In spite of what you may think of the current state of “The Simpsons,” the fact remains that the show is a dynasty and the annual “Treehouse of Horror” episodes however bland or mediocre they have become are a tradition and one that garners good ratings for FOX every year. “Treehouse of Horror” began as a little nod to Halloween with spoofs of The Twilight Zone and classic urban legends and soon rocketed in to something of an event for the entire crew of The Simpsons to satirize and poke fun at classic horror movies to great episodes of The Twilight Zone. Zombies, King Kong, Robots, Monkeys Paws, Aliens, Witches, Frankenstein, haunted houses, nothing was off the table, and this allowed the creators of the series to throw a party every year for us horror fans to show us what they can do when they rode off the rails of the storyline and allowed for some fun to be had and blood to be shed.
Though none of the new installments have actual tree houses, the origin of the yearly gimmick began with “Treehouse of Horror” where Homer, deciding to scare Bart and Lisa, begins listening in on separate horror stories told by Bart and Lisa in a treehouse, both of whom tell the scariest stories they can think of in an attempt to scare each other. What begins as mocking laughter soon transformed in to Homer going back to bed that night realizing he couldn’t quite go back to sleep thanks to the effectiveness of a good horror story, properly told by two little children with a lot of imagination. While none of them are at all really disturbed by one another, Homer has learned that a good horror story can do wonders for inducing insomnia. Horror is best when imagination is at play, and “Treehouse of Horror” took what was a one and done little nod to Halloween and turned it in to its very own gimmick going balls to the wall every year devising some of the best moments in the series barnone.
Here are ten of our favorite moments from “Treehouse of Horror,” episodes brilliant, hilarious, and just plain memorable.
Dial Z for Zombie
If you can believe it, when I was a kid in spite of being such an avid hardcore viewer of “The Simpsons,” their take on zombies called “Dial Z for Zombie” actually inspired a nightmare or two. Before you laugh at me, my phobia of zombies was so bad when I was a boy that anything even remotely zombie related left me awake at night and looking over my shoulders. In either case “Treehouse of Horror III” is perhaps the series most entertaining episode with the most creative sketches and not a single chink in the armor. Not only is the set-up involving a Halloween party where Martin is punched in the stomach for dressing as Calliope while Ned induces a heart attack from Grampa after pretending to be a zombie utterly hysterical to this day (I’m chuckling as I’m writing this), but “Dial Z for Zombie” is an excellent little ditty.
Bart has to do a book report and when his report on Baby’s First Pop-Up Book isn’t accepted, he takes to the school’s barren occult section to look for a book. Little does he realize that he’s taken out a book of spells. Wanting to ward off the sadness of Lisa’s dead cat Snowball I, Bart insists they raise her from the dead. Kids, eh? Little does he know that they didn’t raise Snowball but have unleashed the throngs of the walking dead who are roaming around to feast on the brains of the living! “Dial Z for Zombie” is nothing but a barrage of hilarious one-liners, sharp gags, and some hilarious humor that will keep you glued to the screen from minute one. From Ned rejoicing at the presence of a relative he thought dead and realizing she’s a zombie much too late, to Krusty being eaten by Sideshow Mel, to Homer being rejected as a sacrifice for his family because the zombies can’t find any brains in his head, “Dial Z for Zombie” is one of the funniest segments of the series Halloween episodes.
Clown Without Pity
Paying tribute to one of the most famous episodes of “The Twilight Zone,” the writers of “The Simpsons” pull out all of the stops for their homage to “The Living Doll” involving a really demonic Krusty the Clown doll and Homer’s battle with it. Homer being the man that he is has forgotten Bart’s birthday and feels pressured to buy him something especially after Grampa rained cash on him thanks to the government much to his shock (“I didn’t earn it; I don’t need it; but if they miss one payment, I’ll raise HELL!”), and ends up at “House of Evil” where among many gadgets and trinkets he chooses the Krusty the Clown doll. In spite of being warned that the doll contains a terrible curse (That’s bad),
Homer takes it because it comes with a free Frogurt (That’s good!), of course the Frogurt is cursed, warns the shopkeeper (That’s Bad), but he insists he gets his choice of free topping (That’s good!). Nevertheless, in spite of warnings of the toppings containing Potassium (That’s bad by the way), Homer buys the doll and soon Krusty is on a rampage torturing Homer for no good reason, appearing in his bathtub and threatening to murder him with harpoons, butcher knives and even attempts to choke him to death on his pull string. The battle comes to an end when a simple solution is presented (That… seems oddly logical) and Krusty’s will is taken away as he lives life with Lisa’s Malibu Stacy. It’s a short but sweet little homage to Rod Serling.
