As someone who is allergic to peanuts, and therefore all of the good Halloween candy, my favourite part of Halloween is watching 23 seasons and counting of The Simpsons Halloween Special, better known as Treehouse of Horror. For your Halloween viewing pleasure, my husband and I have watched all 23 episodes over the past few weeks and assigned each one a score out of 10. Our scores were then amalgamated to reflect a more general opinion and experience. We even hid our scores until the end so we wouldn’t be influenced by each other – it was intense. Now, from number 23 to number 1:
With “E.T., Go Home”, “Mr. & Mrs. Simpson” and “Heck House”, the 19th season’s Halloween special has the worst showing with a score of 5.25, barely passable.
The season 17th season has a weak start with “B.I.: Bartificial Intelligence” and “Survival of the Fattest” and a mediocre finish with “I’ve Grown a Costume on Your Face”, a story line that has only one good joke in Nelson being too poor for a proper Lone Ranger costume and everyone consequently mistaking him for a racoon.
Treehouse of Horror IX, featuring “Hell Toupée”, “The Terror of Tiny Toon” and “Starship Poopers”, has its moments and is fairly nostalgic, coming from the 10th season, but is overall without distinction.
Treehouse of Horror XI, appearing two seasons later in the 12th, shares similar characteristics with “G-G-Ghost D-D-Dad”, “Scary Tales Can Come True” and “Night of the Dolphin”.
Treehouse of Horror XVII, coming from a more recent 18th season is weak throughout with no memorable jokes in “Married to the Blob”, “You Gotta Know When to Golem” or “The Day the Earth Looked Stupid”. It also features a few too many celebrity voices and characters for a fan of the classics.
Treehouse of Horror XXI, of season 22, seams quite uninspired with a barely watchable “War and Pieces”, “Master and Cadaver”, which is only funny because it reminded me of a friend whom had a similar problem with his sunglasses at the cottage and “Tweenlight”, which is, sadly, the funniest.
Treehouse of Horror VII wants to be a classic of the 8th season, but falls short. With “The Thing and I”, the one where Bart has a removed, conjoined twin, Hugo, “ The Genesis Tub”, where Lisa accidently creates a microscopic civilization as a science project and “Citizen Kang”, where Kang and Kodos overtake the impending 1996 election and enslave humanity. Although I do enjoy the “pigeon-rat” and the second story is amusing, albeit ultimately unresolved, it gets a low rating from me for being a touch too topical to stand the test of time and an even lower rating from my husband because he, “has never liked Hugo”.
Treehouse of Horror XIX pulls for ever more recent satire with more timely political humour in the intro (Homer trying to vote for Obama but voting for McCain multiple times instead), “Untitled Robot Parody”, which is based on transformers and takes place at Christmas, “How to Get Ahead in Dead-vertising”, which features its own Mad Men parody intro, and “It’s the Grand Pumpkin, Milhouse”, which I actually enjoy. Unfortunately, the last story is the only good one – it’s nice too see one that is actually Halloween themed, it’s been awhile.
Opening the 16th season with “The Ned Zone”, “Four Beheadings and a Funeral” and “In the Belly of the Boss”, Treehouse of Horror XV is entertaining, though lacking the festive Halloween overtone. Memorable moments are when, in the first story, Homer takes an exaggeratingly long time to die and ends up destroying the town just as Ned had envisioned, Wiggum’s eel-pie lust in the second story and Marge’s title being just “Marge” while the rest of the family gets proper titles (Captain, Science Officer and Security) and the reasoning behind why her uniform is so much more revealing in the third story.
Treehouse of Horror XII appears in the 13th season with “Hex and the City”, where a gypsy puts a curse on Homer, the only funny bit being when Homer refuses to apologize, even though it would bring Bart back to life, “House of Whacks”, where the family upgrades their house to a 2001: A Space Oddyssey-esque “Ultrahouse” computer voiced by Pierce Brosnan, which is, of its own, a 9 out of 10, and “Wiz Kids”, which is an unappealing Harry Potter parody. Okay, maybe the vomiting frog “prince” and Smithers, as a snake, consuming a dead Mr. Burns while weeping are funny.
Last year’s Treehouse of Horror XXII doesn’t fare any better with “The Diving Bell and the Butterball”, “Dial D for Diddly” and “In the Na’Vi”. The first story, where Homer is bitten by a spider that paralyzes him and leaves him only able to communicate by gas and is then bitten by another spider that makes him a paralyzed Spiderman, able to shoot webs out of his rear, is outright hilarious.
