Matt Groening’s iconic cartoon TV sitcom The Simpsons has been alive and running since 1989, with each episode following the lives of a dysfunctional yellow family in the animated town of Springfield.
Despite the fact these characters never age or suffer permanent damage from their (mis)adventures, The Simpsons still sticks to a loose overarching narrative across its episodes. The only exception is their annual Halloween special “Treehouse of Horror” episodes.
As of this writing, there have been 32 total “Treehouse of Horror” episodes. Here’s our pick for the best of the lot and why they stand out from the rest.
10. Treehouse of Horror XIII (Season 14)
The fourteenth season of The Simpsons gave us another “Treehouse of Horror” episode that’s split into three short stories (as they all are).
The first story is a parody of the sci-fi comedy Multiplicity, where Homer discovers his new hammock can produce clones of himself. One is morbidly obese; one has a huge head; one wears thick glasses, and one is… Peter Griffin from Family Guy?
The second story follows Lisa on a gun control crusade, and the third story takes place on “The Island of Lost Souls” ran by Dr. Hibbert. There, Marge is transformed into a giant blue panther and Homer treks the land looking for a cure. (A spoof of The Island of Dr. Moreau!)
9. Treehouse of Horror X (Season 11)
Kang and Kodos—the show’s recurring alien couple—introduces this episode, which references Doctor Who, I Know What You Did Last Summer, and Battlestar Galactica.
In “I Know What You Diddily-Iddily-Did,” Marge accidently kills Ned Flanders with her car, who then plagues her with the message “I know what you did” written in blood.
In the second story, Lisa is given super strength and Bart the power of elasticity, and in the third story, a computer virus spreads throughout the globe as Homer blags his way on board a ship reserved for humanity’s “best and brightest” by pretending to be a famous pianist.
Fans can agree that the quality of The Simpsons began to dwindle somewhere between the 9th and 14th seasons, so this episode marks one of the final great “Treehouse of Horror” episodes.
8. Treehouse of Horror IX (Season 10)
Who knew hair could be homicidal? In season 10’s “Treehouse of Horror,” Springfield’s petty criminal Snake is executed and vows to kill Apu, Moe, and Bart in return—the three witnesses to his crime.
He achieves this through his hair, which is made into a toupée and transplanted onto Homer. Like Remi controlling Linguini in Ratatouille, Snake’s hair takes over Homer’s body and starts a murderous rage.
Next up, viewers are thrown into the live-action world of Live with Kelly and Ryan when Bart and Lisa are transported inside their television set. This sounds kind of fun… until they find themselves in the violent world of Itchy & Scratchy.
Lastly, Maggie’s first tooth comes through as a fang, and later: tentacles. As it turns out, she’s the daughter of Kang, who Marge had an affair with… This stuff just gets weirder and weirder!
7. Treehouse of Horror VIII (Season 9)
At first, Homer is heartbroken to find he’s the only survivor of a neutron bomb, but quickly rejoices at his freedom from laws and money. That is, until a bunch of mutants find him dancing naked in the church and subsequently hunt him down.
In “Fly vs. Fly,” Bart enters a teleporter with a fly in the hopes of merging and becoming a flying superhero—but ends up disfigured with the tiny body of an insect. This is a reference to the 1958 horror movie The Fly (later remade by David Cronenberg in 1986).
The third story takes place in 1649, where Marge and her sisters are accused of witchcraft and chucked off a cliff. This seems a silly way to deem someone a witch, for if they truly were one, they’d only fly back up for revenge—and that’s exactly what Marge does.
6. Treehouse of Horror V (Season 6)
“No TV and no beer make Homer go crazy!”
Homer scribbles all over the walls. In this parody of the infamous horror movie The Shining, Mr. Burns cuts off the cable and confiscates all the beer from haunted lodge. The Simpsons are supposed to be taking care of the place, so no Duff obviously makes Homer go insane.