The Devil and Homer Simpson
Of course the Devil is Ned Flanders, who else would it be? Insisting he’s taking the form of someone Homer recognizes, Homer does battle with the master of deception Lucifer when Homer declares he’d sell his soul for a donut after a tardiness at work means no donuts for the day. The devil takes advantage of this declaration offering his donut and insists that the minute he finishes it, his soul is his property. Homer, thinking he has the upper hand, refuses to finish it. One weak midnight snack trek sees Homer consuming the final portion of the Donut which calls the devil to collect once and for all!
Reducing him to a torture in hell involving donuts that goes awry for the poor horned one, Homer is taken to trial where Lionel Hutz bargains for his soul against a jury of folks like Lizzie Borden, Blackbeard, and the starting line-up of the 1976 Philadelphia Flyers (among many) who battle for poor Homer’s weak soul, all of which is drawn to a close by the devil who admits defeat but not without a catch. Homer’s head is turned in to the very thing he craves the most, and must hide inside as a slew of cops await his emergence with cups of coffee in tow. Is it any surprise Lucifer and Bart seemed to be good chums?
Bart Simpsons’ Dracula
As time went on “Treehouse of Horror” found its footing in the Halloween gimmick and went from a cute sometimes forgettable little tradition to mustering up some of the sickest twisted episodes of the entire season. Often times the writers went all out and reduced the show to some morbid humor a la Conan O’Brien who co-wrote Treehouse of Horror III. “Bart Simpsons’ Dracula” is yet another spoof of Francis Ford Coppola’s gothic Dracula adaptation. A gag that became very infamous in the nineties, “The Simpsons” take every single opportunity to spoof his film by adding their own twist to the story here. Utterly hilarious and yet a bit disturbing, folks all over Springfield are turning up dead without blood and puncture wounds on their necks.
It’s mummies! Of course, it’s the mummies faults as the skilled Police Force of the town deduce, burning up priceless artifacts to nip the problem in the bud. Simultaneously Mr. Burns is opening up a new blood bank and has invited the Simpsons over to his mansion in… Pennsylvania (boo!) to have some dinner. Also making it clear that they wash their necks beforehand. It’s only good manners, people! Lisa is of course suspect of Mr. Burns who appears with a lively shadow and invites the Simpsons to eat with a peculiar little blood tasting beverage.
Homer of course defends Burns insisting it’s free blood, so who cares? On inspection with the inept Bart, Lisa discovers Mr. Burns secret… laundry room… but then they discover his oddly out of place coffin room where they happen upon his diary and a slew of his minions. Bart, never one to shy away from a nice slide, is drawn back in to the vampire horde and turned. Lisa, convinced Bart is a vampire, learns of his nightly visits with the town’s children and seeks out to destroy Burns once and for all. With a funny surprise ending, and an homage to the Peanuts, this is one nice topper to a great episode. You also have to appreciate how the theaters in Springfield will give anyone who says they’re a vampire a free soda. That’s just good marketing.
Where do I begin even recounting this slice of fried gold? Where do I even start? Perhaps the implementing of the similar score from the Kubrick film? The prologue to the madness that begins with the family’s constant forgetfulness leading to the abandonment of poor grampa? Maybe Mr. Burns insistence on ridding the hotel of beer and television and wondering why the previous groundskeepers went mad. Or perhaps it’s mad Homer being dragged out of the freezer kicking and screaming by monsters including Pinhead, Freddy Krueger, and Jason? Homer’s insistence that no beer and no TV make Homer go Crazy.
Bart’s connection with Groundskeeper Willie who just can’t catch a break in the damn episode being axed in the back over and over. Or maybe Homer’s now famous catchphrase “Urge to kill rising… rising…” I don’t know. “The Shinning” is just a big bag of genius, sprinkled with brilliant, caked with pure hilarious, and it’s one of my favorite episodes of all time. It’s a self-aware segment that’s actually funnier because of its self-awareness.