However, the next two, Dexter and Avatar, respectively, are not great. Although, “In the Na’Vi” did lead my husband to try out “butter brickle” as a new nickname for me for a few months last winter.
Leaving the realm of satisfactory, this season’s Treehouse of Horror XXIII received a solid 7 from both my husband and I. “The Greatest Story Ever Holed” is funny and has impressive animation; “Un-Normal Activity” is pretty good for being a reference to modern pop culture, and “Bart and Homer’s Excellent Adventure” is decent, even upon second viewing.
From season 15, Treehouse of Horror XIV gets a B-. “Reaper Madness”, where Homer becomes the new Grim Reaper, is good; “Frinkenstein”, where Professor Frink’s father steals body parts from people to better his own reanimated corpse, is ok; and “Stop the World, I Want to Goof Off”, where Bart and Milhouse are able to stop time, gives a strong finish.
Treehouse of Horror II, is good, but not as good as you want the 3rd season special to be. It features stories titled simply “Lisa’s Nightmare”, “Bart’s Nightmare” and “Homer’s Nightmare”. “Lisa’s Nightmare” is about the monkey hand Homer buys in Morocco, which he confuses with Monaco, as I just noticed for the first time while watching it last night. It is a good classic. “Bart’s Nightmare” is in the formulaic weakest story position, and rightfully so. It is about Bart having the power to read people’s thought and punishing anyone who thinks negatively of him. “Homer’s Nightmare” is about Burns stealing Homer’s brain to build a Frankenstein’s Monster-esque model employee robot. These stories are amusing and fairly original, but not very scary.
Treehouse of Horror XIII of the 14th season is pretty good for being a later season Halloween special. Presenting “Send in the Clones”, a hilarious tale of the mishaps of cloning, resulting in Homer being “first off cliff” when a giant donut is used to bait the hoard into running off a cliff, “The Fright to Creep and Scare Harms”, where the town gives up their guns right before some famous gun-slinging cowboy zombies (and Kaiser Wilhelm II) descend on them, which is, somehow, not as good as it sounds, and “The Island of Dr. Hibbert”, a successful homage to one of my favourite books, The Island of Doctor Moreau.
Treehouse of Horror XX, the most recent good Treehouse of Horror, coming out of the 21st season, with the two strong stories, “Dial ‘M’ for Murder or Press ‘#’ to Return to Main Menu”, where Bart and Lisa “criss-cross” to kill each other’s teachers in beautiful Hitchcockian black and white, and “Don’t Have a Cow, Mankind”, a 28 Days Later style zombie story, starting with a beef-fed beef hamburger called Burger2. The third story, “There’s No Business Like Moe Business”, isn’t terrifically funny or frightening, but it is at least interesting and mostly original.
A strong finisher, season 9’s Treehouse of Horror VIII remains a classic. With stories like, “The HΩmega Man”, “Fly vs. Fly” and “Easy-Bake Coven” how could it not? In “The HΩmega Man”, a story that has always been close to my heart, France drops a neutron bomb on Springfield while Homer is touring bomb shelters. The family also survives due to the many layers of lead paint on the walls of the Simpson home. Some other notable citizens survive as mutants and, in the end, are killed by Marge and the children. It’s scary, it’s funny, it’s good! My favourite part has always been when Homer thinks he is the only man alive and reminisces about the family, picturing Bart, then Lisa swinging a bat to hit an invisible baseball, Marge misses the ball, “and the rest”, including Maggie, the T.V. and the pets just float by together.
In “Fly vs. Fly”, Homer picks up a teleporter from Professor Frink’s yard sale, which Bart uses to merge his DNA with that of a fly. It’s as disturbing today as it was when I saw the original airing at 9 years old and the teleporter related hi-jinx are amusing. “Easy-Bake Coven” is set in witch-trial times. Marge is found to be a witch, and hilarity ensues. In keeping with the Halloween theme that is often missing in the later seasons, this story is about the first Halloween. For me, the best part has been Homer’s illogical Halloween costume at the end as he unknowingly smashes his own windows because no one is there handing out candy.
The very first Treehouse of Horror, called “The Simpsons Halloween Special” then, is great (but it gets even better in later seasons). The stories are presented as being told by the children in the treehouse on Halloween, as Homer listens from outside. The first story, “Bad Dream House” is about the Simpsons moving into a haunted house, pretty standard Halloween stuff. In the second story, “Hungry are the Damned”, the family is abducted by aliens, which introduces the recurring Halloween characters, Kang and Kodos. The third story is Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven” with the family as characters. It is the reason why my generation knows the poem by heart. Of course, Homer is the only one who was scared by these stories.
