The Simpsons was a funny cultural touchstone in its early seasons. Among the best things that the showrunners ever did was create the Treehouse of Horror episodes. Each Halloween-themed episode comprises three skits that range from dark and scary to funny satire.
So, I decided to go through the Treehouse of Horror skits to find the best of the best. While I’ve watched them all, I thought it would be good to focus on the 1990s when The Simpsons was still a show on the rise and arguably had the best material.
I came up with ten of the best Treehouse of Horror skits from The Simpsons and also found one that was so bad that I wanted to turn the TV off.
Without further ado, take a look at the best skits, presented in no particular order, for your reading pleasure.
1. Nightmare on Evergreen Terrace
This take on Nightmare on Elm Street has Willie take on the role of Freddy Kruger. He’s not a child killer in this one, just angry that he was neglected at a PTA/budget meeting.
The episode has a few dark parts, like Martin screaming and choking to death in class. That horror is balanced out with funny moments throughout.
The humor really carries the episode, with moments like:
- “It all started on the 13th hour of the 13th day of the 13th month.”
- “Lousy Smarch”
- “Do not touch Willie. Good advice!”
- Willie just chilling as he burns to ashes and then cleans himself up
- Maggie coming in clutch
The transforming dream Willie can be downright menacing, so the episode had a little edge to it. I truly loved the ending, though. Willie shows up and makes random “scary” noises before mentioning he forgot his gun on the bus. Incredible.
2. Homer Goes to Hell!
In this skit, Homer decides to sell his soul for a donut. In a hilarious turn of events, a devilish Ned Flanders shows up and offers him a tasty treat for his soul.
Although Homer tries to use the loophole of not finishing the donut to get out of the deal, his hunger overcomes him and he succumbs to eating “daddy’s soul donut” out of the fridge in the middle of the night.
He is sent to hell until a court case can determine whether the devil gets his soul. Lionel Hutz represents the hapless Homer. He agrees to let Devil Flanders pack the jury.
The Jury of the Damned includes the 1976 Philadelphia Flyers (my hometown team) along with a slew of some of the worst people to ever live.
Having Flanders as the devil was absolutely hilarious, and the story that saves Homer’s soul shows the sugary sweetness that made Marge and Homer so much fun to watch back in the day before he became more like Peter Griffin.
The episode was sweet, a little spooky, and fun. I can’t help but think this was somewhere in Groening’s mind for Futurama when he made the Robot devil.
3. The Raven
I enjoy The Raven for a lot of reasons. For one thing, it has James Earl Jones reading the poem, and you can’t get any better than that.
The artwork in the episode is superb, and the music really helps with the tone. The episode is viewer-friendly and truncated so younger audiences can pick up on the creepiness of the situation without getting confused by the language.
Another thing was more personal to me. I used this segment to introduce the actual poem in the classroom to a bunch of sixth-graders and talked about establishing mood and tone. It worked wonders.
Lastly, I thought it was hilarious that Homer was sitting there spouting a lot of complex, flowery words. All in all, this was a very good skit, and I think it’s one of the best overall.
4. The Shinning
Not to be confused with The Shining from which the skit gets its story, The Shinning sees the Simpson family becoming caretakers at Mr. Burns hotel in the snowy mountains.
Again, this episode is most successful because it strikes the perfect balance between funny and scary. There’s some serious tension with Homer starting to unravel in the house without beer or television, and it’s almost enhanced rather than undone by moments like:
- Willie spoiling Homer’s future madness minutes before it happens
- Homer’s craziness and Jack Nicholson impersonation
- Homer writing that he’s “feelin’ fine”
- “No beer and no tv make Homer something something” “Go crazy?” “Don’t mind if I do! AHHHHH LALALOO”
- Willie showing up to help only to get unceremoniously murdered in this skit and the others
- Moe rescuing Homer from the larder with the help of other scary beings like Pinhead
The episode is definitely a little spooky as a kid because you don’t really want to see Homer chop up everyone. It’s well-written and does a perfect job parodying the actual film.
5. Nightmare Cafeteria
As a kid in elementary school when this one aired, I have to say it was probably the scariest of them all. The basic premise is that Principal Skinner has too many kids in detention and a budget shortfall that makes it hard to pay for food in the cafeteria.
Naturally, they start killing and eating kids in detention. R.I.P Jimbo, Uter, Milhouse, and others. Soon enough, kids are being sent to detention for just about anything, like dropping a pencil on the floor.
This episode has some pretty dark stuff, and the gore is there to drive home the point that adults are killing and eating little kids.
Bart, Lisa, and Milhouse decide to make a break for it before they become lunch, and they discover that the other kids sent to detention are kept in livestock conditions, awaiting slaughter.
Although Willie stages yet another rescue attempt, he’s killed again in this episode, this time bemoaning the fact that his rescue skills need some work.
All three kids are eventually forced from an OSHA hazard of a platform into a massive food processor set on “gooify”
This is the bloodiest, scariest episode by far, but it ends up being a dream. Except that dream turns into a waking nightmare when fog turns the family inside out. The episode ends with a macabre musical number that was only slightly less disturbing than the skit.
Nightmare Cafeteria was a great skit; I’d rank it top five for sure.
6. Bad Dream House
I know, I keep picking out the really early ones, but Bad Dream House was so good.
The writers harped on horror story tropes by basing the story on a sentient house that was cursed after it was built on an old Indian burial ground.
Apparently, the Simpsons get a great deal on this haunted house, and they decide to move right in. The walls gush blood and there is a very rude vortex in the kitchen, but that’s not enough to deter Homer from a good deal.
