The Simpsons‘ annual Treehouse of Horror special is our favorite sign that Halloween is almost here. The 30th season’s Treehouse of Horror was the 643rd episode of the legendary animated series on Fox. They’re still making these! Can one truly make a definitive ranking of 29 episodes that span three decades of TV? Probably not. But we got darn close. Each hilarious Halloween horror story was judged on its originality, spookiness, and humor. Disagree with our ranking? Tell us your top five episodes in the comments. Yes, the comments: the most terrifying place on the internet.
29) Season 27
Later seasons of The Simpsons suffer from similar problems. Some of it feels tired. They try to use an old standard gag for Treehouse of Horror episodes by changing the opening animation, but there isn’t a real reason to do so. It just looks like an old Nickelodeon show. This episode gets our pick for the worst of the annual specials for two of its vignettes. One’s plot centers around Sideshow Bob finally killing Bart and being obsessed with his corpse. It is extremely dark and comes off more disturbing than funny or spooky. The final short story is a Godzilla parody and, while it ends strong with some meta-commentary about the entertainment industry, they have all their white actors (who play white characters) doing Japanese accents. It was 2015 y’all. Just a little too late for that.
28) Season 29
This episode opens with a CGI Butterfinger joke that really makes you feel like it’s 2002, but not in a great way. There are two by-the-book parodies of The Exorcist and Coraline. Neither are great, but they aren’t bad. The third story is about Homer eating himself. It is very disturbing. The episode also features Mario Batali only months before accusations of his sexual harassment and misconduct arose, which makes the rewatch of this episode even more cringy.
27) Season 25
This episode starts with a tribute to the films of Guillermo Del Toro, but quickly loses steam on a too long Cat in the Hat homage. The special also features a story where Bart’s head has to be sewn on to Lisa’s body, which delivers some of the weakest jokes of any short the series has done. It’s too bad because the last story is a parody of the 1932 horror classic Freaks, which is well done and one of the better parodies of the later years.
26) Season 23
Season 23’s Treehouse of Horror just doesn’t have enough horror. Parodies of Avatar and 127 Hours make the Halloween special not feel scary enough. The episode also has a very funny (albeit very inappropriate) spoof of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. While it is pitch perfect, it isn’t really horror. The only even remotely scary segment is a shot-for-shot parody of the Dexter opening credits, but with Ned Flanders. It’s very good, but is also light on the horror.
25) Season 28
The show’s 600th episode starts on a high note with a couch gag that parodies the original Planet of the Apes if the apes were all sofas. The episode seems to have an apocalyptic theme as it starts with parodies of the Hunger Games, Mad Max, and Waterworld, but then goes into a story where Lisa’s imaginary friend murders people. The last sketch is not good (and also not scary). It follows Bart as he joins the Kingsman. The only saving grace of this episode is it ends with a Shirley Bassey type song at the end which commemorates 600 episodes of The Simpsons and fits in line with a loose James Bond-esque vibe from the Kingsman parody.
24) Season 22
A shot-for-shot parody of the opening of The Office, but with Frankenstein, is the best part of this episode. This Treehouse of Horror features three parodies without one original vignette. The first mini-story is a fun parody of Jumanji. The third is an extremely hacky Twilight rip-off, which felt tired when this came out in 2010. The middle story is a parody of the 1980s Australian thriller, Dead Calm. While most American audiences probably don’t remember the source material, the sketch is true to the thriller’s form and is funny even if you haven’t seen Dead Calm.
23) Season 21
The opening of this episode features monster wives nagging their husbands, which takes you back to the ’90s in a bad way. The episode is saved with a fun Strangers on a Train re-telling and an impressively meta Sweeney Todd parody. The middle, however, drags with a story about people turning into zombies from hamburgers. Yuck.
22) Season 14
This episode brings back a dead Maude Flanders during a seance that will delight longtime fans of the show. The episode is otherwise just okay from start to finish. There is a story about Homer getting cloned and a good—but not inventive—parody which casts Dr. Hibert as Dr. Mirrow. The middle story is a misstep in The Simpsons’ usually politically progressive message. It features Lisa trying to ban guns in Springfield. But when Billy the Kid returns from the grave, the town cannot use their guns to defend themselves. The episode thus comes off as very pro-gun, which certainly didn’t age well.
21) Season 18
This Halloween special starts with a Blob parody in which Homer starts consuming everything in sight after eating an alien. It feels similar to a lot of the “Homer eats everything” plot lines that writers seem to fall back on in the series. There is also a plot where Bart comes into possession of the Golem of Prague. The episode ends with even more old school references like when Orson Welles pranks a 1930s Springfield with his infamous War of the Worlds broadcast. The Golem and War of the Worlds bits are fun because they don’t capitalize on recent horror stories or cliches like many of the other later Treehouses.