In fifth place, Treehouse of Horror VI, season 7, contains the forgettable, “Attack of the 50-Foot Eyesores”, in which giant advertising mascots attack the town, and the masterful “Nightmare on Evergreen Terrace” and “Homer3”. It really is a shame that the first story is so terrible because the second and third are 10 out of 10 stories in their own right. “Nightmare on Evergreen Terrace” is an obvious parody where Groundskeeper Willie kills children in their dreams and is actually a little unnerving if you don’t remember how it ends. It has classic lines like “Do not touch Willie. Good advice” and is the origin of “lousy Smarch weather”. Now, let me just say, back in 1995, Homer3 blew my mind! Having just gotten a family computer the previous summer and the Nintendo 64 still being two Christmases away, this 3D masterpiece took my breath away. The most amazing part is, it still looks great 17 years later.
Tied for third place, Treehouse of Horror IV from season 5 was an instant classic. Actually scary, actually funny and not referencing celebrities or movies made the previous year, it had the formula to stay good after nearly two decades. “The Devil and Homer Simpson” is the one where Homer sells his sole to The Devil Flanders for a donut. Upon finding a loophole in the contract, and after Homer spending the day in a pretty scary Hell the family inexplicable hires the terrible lawyer, Lionel Hutz to defend him in court. Through a romantic message written by Homer to Marge on their wedding day, the Jury of the Damned rules that Marge is legal owner of Homer’s sole. The Devil Flanders then puts the ill-gotten donut forever on his head.
“Terror at 5 ½ Feet” is the one where Bart is the only one who can see a gremlin destroying the school bus as it takes him to school. “Bart Simpson’s Dracula” is the best of the three. It is the one where Burns is a vampire and invites the family to his house in Pennsylvania, Homer says, “vampires are make-believe, like elves, gremlins, and Eskimos” and after pulling the lever for the super happy fun slide, because why not, Bart is captured and turned into a vampire as well. Homer and Lisa kill Burns in an attempt to kill the head vampire and find out that Marge is the head vampire. Best part:
Treehouse of Horror X, or the last good one, is from season 11. It is the one with “I Know What You Diddily-Iddily-Did”, where “Homer forgot to put the fog lights in” causing Marge to hit Flanders with the car just after he’d been attacked by a werewolf, “Desperately Xeeking Xena”, where Bart and Lisa gain superpowers and have to rescue Lucy Lawless from Comic Book Guy, and “Life’s a Glitch, Then You Die”, where Homer, as the nuclear plant’s Y2K compliance officer, fixes every computer except his own, causing the technological apocalypse.
Lisa: Look at the “wonders” of the computer age now.
Homer: Wonders Lisa? Or blunders?
Lisa: I think that was implied by what I said.
Homer: Implied… Or implode?
Season 4’s Treehouse of Horror III, my husband’s personal favourite contains the classic stories “Clown Without Pity”, “King Homer” and “Dial ‘Z’ For Zombies”. “Clown Without Pity” is the perfect story where Homer wittingly buys Bart a cursed Krusty doll, after announcing that he forgot to get him a present. Best part:
“King Homer” is the King Kong parody, which certainly has its moments. Best part:
My husband’s all-time favourite, “Dial ‘Z’ For Zombies” is the one where Bart and Lisa accidently create Zombies with a book from the Library, but don’t worry, the car is fine. My husband’s favourite part’s are:
The part where Homer cocks a shotgun while yelling, “to the book depository!” isn’t bad either.
Tied for first place is my favourite Treehouse of Horror, the one I look forward to every year and the one where Willie gets an axe in the back in every story: Treehouse of Horror V. From season 6, this episode features the perfect, “The Shinning”, the amazing “Time and Punishment” and the one that I thought was too scary to watch as a child, “Nightmare Cafeteria”. “The Shinning” is a parody of The Shining, where, “usually the blood gets off at the second floor” and “no T.V. and no beer make Homer something, something”.
“Time and Punishment”, is the one where Homer gets his hand stuck in the toaster (twice) and breaks it. In trying to fix it, he accidently makes a time machines and struggles to get back to his own universe. This story contains a jewel of advice Grandpa gave to Homer on his wedding day so great that my brother routinely quotes it at weddings, “If you ever travel back in time, don’t step on anything. Because even the slightest change can alter the future in ways you can’t imagine.” It always upset me as a child that he didn’t stay in the perfect universe where the family was rich, Patty and Selma were dead and donuts rained from the sky. “Nightmare Cafeteria” is the one where the school kills and eats every kid they send to detention, which is eventually, every kid. Scary stuff.