Willie warns Bart to call it The Shinning and not The Shining or else they could get sued, not to mention Willie warning Bart to stay out of his head at a certain time (“That’s Willie’s time!”), and the Simpsons going for broke with Homer’s spoofing of Jack Nicholson’s famous door smashing where he constantly ends up in the wrong room (“Hi, David, I’m Grampa!”). I don’t know where to start or where to end without making this summary sound like a random string of sentences, but if you’re familiar with Kubrick’s masterpiece of a horror film, you’d do best to watch this masterful satire of Stephen King’s novel that is so funny it never lets you sit back and regain your bearings not even for a minute.
Nightmare on Evergreen Terrace
Only in “The Simpsons” can we view a simultaneous spoofing of master animator Tex Avery and Wes Craven’s eighties horror classic “A Nightmare on Elm Street” but lo and behold they did it and did it well! After a raucous dream sequence with Bart and Santa’s Little Helper, Bart is attacked in his dreams by a maniacal Groundskeeper Willie who attacks him with a garden rake. Barely making it out alive, Bart discovers that every kid in Springfield is experiencing their own run-ins with the dream demon, some of whom are being buffed in their dreams, while others are having their clothes torn to shreds. Being piss poor secret keepers, Bart and Lisa learn from their parents who the dream demon with the Scottish accent is that is terrorizing them.
He was a groundskeeper named Willie who had an unfortunate encounter with the boiler one night. During a parents teacher meeting during that lousy Smarch weather, Homer turns up the heat in spite of misreading a sign (“Don’t touch Willie! Good idea!”) and poor Willie is burnt to a crisp while waiting patiently during Ned’s frustration at his son eating two of the same meals for lunch and dinner. He vows of course to attack their children in their dreams.
After a rather shocking death of Martin who dies reciting latin while sleeping during a test, Bart and Lisa make it their mission to take down the demonic groundskeeper engaging in a war with him involving a mulcher, a set of bagpipes set to look like a tarantula, and Maggie coming to rescue at the last minute with her best weapon. With an inexplicable and confusing appearance by the actual Groundskeeper Willie in the finale, we’re left wondering what was a dream and what was just one big gag on the audience by the “Simpsons” writers.
Becoming one of the most famous moments in the history of the series and in the legacy of “Treehouse of Horror,” the writers at “The Simpsons” pay tribute to Rod Serling and “The Twilight Zone” by enlisting a satire of “Little Girl Lost.” This episode of course became most notable because it implemented the use of the (then) revolutionary computer animation while also showing us what a three dimensional Homer Simpson would look like before our very eyes. In order to really put yourself in the episode, you have to remember the context. Computer animation was still very new and expensive, so watching a beloved animated character in this format was humongous and quite amazing. For those of us who grew up with 2D traditional animation, this was quite a moment in the series, because we could only imagine what a three dimensional Homer Simpson would look like, and the writers made it so by offering up a look at a Homer Simpson in a different dimension… literally!
While not at all spooky, or morbid, the segment is their most ambitious to date sparking a hilarious spoof of “The Twilight Zone” where Homer is forced to endure a visit from Pattie and Selma. Anxious to escape their clutches he hides in a pocket dimension where he is lost and unable to escape. Pattie and Selma, deducing he’s disappeared in to fat air, Homer’s disembodied voice beckons their help and Professor Frink and a few noted officials like Wiggum and Dr. Hibbert, send Bart in to the dimension where Homer must experience three dimensional objects of mass and weight and find a way out. As a nice touch we also were able to see Bart in three dimensions as he watched in amazement spouting the awe inspiring response: “Cool, man!” Homer of course sends the dimension collapsing in on itself and is unable to be saved. Not remiss to keep us wondering, Homer is sent in to our world where he is at first horrified but finds his place at a local Erotic bakery where he’ll no doubt be comfortable. Ah, “The Simpsons” used to try once. Once.
This one is an often forgotten underrated gem in the “Treehouse of Horror” legacy since its a finisher to an already great episode featuring “The Shinning” and doesn’t take too much effort in being clever. But where it lacks in genius it makes up for in pure insanity as “The Simpsons” is turned in to a mad monster mash of cannibal teachers and a sick ending filled with gore and grue. In an effort to reduce the over crowding in detention in their school, Principal Skinner takes drastic measures in bring all of the detention seekers in to the cafeteria. Jimbo purposely trips the lunch lady and gets meat tenderizer all over himself.
