Nobody does Halloween quite like The Simpsons. An iconic animated series dating back to late 1989, Matt Groening’s award-winning TV show has long held the monopoly on Halloween specials, cranking their famous Treehouse of Horror episodes once every season.
The Simpsons established the tradition in their second season, and fans have awaited seeing them every time the kids return to school, and jack-o-lanterns start lining the streets. From parodies of ‘80s slashers to humorous take-downs of Stephen King novels, Twilight Zone episodes, and Edgar Allan Poe short stories, check out some of the greatest Treehouse of Horror episodes to date, ranked from best to worst.
Treehouse of Horror V (Season 6, Episode 6)
For an untold number of Simpsons fans, “Treehouse of Horror V” remains the quintessential Treehouse of Horror episode. With an opening chapter parodying The Shining and two original segments comprising a time travel narrative and a nauseating cannibal story, it’s the perfect mixture of hard-earned laughs and genuine scares.
Loaded with quotable lines that will forever live rent-free in viewers’ minds, “Treehouse of Horror V” marks the crowning achievement in terms of Halloween-related episodes. Characterized by its creativity, suspense, and humor, it’s not only the greatest Treehouse of Horror episode, but one of the best Simpsons episodes ever produced.
Treehouse of Horror IV (Season 5, Episode 5)
Another fan-favorite episode that also ranks as one of the best Simpsons episodes put to television, “Treehouse of Horror IV” plays like a horror enthusiast’s ultimate fantasy. Unlike “Treehouse of Horror V,” it contains little in the way of original story, instead offering a bountiful selection of segments lampooning a combination of prominent horror films and more obscure supernatural movies (like 1941’s The Devil and Daniel Webster).
As well-rounded an episode as many of the early Treehouse of Horror specials, “Treehouse of Horror IV” might have the most impressive line-up of segments, each of which is adept at mocking its respective source material (The Twilight Zone and Bram Stoker’s Dracula). It’s an incredible feat in comedic parody, and an episode that deserves a watch every Halloween season.
Treehouse of Horror III (Season 4, Episode 5)
The key element that characterizes a truly fantastic Treehouse of Horror episode is whether all three segments stick the landing in terms of originality, humor, and horror. Like its later counterparts, “Treehouse of Horror III” checks off all of these telltale items, delighting in its ability to mock everything from classic monster movies like King Kong to contemporary slashers like Child’s Play.
As remarkable as the above-mentioned parodies are, it’s the final act of “Treehouse of Horror III” that makes the episode a must-watch for diehard Simpsons viewers. A loose parody of Return of the Living Dead, the segment sees the Simpson family battling hordes of zombies in Springfield after an accidental incantation unleashes the reanimated corpses from their grave. It might not be the first or last time The Simpsons have featured zombies in their episodes, but it’s still the best treatment of the flesh-devouring creatures seen in Treehouse of Horror so far.
Treehouse of Horror (Season 2, Episode 3)
Looking back, The Simpsons has grown from its meager beginnings by leaps and bounds. Kicking off its long-running Treehouse of Horror episodes with Season 2’s “Treehouse of Horror,” the inaugural Halloween special bears a somewhat cozier feel, holding little tonal or narrative similarity to any of the specials that came after.
Swapping scary stories in their backyard treehouse while gorging on Halloween candy, the Simpsons children share macabre tales involving a haunted house, an alien abduction, and a comedic retelling of Poe’s “The Raven.” As with all the best Treehouse of Horror episodes, the scary sections frighten, with the jokes well-timed and expertly delivered. Seeing the superior quality of the finished episode, it’s no wonder the name Treehouse of Horror became an ongoing tradition for The Simpsons over 30 years later.
Treehouse of Horror II (Season 3, Episode 7)
Given the high quality of the original Simpsons Halloween special, “Treehouse of Horror II” had some mighty big shoes to fill when delivering an episode as entertaining as the first “Treehouse of Horror.” Against all odds, the final product more that managed to live up to the hype, ushering in an episode as memorable as its predecessor.
With segments based on “The Monkey’s Paw,” The Twilight Zone’s “It’s a Good Life,” and Frankenstein, “Treehouse of Horror II” is a smorgasbord of horror staples. Infusing The Simpsons’ surreal brand of humor with its classic horror counterparts, resulting in a sublime episode.
Treehouse of Horror VIII (Season 9, Episode 4)
While The Simpsons made a habit of satirizing classic horror media in their earlier seasons, by the late ‘90s, the show had turned more of its attention towards mocking campier horror movies, as seen with “Treehouse of Horror VIII.” Parodying such cult films as The Omega Man and The Fly, The Simpsons breathed new life into their Treehouse of Horror product, looking past obvious parodic fodder like The Shining or Dracula.