20) Season 13
This episode would be higher on our list if it wasn’t for a really disappointing Harry Potter parody. One iconic short features Pierce Brosnan playing the voice of the family’s new ‘super house’ who falls in love with Marge. There is also a now fairly politically incorrect short about a ‘gypsy’ fortune teller cursing Homer. The short starts very funny in a neighborhood of Springfield called ‘Ethnic Town,’ but loses stream fast after we meet the Romanian stereotype.
19) Season 24
The intro to season 24’s Treehouse takes place back when the Mayans were making their version of the calendar. The Simpsons have never been excellent about race—just ask Hari Kondabolu—and their treatment of the Mayans is really not great. They only squeak by with the gag because it is an ancient civilization and no one is left to blog about it. The middle of this episode falters with a Paranormal Activity sketch which leaves a lot to be desired. There is a really cool black hole story that is funny and innovative from start to finish. The special ends on a fairly one-note Back to the Future parody saved only by a joke involving Artie Ziff as Bart’s new dad who renames him Bartie Ziff. We support such a name change.
18) Season 16
Twilight Zone parodies have been a staple for the Treehouse of Horror shows over the years. In season 16, Ned can see how people will die and sees he is fated to kill Homer. It is a horror classic and features some great jokes. The second sketch has Lisa solving a Jack Ripper type string of murders. It is a very funny short which sadly doesn’t age as well as it could because they have Mo play a “Chinaman.” The last part of the episode depicts Maggie being shrunk into a pill, which feels a little played out now but was certainly more original when it first aired in 2005.
17) Season 15
Bart always seems to be running from death (or Death) in the Simpsons’ Halloween specials. This time it results in a Benny Hill-inspired montage before Homer kills the Grim Reaper, creating a world without death. Homer thus has to become death and is tasked with killing Marge. It is a great vignette. The two other stories include Professor Frink bringing back his dead father and a story where Bart gets a clock that stops time. Both are funny but fairly forgettable.
16) Season 20
The Simpsons often use political jokes in their Halloween specials with the subtext that nothing is scarier than a politician. Aired just before the 2008 presidential election, Treehouse takes this to the next level as the opening shows Homer voting for John McCain because of a rigged ballot. The episode takes a downturn with a rather blah Transformers parody. The second sketch starts as a Mad Men homage and turns into a story about Homer being paid by ad-execs to murder celebrities so they don’t have to pay them to star in commercials (dead people can star in commercials but don’t need money, I guess). The tale is bloody, funny, original, and has elements of satire that transcend straight parody. The episode ends with a cute nod to the Peanuts with “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Milhouse.”
15) Season 30
This year’s episode was remarkably well done compared to other modern-day Simpsons seasons. While they rely a little too much on parody rather than original stories, an opening in a haunted New England harbor town suggests a return to creativity. The first sketch features a good amount of meta-humor as the show is self-aware that their plant-themed Body Snatchers parody is played out. A pod people/iPod Apple commentary feels a little 2008, but they make up for it with two great parodies after: a well-done Split sketch and a Jurassic Park parody where old people and dinosaurs are spliced together delivering consistent laughs.
14) Season 19
This one begins with a middle-of-the-road ET depiction and a better-than-average Mr. and Ms. Smith parody, but the last vignette is what makes this episode place as high as it does. The sketch takes place in the local church’s Hell House and shows the consequences of sinning. It is spooky and original and contains great visual goofs.
13) Season 8
While many consider this episode a classic, the first vignette of Bart’s evil twin really is more scary than funny. The episode also features Lisa creating a tiny society that thinks she is their god (yas queen!). The last short, however, drags on far too long. The premise that aliens take over Bob Dole and Bill Clinton ages better than expected, but it’s just long. Nonetheless, this special has elements that have stood the test of time amongst Simpsons fans.
12) Season 12
13 years before Blackfish, this episode calls out Seaworld for being cruel to dolphins (continuing the trend that the Simpsons staff writers are clairvoyant). Lisa liberates their leader and dolphins take over the world. This special has a fairytale homage but does not have a single parody. It is much more creative than other episodes and features a classic short that has Homer trying to do one good deed to get into Heaven.
11) Season 3
The second-ever Treehouse of Horror gets a little too bogged down in the narrative device structure suggesting we are watching each member of the family’s bad dream. Later specials would forego this structure entirely. All three of the vignettes are fan favorites, but because of the structure, they have to unfold in specific ways. The best of the three is a Twilight Zone parody where Bart is a monster that forces the town to think happy thoughts. The episode ends with Homer loving and accepting his son, which is when Bart screamingly wakes from his nightmare. Comedy.
10) Season 17
This special opens with Kang and Kodos trying to ruin existence because a baseball game goes too long and threatens the Simpsons time slot. It’s this type of meta-humor that was sadly lost in some later seasons but puts this one in our top 10. This episode does have a Most Dangerous Game parody, but the other two shorts are original concepts. One shows Bart replaced by a robot. The final sketch has everyone turning into their costumes, possibly the best take on this television trope.
