I’ve gone on record many times as saying the reason I love the Simpsons so much (particularly the first 12 seasons), is that the show doesn’t just shovel in jokes around a shoehorned story. Instead it places all its investment in getting the episode stories right, thereby letting the humour flow organically.
That being said, and like all the best disciplined things, every once in a while it’s good for them to let their hair down; to just have fun and throw a load of great parody gags at us by lampooning classic horror films, to create the now legendary Treehouse of Horror episodes.
With each episode being split into at least three sections, there is loads of comedy gold to sift through to pick our Top 10 Treehouse of Horror segments. But we’ve done our best mining work and can heartily recommend the following as the tip top of telly terror titivation.
From the very first Halloween special comes a very artfully executed visual telling of Edgar Allen Poe’s masterpiece of horror poetry. Homer is the lonely soul tortured by the calling crow (played of course by his eternal tormenter; Bart) rapping at his chamber door, who only whispers “never more”.
Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe, and forget this lost Lenore!
Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.’
A parody of Soylent Green sees Principal Skinner and the Springfield Elementary staff solving the dual issues of crowded detention halls and budget cuts by cooking the children and serving them for lunch in the cafeteria.
Best Line: When Lisa confronts Principal Skinner about the whereabouts of Jimbo and Uter:
Skinner: I’ve got a GUT feeling he’s around here somewhere…Isn’t there a little Uter in all of us?…You might even say we just ate Uter and he’s in our stomachs right now!…no wait scratch that one.
Season 3’s episode sees three of the Simpsons each have a nightmare. Lisa’s is based on W.W. Jacobs’ The Monkey’s Paw, and sees the family in Morocco where they buy the titular cursed appendage from a street vendor. Homer is told he can have four wishes but is warned there are dire consequences…which of course doesn’t deter him at all.
Best Line: After their first wishes go horribly awry Homer wishes for a Turkey sandwich, nothing more nothing less. Then he tastes it:
Homer: Hmm mmm! Mmm not bad. Nice hot mustard, good bread, turkey’s a little dry…The turkey’s a little dry?! Oh, foul accursed thing! What demon from the depths of hell created thee?
Aka The one where Homer turns his toaster into a time machine. This segment has the funniest pre-story moment (or inciting incident to all you screenwriters) as the toaster attacks Homer twice in a moment of slapstick gold, leading him to make some “modifications”.
What follows is a great classic time travel story with Homer making several changes to the past which have enormous ramifications on the present. In a delicious moment of Simpsons irony Homer thinks he has his life perfect at one point, only to discover there’s no such thing as donuts in this parallel universe. But upon leaving it begins raining donuts! Dum dum dum!
Best Line: Homer travels back to a prehistoric jungle and vows not to touch anything, but then gets pestered by a large mosquito, which he smashes to bits:
Homer: Stupid bug, you go squish now!
Based loosely on the 80s cult classic Basket Case, this tale sees Bart as a siamese twin, whose brother was locked in the attic after they were separated at birth, due to him having an evil streak.
Once Lisa and Bart stumble upon their ferrell brother things take a turn for the terrifying. Hugo (Bart’s twin) ties Bart down and tells him he’s going to sew them both back together; a procedure he has practiced by sewing a pigeon to a rat. Luckily Dr Hibbert is on hand to save the day, but was Hugo the evil twin after all?
Best Line: When Marge discovers Bart and Lisa have been into the attic she adopts a very parental tone to give them a telling off.
Marge: I’m very disappointed and terrified.
Fan favourites Kang and Kodos take on the form of presidential candidates Bill Clinton and Bob Dole in an attempt to enslave the earth during an election campaign. Only Homer can save the real senators, but after a rescue attempt aboard the alien ship, he instead jettisons them into space, leaving Kang and Kodos free to enact their plan.
The real comedy in this segment comes from Kang and Kodos trying to fit in with the American public and learn the ways of becoming a popular presidential figure. A highlight comes at a public rally, when Kang, posing as Bob Dole promises “Abortions for some….miniature American flags for others”.
Best Line: Kang addresses the public for the first time as Bill Clinton
Kang: My fellow Americans. As a young boy, I dreamed of being a baseball; but tonight I say, we must move forward, not backward; upward, not forward; and always twirling, twirling, twirling towards freedom!
It’s worth remembering that this zombie filled segment was aired before zombie films found their new popularity with films like Shaun of the Dead, Dawn of the Dead, REC et al. Parodying both George Romero’s original Night of the Living Dead and Pet Sematary, Lisa and Bart’s attempt to re-animate their dead cat sees the town overrun by the undead.
Some great historical figure jokes and the moment Homer uses himself to shield his family, only to realise he has no brain for the zombies to eat make this a great addition to the Treehouse of Horror canon.
Best Line: Homer goes on a shotgun killing spree to get his family out of the house, culminating in him shooting his next door neighbour
Bart: Dad! You shot the zombie Flanders!
Homer: He was a zombie?
After selling his soul for a donut, Homer tries to better the Devil (Ned Flanders) by not finishing the tasty treat he traded for his eternal torment. Of course it only takes a few hours for him to give into his temptation and soon he finds himself in hell.
This leads to one of the most famous Simpsons moments of all time, with Homer being fed and endless supply of donuts, but of course never gets full.
Homer: om, om, om, om, om, om, more, om, om.
A parody of Twilight Zone episode ‘Terror Doll’, this segment sees Homer forget to buy Bart a birthday present and run to an occult shop where he picks up a cursed Krusty Doll…but gets a free Frozen Yogurt!
After being brushed aside by Bart the doll turns evil and attempts numerous times to kill Homer. And even after Homer manages to trap the doll in a suitcase and throw it into a bottomless pit, it still re-appears and tries to drown him in the dog’s water bowl.
The great twist of course is that there is a simple switch on the back of the doll that allows it to be toggled between ‘Good’ and ‘Evil’, and after making the switch Homer turns the doll into his personal slave.
Best Line: In the occult shop Homer tries to buy the cursed Krusty doll from the wizened old man behind the counter:
Store Owner: Take this object, but beware it carries a terrible curse
Homer: [worried] Ooooh, that’s bad
Owner: But it comes with a free Frozen Yogurt…which I call Frogurt!
Homer: That’s good!
Owner: The Frogurt is also cursed.
Homer: That’s bad.
Owner: But you get your choice of topping!
Homer: That’s good!
Owner: The toppings contain Potassium Benzoate…[homer stares, confused] That’s bad.
Homer: Can I go now?
Not just the best Treehouse of Horror segment but the best parody of/tribute to Stanley Kubrick’s telling of The Shining. There isn’t much to say beyond that. The jokes are all note perfect, the casting of Willie as the caretaker Halloran, Sherri and Terri as the twins and Moe as the ghostly bartender (“I’m very happy, la-la-la-la-la-la-la! See? Now waste your family and I’ll give you a beer”), even the addition of an extra ‘n’ to the title just makes this the funniest Halloween special ever!
Best Line: After Marge discovers Homer’s room of insanity, scrawled with the words ‘No TV and no beer make Homer go crazy’.
Homer: Well, what do you think, Marge? All I need is a title. I was thinking along the lines of… No TV and no beer make Homer something, something.
Marge: Go crazy?
Homer: Don’t mind if I do!