus the Treehouse of Horror was born.
The Simpsons’ Treehouse of Horror episodes
were are some of the greatest episodes in the show’s rich history; they not only provided us with countless laughs, but sometimes we actually got a genuine fright. Some of the stories told within were truly fucking terrifying (we’ll get to which ones later in the article). What we are here to do today is to take a look at our favourite segments (not episodes), and discuss precisely why we love them as we do. So, let’s get started, shall we?
10] THE RAVEN (THE SIMPSONS HALLOWEEN SPECIAL, 1990)
Back in season 2, when the show was still finding to find its ground, the writers made an attempt at a Halloween special and this segment was one of the results. It was simply called The Simpsons Halloween Special then, and told fairly simple horror tales, not delving too much into satire or parody (although still delving a little bit of course, it’s The Simpsons after all). It worked perfectly for the time, and The Raven was an interesting reimagining of Edgar Allan Poe’s classic poem, with Homer acting as the narrator and Bart as the Raven. Narrated by James Earl Jones, it told the poem in its entirety, while applying some Simpson-y humour to it. I just had to put this one on the list because it reminds us that simplicity can mean greatness.
9] I KNOW WHAT YOU DIDDLY-IDDLY-DID (TREEHOUSE OF HORROR X, 1999)
This one is perhaps the latest segment of this list, having aired in 1999, right at the edge where the classic Simpsons end and the modern Simpsons begin. Fortunately for all of us, it is more classic than modern, in some ways reminiscent of an older segment The Shinning. Both scary and funny at the same time, it imagines a story of the Simpson family accidentally killing Ned Flanders and trying to hide their guilt. It works perfectly as a parody of I Know What You Did Last Summer and as a standalone segment.
8] DIAL ‘Z’ FOR ZOMBIES (TREEHOUSE OF HORROR III, 1992)
This one’s certainly one of the most ‘classic’ segments that is always remembered as an exemplary Treehouse of Horror story. And that’s why it made my list. You can’t talk about the Simpsons’ Halloween tradition without remembering this segment, and what makes it important is that it is one of the few segments that aren’t a parody of a movie, a television series, a book or something in between. It is a standalone, unique story that screams Halloween in every sense of the word and shows that even without being satirical or making a parody, The Simpsons can still deliver a funny and spooky Halloween story.
7] HOMER³ (TREEHOUSE OF HORROR VI, 1995)
To say the least, it is definitely one of the most ambitious Treehouse segments, and THE most ambitious one for its time. Playing with the cartoon laws, this segment tells a story where Homer discovers a portal into the third dimension behind a bookcase in his house. It comes as a complete surprise to the viewer when he steps through and finds himself in a three-dimensional space, and, being a cartoon character, is rather bewildered at an extra dimension. As a kid I have always enjoyed watching this segment simply because of how different and unexpected it was. It even goes one step further when Homer eventually finds himself in the real world. The first thing he does here, of course, is visit an erotic pie shop.
6] NIGHTMARE CAFETERIA (TREEHOUSE OF HORROR V, 1994)
This is the one Treehouse segment that I will always remember as being really damn scary. In fact, if someone asked me which segment I found the most horror-genre like, this adaptation of Soylent Green would be #1 in my book, despite such gems as Nightmare on Evergreen Terrace, The Shinning and Terror at 5 1/2 Feet. The segment’s atmosphere is constantly brooding, as more and more children at school get eaten by the teachers. The unspoken tension is constantly there, and it climaxes in a super intense sequence that, in the end, turns out to be Bart’s dream, so there’s nothing to worry about. Well, except the gas that turns people inside out.
5] THE HΩMEGA MAN (TREEHOUSE OF HORROR VIII, 1997)
A little bit rude, a little bit blasphemous and a hell of a lot funny, this segment imagines a story where Homer is the only one to survive a neutron bomb blast. It is full of amazing gags, such as Homer dancing naked inside a church, running over a rock band thinking they’re zombies and punching a dead Kirk Van Houten in the face. And a special mention has to go to the zombie car that the mutants drive while chasing Homer. The segment’s resolution is quite simple and heartwarming as the whole family stands up against the mutants together, as they always do in the end.
4] TIME AND PUNISHMENT (TREEHOUSE OF HORROR V, 1994)
Vytas: In this one, The Simpsons make an attempt at an alternate timeline concept, and boy does it work. Employing the theoretical idea that even the smallest changes in the past can have a tremendous impact on the future the writers managed to deliver a ridiculously funny segment that sees Homer accidentally making a time machine from a toaster that repeatedly brings him back to the Jurassic period. The funniest bit comes when he wipes out the entire dinosaur population by sneezing, which results in a perfect future where he turns out to be a millionaire with an expensive house. The only downside of the reality is that doughnuts do not exist… or so Homer thinks as he hurries back in time screaming to fix things. Just as doughnuts begin falling from the sky and Marge remarks “It’s raining again”.
3] CITIZEN KANG (TREEHOUSE OF HORROR VII, 1996)
It was topical then, and it is topical now. Hell, it will always be topical. Aliens impersonating both candidates for the US president while providing satirical political commentary? You know The Simpsons wouldn’t pass up that opportunity. If they made an episode like this now it would actually be a one good episode of the modern Simpsons (which doesn’t happen too often).
2] THE DEVIL AND HOMER SIMPSON (TREEHOUSE OF HORROR IV, 1993)
One interesting aspect of many Treehouse of Horror segments is watching the characters we know and love being put into fantastical situations and seeing how they will behave. This time, in a completely plausible scenario, Homer sells his soul for a doughnut. He even fails to uphold a loophole he discovered on his own and accidentally eats the last bit of the “forbidden doughnut”. The devil, who ironically is Ned Flanders, uses this opportunity to send Homer to hell to await his trial. The punishments that Homer has to endure are incredibly comical but Homer stays loyal to his character, turning an ironic punishment of having to eat a million doughnuts into an enjoyable feast. The last bit of the segment with Homer’s head being turned into a doughnut is an image that sticks with you for years to come.
1] THE SHINNING (TREEHOUSE OF HORROR V, 1994)
One of the ‘classic’ Halloween segments that immediately pops into head, The Shinning for me is a near-flawless parody of Kubrick’s 80s horror film that highlights not only the best of what Treehouse of Horror has to offer, but also stands as a perfect example of the classic Simpsons’ ability to combine pop-culture references with unique comedy. And that’s why it snaches the #1 spot on the list. The way Homer is displayed here as a man that’s perpetually on edge due to the lack of TV and beer builds perfect tension, and even being a cartoon, the segment manages to be really damn scary, thanks in large part to the visuals. A stand-out shot for me is the family trying to escape Homer by running outside into the snow, while murderous father Simpson follows with an axe in his hands and the camera eerily zooms in from above. Just a masterful composition all around.
And that about concludes our list. What are your own favourite Treehouse of Horror segments? Let us know below and Happy Halloween!
Image credits: FOX