Again, this skit shows how well the writers can balance the spookiness of Halloween with hilarity when the family (sans Marge) is possessed in the middle of the night and starts hunting each other with knives.
Marge is outraged and demands that the house treats them with respect. The house asks for a minute to consider her proposal and decides to delete itself from existence.
As Lisa says, you can’t help but feel a little rejected.
7. Hungry Are the Damned
Back to the original Treehouse of Horror! In Hungry Are the Damned, the family is abducted by the Rigellians, Kang and Kodos. The family is shown the wonders of their alien technology, even though they are lagging behind in video games.
Eventually, Lisa starts to get suspicious of the aliens’ intentions because it appears as though they are trying to fatten up the family and eat them.
She finds some “proof” on the cover of a cookbook riddled with space dust, but it turns out that the aliens were really being great hosts and the Simpsons were taking advantage of their hospitality.
This skit was great because it introduced the Rigellians and had some eeeeexcellent shots, like the heads on platters early in the episode.
I also thought it was funny that Lisa, the smart one, made the family miss out on paradise by being closed-minded.
“Truly there were monsters on that ship, and truly we were them.”
Way to go.
8. Citizen Kang
Kang and Kodos appear again, this time taking over the bodies of Bob Dole and Bill Clinton to win control of the United States through the election.
It’s a lot of work for alien overlords that easily take over the planet later in the episode, but the skit allowed the writers to take some shots at the U.S. political system.
Watching this in 2021 is interesting because it shows how little anything has changed in terms of partisan politics in the country. It’s a good balance of funny and sad, really.
Some of my favorite moments include:
- Kang and Kodos in Clinton and Dole suits holding hands walking down the street
- “Abortions for all!” Jeers. “Very well, no abortions for anyone.” Jeers “ Hmmm…abortions for some. Miniature American flags for others”
- “It makes no difference which one of us you vote for, your planet is DOOMED”
- The real Dole and Clinton getting ejected into space after committing to true bipartisanship
I’m probably reading too much into this, but this might have been the scariest episode of all because of how close it cut to the truth.
As George Carlin said about politics and the state of the U.S., “It’s a big club, and you ain’t in it.”
9. The HΩmega Man
Mayor Quimby manages to get Springfield attacked by the French, who launch a neutron bomb from the Eiffel Tower. The episode ramps up the hilarity by making Homer the last man alive in town…at first.
Homer was in the process of buying a bomb shelter from Herman Hermann and happened to be inspecting one built for the 6 megaton blast when the bomb went off.
Some of the funniest parts of this episode include:
- Comic book guy upon seeing the bomb racing down Main Street: “Oh, I’ve wasted my life.”
- Homer handing the empty can of steak back to Herman Hermann’s skeleton after surviving the blast
- Homer getting out of his car caving in Kirk Van Houten’s skull
- Mad max chase scene back to his home
- The layers of lead paint saving the Simpsons’ home
- Marge and family pulling out double-barreled shotguns and wasting the zombified townspeople, once again turning down a utopian society in a Halloween episode
This skit was far sillier than most, but it really worked out.
10. Killer Toupée
Another good balance between funny and scary, or at least as scary as The Simpsons can be. In this skit, Snake gets sentenced to death for smoking inside the Kwik-E-Mart (third strike rules, hah!) and he swears revenge on all the witnesses: Apu, Moe, and Bart.
Even as he’s being electrocuted in the electric chair, he harms everyone with his second-hand smoke. Once he’s good and cooked, he is sent away for organ donation.
Fortunately, Homer is one of the donors, and he gets a beautiful head of hair from Snake, only for it to possess him. He starts to take revenge on all his enemies, smashing Apu into the Squishee machine and using a corkscrew to finish off poor, syphilis-ridden Moe.
Some of the best moments include:
- The three-strikes rule leading to Snake’s execution
- “Yoink” when stealing Moe’s heart
- Lisa trying to explain everything and Marge telling her that they already have figured it out
- The hair clinging to Bart’s face only for Homer to start punching him full-force in the head
- The school picture fake-out of Bart getting hit with a hammer
- Homer chasing Bart around the room with a sledgehammer trying to kill him was a work of art in my opinion, even though I had a feeling he would be safe the whole time.
All in all, the skit was good and I’m glad the writers used more secondary characters in this episode overall.
The Worst Treehouse of Horror Skit: Homer3 (Homer Cubed)
Now that I’ve gone over the best skits, it’s time to talk about the worst.
I remember feeling ripped off by this one as a child, and I still dislike it as an adult.
Patty and Selma come over for dinner, and Homer hides behind a bookshelf. He travels through the wall and ends up in the scary 3rd dimension.
He whines about how scared he is and various neighbors come to offer help. Eventually, Professor Frink shows up and explains the situation to the family while Homer breaks the fourth wall to talk about how expensive the 3D animation must be for him to stand around and do nothing.
That’s kinda what did it for me. The meta-joke failed horribly and what could have been a cool ending of Homer going through a vortex to the real world ended with him going into an erotic cake shop.
This was the weakest retro skit in my opinion.
Bonus: The Best Treehouse of Horror Couch Gag
Just cause I like you people and I know how much you all value my opinion
The cest opening is Treehouse of Horror VII, when the family runs into the room to sit on the couch only to have Death waiting for them. The family dies in a pile and death uses them as a footstool.
What’d I miss, folks? What do you think are the best Treehouse of Horror skits? Let me know in the comments, and I’ll try to read all two of them.