In the next short, Homer accidently turns a toaster into a time machine and goes back to prehistoric times. As Doc Brown would say in Back to the Future, even the slightest change in history could “create a time paradox, the result of which could cause a chain reaction that would unravel the very fabric of the space-time continuum.”
As it happens, this one change leads Ned Flanders to become ruler of the world. And lastly, in “Nightmare Cafeteria,” the school starts swapping out their Grade F meat for children…
5. Treehouse of Horror II (Season 3)
The second ever “Treehouse of Horror” episode was pretty great. It’s split into three, but they’re all part of the same story: when Bart, Homer, and Lisa eat too much Halloween candy, they each have nightmares.
Bart dreams he has the omniscient power to read minds and control objects, which makes the whole town fear him. Homer buys a cursed monkey hand in Lisa’s nightmare, which grants the owner four wishes but at a horrifying price.
Homer becomes a grave digger in his own nightmare, but his incompetence leads Mr. Burns to build a robot worker. Homer’s brain is accidently transplanted into the robot, so he ends up just as terrible as the human version.
The Twilight Zone was a big inspiration for this episode, parodying its “A Small Talent for War” and “It’s a Good Life” episodes.
4. Treehouse of Horror IV (Season 5)
Mr. Burns is Gary Oldman’s Count Dracula from Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula. Bart meets him after falling down the “Super Fun Happy Slide” (which leads to anywhere but fun), and is turned into one himself.
Before this, Homer sells his soul to the devil for a doughnut, who ironically turns out to be the holy Ned Flanders. The final bite of this “forbidden doughnut” grants Homer a spot in hell, but luckily he actually likes his punishment of being force-fed endless doughnuts.
The Twilight Zone is again referenced in the second story, where Bart spots a gremlin on the side of the bus that no one else can see. He’s sent away to an insane asylum, but just when he thinks he can rest, he’s tormented once again…
3. Treehouse of Horror VI (Season 7)
The Simpsons once again takes a dip into live-action with the sixth “Treehouse of Horror.” In fact, it also takes a dive into claymation… the creators really had fun with this one!
In “Homer3,” a portal throws Homer into a void of 3D animation and computer graphics. This surreal place turns out to be a kind of terrifying hell hole, where Homer’s whole existence is threatened. When this new universe collapses in on itself, Homer finds himself in our human world.
Before all this goes down, Groundskeeper Willie begins terrorizing children in their dreams, only for them to wake up and find the injuries still there. Also, the giant Lard Lad statue comes to life and storms Springfield, along with a bunch of other angry awakened sculptures.
2. Treehouse of Horror I (Season 2)
The very first “Treehouse of Horror” has to be on this list somewhere, and it comes in at an impressive second place!
The first installment of this annual episode tradition is what started the three-part structure of all the Halloween specials to come—stories that Marge warns audiences are very scary. In Bart’s treehouse, he and Lisa tell each other ghost stories one Halloween night… stories that don’t seem to scare anyone but an eavesdropping Homer.
The first is “Bad Dream House,” where the family nabs a mansion for cheap, only to find that the walls bleed and a voice booms for them all to kill each other.
Next up, Kang and Kodos make their first appearance in the show, beaming the family into their spaceship to fatten them up and eat them. The episode closes off with a poetic twist, as Lisa recites “The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe.
1. Treehouse of Horror VII (Season 8)
It turns out that Bart has an evil twin brother who’s been hiding in the attic all along—or, at least, for this episode anyway.
Hugo offers an explanation for the huge scar on the side of Bart’s stomach, but Dr. Hibbert realizes the twins were mixed up at birth—Bart is really the pure evil child who should’ve been locked away.
In “The Genesis Tub,” Lisa conducts an experiment using cola and her baby tooth, inadvertently creating a whole mini-civilization in a petri dish. These little beings consider Lisa to be God and Bart the Devil, miniaturizing Lisa down into their world.
Kang and Kodos appear yet again in the third storyline and decide to run for President using the identities of Bill Clinton and Bob Dole. Homer is left to save the day, which of course he doesn’t, and America is subsequently enslaved by the aliens. You had one job, Homer!