Oddly enough he tastes delicious and to cure the school’s food problem, Jimbo is turned in to the next lunch. Uter, taking great pleasure in the Sloppy Jimbo’s served the next day is also lured in to the kitchen and goes missing. Thankfully though there’s a theme day the next lunch period involving German food and Utergraut. Soon enough Bart and Lisa begin to investigate the possibility that teachers in the school are turning their classmates in to delicacies especially since the faculty doesn’t mind they’re eating the school’s most annoying and disobedient student bodies. Soon enough the teachers become ravenous obese cannibals as the students around them go missing slowly.
As the numbers dwindle Bart, Lisa, and Milhouse go on the alert and the entire episode boils down to a stalk and chase as the drooling monstrous faculty begin chasing the nosy students down and Skinner confesses he’s anxious to eat Bart’s shorts. The episode comes to a clever closer as Bart begs this scenario to be a nightmare. He gets more than he bargains for when he awakes to the serenity of his house where he’s safe and sound. Except for that poisonous gas outside that turns people inside out, of course. There’s always a catch when it comes to “Treehouse of Horror,” isn’t there?
Terror at 5½ Feet
“Oh isn’t that cute? It’s trying to claw my eyes out.” Treehouse of Horror IV not only managed to offer up some of the best and more cleverly written segments for the series “Treehouse of Horror” episodes, but they also really did express a deep love for Rod Serling and his work in television and film. Beyond an “Outer Limits” homage in the opening involving Homer that oddly was cut from future versions on television, the show dived in to a whole “Night Gallery” homage as Bart–as Serling–introduced all of the show’s segments through odd paintings and morbid twisted galleries (“They’re dogs! And they’re playing poker!”).
After a horrifying nightmare, Bart happens upon his school bus. Despite all the obvious omens that signal a truly terrifying little bus ride to school, what starts as a mere demented trip involving Principal Skinner riding along thanks to his mom taking away his car, Bart happens to catch a creepy little gremlin messing around his school bus. Why doesn’t anyone else see him since they’re at ground level? Damned if I know, but sure enough the bus ride to school turns in to a bus ride to hell… to school, as Bart must convince everyone else that there is a little demon ruining the school bus potentially turning it in to a fatal accident and despite Homer’s intervening, manages to duel with the monster who takes every opportunity to torment him when the classmates believe Bart to be psychotic.
Like “Nightmare at 30000 Feet,” Bart may be going absolutely mad thanks to his constant experiences with lunatics on the way to school, and like Shatner, Bart chews the scenery while also taking on this seemingly menacing little devil. Like most of the segments in this annual episode, you can never be sure what the ending will entail, and the final scene involving a do gooder Ned Flanders and his fate as Bart rides off in to the booby hatch in an ambulette is something of a delicious little icing on a bloody cake.
Night of the Dolphin
In spite of the very twisted opening to “Treehouse of Horror XI” involving the Simpsons posing as the Munsters all of whom are mutilated by local villagers except for Lisa who walks off generally unscathed, the 2000 episode is not the best “Treehouse of Horror” of all time. “G-Ghost D-Dad” is a pretty bland and tedious little tale, while “Scary Tales Can Come True” is a notch above, but still not the best. Though I loved the George Cauldron gag. Topping off an otherwise mediocre entry, there’s “Night of the Dolphin” a take on the classic nature gone amok movies from the seventies that also riffs on “Jaws” and puts a funny twist on “Free Willy.” On their trip to the local Marine World, Lisa is most disturbed to find the beautiful dolphin Snorky to be generally abused and mistreated by the trainers and onlookers who all pile on him when the trainer offers the audience a chance to ride the dolphin.
Longing for the sea, Lisa does the only noble thing and releases him against the park’s efforts to shoot Snorky down. This of course may be connected to the local murders of swimmers who were all found with flipper bruises and blowhole burns that the police have attributed to rowdy teenagers. Snorky is actually the leader of the dolphins and has come back from the sea with an army to reclaim the land explaining that humans took the land away from the dolphins who were forced out on to the sea.
In spite of some hilarious gags involving a window wiper and Snorky’s first words that are a funny misleading joke, Snorky is of course one hell of a jerk and is bitterly intent on re-claiming the land from the humans. Homaging “The Birds,” the humans of Springfield are at first submissive, but soon decide to band together and fight back the dolphins. This all comes to a close when we learn the ultimate fate of man followed by a last word involving human bodies in the water, and Kang and Kodos looking on from space with mocking laughter. It wouldn’t be Halloween without our favorite aliens, would it?