9) Season 11
Kang and Kodos host a 1970s-style live show in this season’s Treehouse. The first vignette follows a classic Simpsons structure that doesn’t often play well in the Halloween shorts. Starting in one place and moving quickly to two or three separate plots is a common Simpsons formula. This story condenses Weekend at Bernie’s-like antics when Marge hits Ned with her car. But the story quickly morphs into an I Know What You Did Last Summer parody and ends with werewolves—all in just minutes. Another short capitalizes on nerd humor when Bart and Lisa turn into superheroes and team up with Lucy Lawless who delivers the now iconic line, “I told you: I am not Xena. I am Lucy Lawless.” The episode ends with Homer causing Y2K, which looks pretty damn good looking back.
8) Season 9
Season 9’s Treehouse starts with a classic Simpsons’ trope: complaining about their own network Fox. In the opening, a Fox censor gets stabbed to death by the show’s audience rating. The first two shorts are good, but the last is truly great. The sketch features Marge as a real witch at the time of the Salem Witch Trials and gives a fake history of how trick-or-treating got started.
7) Season 6
This classic Treehouse begins with a pirate TV take-over, which fits perfectly into the tradition of meta jokes during the show’s first decade. The episode features two classic shorts: a Shining parody and a story about Homer turning the toaster into a time machine, causing him to constantly go back to stop himself from changing the future (which has become a popular meme) The Simpsons have done a lot of parodies, but the Shining is one of the best-constructed ones in the history of the show. The only less-than-amazing part is a story about the school cafeteria serving human meat, but the short ends in an iconic dance scene after the family has been physically turned inside out.
6) Season 26
The season 26 Treehouse is an impressive return to form. While many of the later seasons’ specials fail to capture the magic of the early seasons, this one truly rises to the occasion. The opening is like an old variety show, harkening back to early Treehouses. The first vignette is an original about Bart going to a school in Hell. The second is a parody of Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange. The film is referenced in countless episodes, but this is the first full parody. In it, Mo plays Alex and much of the feel of the 1971 film totally transfers. The episode ends with the Simpsons being visited by ghosts of their season 1 selves—old animation and all. It’s a super fun illusion for people who grew up with the original animation style.
5) Season 5
In this special episode, Homer sells his soul for a donut. The sketch is one of the best examples of what makes Treehouse of Horror great. The story fits with all the characters’ motivations but tells an outlandish and creepy story. This Treehouse also features a Twilight Zone parody where Bart sees a gremlin on the side of a bus. The last scene features a Vampire story. It is good, but not the most original, even all those years ago. The first segment is so good at interweaving characters that it shoved its way up to number five in our rankings (and in our hearts).
4) Season 10
The first short in this episode is a classic in which Snake gets executed and Homer has the criminal’s hair grafted onto his body. Not only does it have a powerful anti-death penalty message, but it is a great spoof of a classic horror trope. This episode also has one of the rare moments of live action in the series when a radioactive remote sucks Bart and Lisa into the TV. This one also has a fan favorite sketch that reveals Maggie is an alien. For the first time ever, fans got to hear her talk! Every vignette is smart and super memorable. One of the greatest. And I will fight you if you say otherwise.
3) Season 4
This is the last episode that really leans on a consistent framing device to make sense of why the sketches are happening. This one works, even if not needed. The three stories feature a haunted Krusty doll, a pseudo-homage to Pet Sematary that turns into a zombie tale, and an impressive King Kong parody. The black-and-white Kong featurette is packed with jokes every 15 seconds in true early Simpsons form. A high laughs-per-minute stat line is why this Treehouse of Horror is number three on our list!
2) Season 2
Season 2 featured the first-ever Treehouse of Horror. The episode centers around the kids telling each other scary stories in the Simpsons’ actual treehouse. A haunted house story ends with the house killing itself to get away from the dysfunctional yellow-skinned family. The episode features the first appearance of Kang and Kodos, who show up in almost every Halloween special to follow. They lead their own story about the family being abducted. But the reason this is truly one of the best episodes is the final story. Lisa reads Bart The Raven by and, without changing the words of the original poem, the animators made the story feel like a Simpsons story. It works perfectly within the framing device and shows the creativity of the early writers to use existing material without the need for cheap parody.
1) Season 7
This Treehouse of Horror has a perfectly executed parody, two original sketches, and just a touch of experimental meta-humor. The first sketch features logos and brand mascots coming to life. The sketch ends with the ads only going away if you don’t pay attention to them. It is a great commentary that has worked from 1995 until today. The second scene is a Nightmare on Elm Street parody, which contains one of the most quoted lines from any Treehouse of Horror: “lousy Smarch weather.” The strongest episode, like in many of the specials, is saved for last. Homer gets sucked into the third dimension, which manifests in CGI and then later, the real world. The only thing that has aged about this episode is the CGI. Otherwise, it is just as great of a watch today as when it first came out.