Another episode with little to no apparent weaknesses, each segment in “Treehouse of Horror VIII” earns praise, with standout attention going to the opening Omega Man parody as well as the Salem-themed “Easy-Bake Coven.” In the former, the animators do an exceptional job bringing the post-apocalyptic landscape to life, following Homer’s responsibility-free adventures through the nuclear-ravaged Springfield. In the latter, The Simpsons demonstrate their gift at building fully-formed narratives of utter originality and sheer complexity.
Treehouse of Horror VI (Season 7, Episode 6)
“Treehouse of Horror VI” remains a well-loved episode for a number of reasons. First and foremost, the episode concludes with a first-rate animated sequence, which sees a 3D Homer wandering through live-action Los Angeles. Despite the marvels of that segment, most viewers tend to single out the episode’s take on A Nightmare on Elm Street for particular praise.
Casting Groundskeeper Willie in the role of vengeful serial killer Freddy Krueger, “Nightmare on Evergreen Terrace” acts as a brilliant send-up to Wes Craven’s most famous film – a tasteful blend of pitch-black dark humor and some grim horror. The other two chapters are also worth watching, although the final segment’s animation tends to hide the glaring weaknesses of its plot.
Treehouse of Horror VII (Season 8, Episode 1)
Given the focus of “Treehouse of Horror VII” on the 1996 Presidential Election, its topical discussions might seem dated. In a testament to The Simpsons’ timeless comedic antics, however, the special feels as fresh and inspired as it did in the mid ‘90s, offering three great tales of horror and sci-fi in true Treehouse of Horror fashion.
In “The Thing and I,” the showrunners excel at building an air of mystery surrounding the creature dwelling in the Simpsons’ attic. “The Genesis Tub” offers a strong central plot, but ends right when things should take off. But it’s “Citizen Kang” that most fans clamor to in “Treehouse of Horror VII,” the entire segment mocking the conventions of U.S. presidential elections through some outlandish political commentary. (“These candidates make me want to vomit in terror!”)
Treehouse of Horror X (Season 11, Episode 4)
Perhaps the last great Treehouse of Horror episode, “Treehouse of Horror X,” has a meager number of flaws. In particular, the second segment of the special – the superhero-themed “Desperately Xeeking Xena” – does little to measure up to the earlier horror heights set by previous Treehouse of Horror episodes.
Fortunately, the episode’s book-ending segments (the slasher-themed “I Know What You Diddily-Iddily-Did” and the Y2K-focused “Life's a Glitch, Then You Die”) redeems its middling second act. Casting Flanders as a vengeful undead specter made for an unexpected and hilarious twist, with the show’s exploration of Y2K playing to the topical paranoia that came with the end of the millennium. Though not quite as inspired as The Simpsons’ older Treehouse of Horror episodes, everything that came after makes this special seem like a treasured classic by comparison.
Treehouse of Horror XI (Season 12, Episode 1)
As the ‘90s drew to a close, the golden age for The Simpsons drew to a close, with most of the series’ seasons earning a polarizing response from staunch Simpsons supporters. Like the main series itself, Treehouse of Horror also began to take on a turn for the worse, the show churning out increasingly disappointing entries in the non-canonical horror series that most fans felt ambivalent about.
Still, not all later Treehouse of Horror episodes were horrible, with some segments continuing to stand out in their sheer creativity, humor, or horror elements. Case in point with “Treehouse of Horror XI,” whose concluding segment – the killer animal parody, “Night of the Dolphin” – elevates the entire episode into a thoroughly entertaining episode, even if the preceding two chapters are underwhelming at best.
Treehouse of Horror XIII (Season 14, Episode 1)
Like most Treehouse of Horror episodes within the past two decades, it’s a matter of preference whether viewers will enjoy an episode like “Treehouse of Horror XIII.” A far cry from the earlier Simpsons Halloween specials, the episode tends to go for shock value and juvenile jokes compared to its predecessors – albeit with plenty to love depending on audience members’ individual senses of humor.
While none of the three segments constitute “masterpieces” in any sense of the word, the first and third segments do a fine job parodying their respective source material (the clone-oriented sci-fi flick, Multiplicity, and H.G. Wells’ iconic horror sci-fi hybrid, The Island of Dr. Moreau). The episode’s secondary chapter, “The Fright to Creep and Scare Harms,” is also decent, albeit its short length and abrupt ending undermine its anti-firearm message.
