The Simpsons may have changed a lot over the years – Ned Flanders has lost two wives, Smithers is openly gay, and Snowball II is now technically Snowball V – but the Treehouse of Horror anthology episodes have served as a terrifying touchstone for the series since way, way back in 1990(!). Ranking all 28 episodes was a toughie: do the latter-day Simpsons horror offerings stack up well to the 'classics'? Read on and find out… if you dare.
28. Treehouse of Horror 22
Worst. Treehouse of Horror. EVER. I don't enjoy actively hating on The Simpsons, but every segment here leaves a bad taste in the mouth. 7 minutes of fart jokes is bad enough, but the first vignette is also a cruel, niche parody of The Diving Bell and The Butterfly, a real-life, tragic story of locked-in syndrome. Flanders as a serial killer sounds like fun, but is delivered like terrible fan-fiction with a weirdly mean-spirited take on religion, and, yes, there's an Avatar parody with Bart having tentacle sex. Because that's exactly what we wanted.
27. Treehouse of Horror 19
You'd think someone on the Simpsons staff would do their research. Not only does this episode kick off with a skit surrounding a toy that's not what it seems, it also murders other toys. You're not suffering déjà vu, they've both been done before on the show. How to Get Ahead in Dead-vertising at least brings the traditional guts and gore, even if it's a lazy Mad Men parody. The Charlie Brown homage, however, manages to tick all the right nostalgia boxes, but this episode is filled with montages and corner-cuts everywhere. One to avoid.
26. Treehouse of Horror 27
Oof. It's always a bad sign when an episode is stalling for time three minutes in. It doesn't get much better from there. Dryhard is a try-hard Hunger Games parody about a drought. Apt, then, that it's running empty on jokes. BFF RIP is almost as painful to watch as the various murders Lisa's imaginary friend Rachel commits. And if you're expecting a funny and smart Bond parody from Moefinger, you'll be overjoyed to know all you're getting is a one-dimensional Kingsman parody. The Bond theme send-up, to celebrate 600 episodes, just about keeps this one from plummeting to the very depths of the Halloween canon.
25. Treehouse of Horror 16
The warning signs are there from the beginning. A 2-minute long preamble about how boring baseball is gives way to a trio of uninspiring and downright unfunny tales. Bartificial Intelligence seems to have been a case of come up with a crap pun first, a story second and Survival of the Fattest doesn't know whether it wants to have a jab at reality TV, FOX, or hunting (it fails at all three). At least I've Grown a Costume on Your Face is fun to look at, even if it comes packed with, in hindsight, one of the most awkward jokes in the show's history. You'll know it once you hear it.
24. Treehouse of Horror 26
I want to like this episode, I really do. It's just that homages and tributes to other properties have been done countless times up to this point in other episodes, and none amounted to a setup for a terrible joke and were as borderline offensive (what's up with those Japanese accents?) as Homerzilla. Sideshow Bob killing Bart isn't nearly as funny as you'd hope, and Telepaths of Glory is a pale imitation of Stretch Dude and Clobber Girl. Boo-urns.
23. Treehouse of Horror 28
The latest Halloween offering is the Simpsons equivalent of a well-worn jacket. It's comfortable, you know what you're getting, but you really want that looser, more garish-looking one from a few decades ago. This episode reads like a checklist of typical Treehouse of Horror segments: an old movie property? Check. Different animation styles on occasion? Check. Meta moments and callbacks? Double check. After 28 of these, the premise is wearing a little thin…
22. Treehouse of Horror 21
If the opening segment – War and Pieces, a fun frolic through board games past – was in any other episode further up the list, it'd make for an instant classic. It's just that the rest of the episode doesn't stack up. Master and Cadaver is a tired old plot that limps through its 7 minutes, and why the writers thought it'd be a good idea to ape Twilight, I'll never know.
21. Treehouse of Horror 17
This feels like an early-season Treehouse of Horror wrapped in modern-day sensibilities. But that's not quite the compliment it sounds. The stories cut to the chase far quicker than some of the show's later episodes but that still doesn't excuse the crude, shock humour more akin to Family Guy and meandering plots that don't go anywhere. There's only so many times you can watch Homer eat more Springfieldians in Married to the Blob, after all. However, the show's use of older influences, such as Golems and War of the Worlds, feel far more refreshing than they would have had this aired during the first 9 seasons.
20. Treehouse of Horror 9
Treehouse of Horror 9 is a strange beast. On one hand, it features a perfect fit with Itchy and Scratchy bringing the blood and guts, but, on the other it presents a show in the death throes of its most creatively fulfilling period. Hair Toupee is a fairly decent effort, if a little too reliant on a tertiary character, but Starship Poopers gives us a glimpse at a Simpsons future that relies heavily on guest stars and shock value. This being The Simpsons, it's still 22 minutes of great animated fare, it's just a middle-of-the-road Treehouse of Horror outing.
19. Treehouse of Horror 23
For all the talk about The Simpsons' switch to a more sterile HD look, this is one of the most gorgeous Treehouse of Horrors to date. The Greatest Story Ever Holed involves some really great animation and – for once – a recent parody (in this case, Paranormal Activity) doesn't descend into a shoulder-shrug of a knock-off. Bart's foray back into 1974 is pretty bog-standard in the grand scheme of things and, yet, it still amounts to one of the more fun Halloween episodes of the past decade.