By now, it’s a Halloween tradition up there with apple bobbing and attempting to ignore trick or treaters. The Simpsons Treehouse of Horror episodes bring the scares every year – and have done now for three decades.
That means there are over 90 spooktacular mini-slices of The Simpsons to watch if you want the complete Treehouse of Horror experience, with more still planned.
If you dare to wade through modern Simpsons, we’ve tallied them all up across the next three pages, from the snoozefests to the more cromulent, best Treehouse of Horror episodes that are liable to keep you up at night. That includes what works, what doesn’t work, and even a certain Treehouse of Horror that ranks up there with some of the best Simpsons episodes ever made. Mmm… spooky.
30. "Treehouse of Horror XXII"
Worst. Treehouse of Horror. EVER. It's never nice to actively hate on The Simpsons, but every segment in the 22nd Halloween special leaves a bad taste in the mouth. Seven 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. There's even an Avatar parody with Bart having tentacle sex. Because that's exactly what we wanted.
29. "Treehouse of Horror XXIX"
Nearly every criticism thrown at latter-day Simpsons can apply here. The episode feels simultaneously rushed, yet lazy in its execution, and there’s barely a joke that lands without another quickly coming along to try and tickle our funny bones before inevitably falling flat.
There’s an Invasion of the Body Snatchers parody that doesn't rise beyond a couple of mildly amusing sight gags (Otto transforming into a marijuana leaf is a decent highlight) and a bizarre Split-style short with Yeardley Smith rattling through a bunch of passable impressions and kooky accents after Lisa loses the plot over getting a Bart-concocted F.
At least "Geriatric Park" – a suitably lazy Jurassic Park rip-off – offers up a pretty damn hilarious (literal) flyover of the Jurassic Park parks and their increasing ludicrousness, plus the elderly-turning-into-dinosaurs bit surprisingly doesn’t outstay its welcome. But, all in all, this feels like an episode that barely knows what to do with itself. It feels like the Treehouse of Horror formula is, unfortunately, wearing thin.
28. "Treehouse of Horror XIX"
You would 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 standard 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.
27. "Treehouse of Horror XXVII"
Oof. It's always a bad sign when an episode is stalling for time just three minutes into its runtime. 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.
26. "Treehouse of Horror XVI"
The warning signs are there from the beginning. A two-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 bad pun first, 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.
25. "Treehouse of Horror XXVI"
I would really love to recommend this episode. Yet, homages and tributes to other properties have been done countless times already in Treehouse of Horror episodes, and none were as borderline offensive (what's up with those Japanese accents?) or unfunny as Homerzilla. Sideshow Bob killing Bart isn't nearly as funny as you would hope, and "Telepaths of Glory" is a pale imitation of Stretch Dude and Clobber Girl. Boo-urns.
24. "Treehouse of Horror XXVIII"
The Simpsons equivalent of a well-worn jacket. It's comfortable, you know what you're getting, but you really want that looser, more freeing 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, it becomes difficult to be shocked, let alone scared by the classic anthology series.
23. "Treehouse of Horror XXI"
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 seven minutes, and why the writers thought it'd be a good idea to ape Twilight, I'll never know.
22. "Treehouse of Horror XVII"
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. However, the show's use of older, more traditional sci-fi and horror influences, such as Golems and War of the Worlds, feel far more refreshing than they would have had this aired during the first nine seasons.
21. "Treehouse of Horror XXX"
The most recent effort on this list, “Treehouse of Horror XXX” again goes back to the well of semi-recent parodies for “Danger Things,” a light-hearted spoof that sends up Stranger Things (and the '80s) with several precisely-aimed jokes. The 666th episode, though, doesn’t quite get out of first gear, with the Shape of Water-style romance between Kang and Selma being a particularly bad offender. Still, there are plenty of smirks and snickers to be had here, with a little jab at new corporate overlords Disney being the highlight of this season 31 episode.
20. "Treehouse of Horror IX"
"Treehouse of Horror IX" 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.