Treehouse of Horror 20 (Season 21, Episode 4)
One of the best Treehouse of Horror episodes of the past 20 years, “Treehouse of Horror 20″’s opening chapter makes the single standout reason to watch this 2009 horror special alone. A deft parody of Alfred Hitchcock films, “Dial ‘M' for Murder or Press ‘#' to Return to Main Menu” follows Bart and Lisa in a black-and-white crime story enacting the plot of Strangers on a Train. (In the context of the episode, a psychotic Bart tries to kill Lisa for failing to murder Miss Krabappel).
With painstaking references paid to almost every one of the Master of Suspense’s films, the segment represents an extraordinary hodgepodge of easter eggs for Hitchcock buffs. Far from catering to Hitchcock fanatics alone, it also presents a central story everyone can understand, regardless of whether or not viewers have seen Psycho, Vertigo, or Strangers on a Train.
Treehouse of Horror XV (Season 16, Episode 1)
A so-so Treehouse of Horror installment in its entirety, not much stands out when it comes to “Treehouse of Horror XV.” On paper, every storyline the episode utilizes – from the Stephen King-driven “The Ned Zone” to the Sherlock Holmes spoof “Four Beheadings and a Funeral” – sound promising enough, but something or other gets muddled in its execution.
Perhaps the special’s strongest segment, “The Ned Zone” adequately turns King’s The Dead Zone on its head, building a tight comedic horror story. “Four Beheadings and a Funeral” has glimmers of brilliance, with the world-building and homages to Victorian history very well done. Some fans have also praised the Fantasy Voyage-themed “In the Belly of the Boss,” but its conventional plot and random song-and-dance ending seems like a rehash of “Treehouse of Horror V”’s far better “Nightmare Cafeteria.”
Treehouse of Horror XXIV (Season 25, Episode 2)
Another strong outing for The Simpsons, most viewers maintain divided opinions on which “Treehouse of Horror XXIV” stands out as best. More so than most recent additions to the Treehouse of Horror series, it’s a satisfying blend between off-kilter horror and more bizarre subject matter, referencing everything from Dr. Seuss to the ‘30s horror film, Freaks.
In addition to an easter egg-strewn opening credit sequence guest directed by Guillermo del Toro, “Treehouse of Horror XIV” features one truly incredible segment with “Oh, the Places You'll D'oh!,” a macabre take on The Cat on the Hat centered around the demented Fat in the Hat (a murdering, anarchistic Homer). The playful and imaginative segment, chock full of whimsical rhymes and shockingly dark jokes, shows that – despite being on TV for 30 years – The Simpsons still has some bite to it on occasion.
Treehouse of Horror XII (Season 13, Episode 1)
As mentioned, most of the later Treehouse of Horror episodes after 2000 have been met with a mixed response from viewers. As with many of these later installments, “Treehouse of Horror XII”’s abundant weaknesses tend to overshadow its few strengths, with only a single segment (“House of Whacks”) managing to leave a lasting impression on audiences.
A send-up to the 1977 horror film Demon Seed and Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, Pierce Brosnan appears in the episode as the suave, smooth-talking A.I. system controlling the Simpsons household. The idea of a sentient computer falling in love with a human character (in this case, Marge) feels a bit played out, but Brosnan’s silky voice helped sell the entire plot, paving the way for an endearing horror segment that remains popular among Treehouse of Horror’s catalog of episodes.
Richard Chachowski is an entertainment and travel writer who has written for such publications as Wealth of Geeks, Looper, Screen Rant, Fangoria, and Sportskeeda, among many others. He received his BA from The College of New Jersey and has been a professional writer since 2020. His geeky areas of interest include Star Wars, travel writing, horror, video games, comic books, literature, and animation.
Richard has been an avid consumer of movies, television, books, and pop culture since he was four-years-old. Raised on a diverse mix of Clint Eastwood Westerns, Star Wars, sci-fi and horror films, Alan Moore comics, and Stephen King novels, he eventually turned his various passions into a creative outlet, writing about film, television, literature, comics, and gaming for his high school and college newspapers. A traveling enthusiast, Richard has also managed to create a career out of journeying abroad, venturing to such awe-inspiring places as the Sonoran Desert of Mexico, the rainforests of Costa Rica, and the scenic coastline of Haiti. Upon graduating from TCNJ, Richard set his sights on a career in journalism, writing extensively about the art of traveling and the entertainment medium for various online publications. When he’s not busy making his way through The Criterion Collection, he can be found either reading or planning a trip somewhere (preferably someplace with a scenic hiking trail).