Total Recall

The 9 Best Treehouse of Horror Segments According to Critics

by | October 14, 2015 | Comments

The scariest of months is upon is, so Rotten Tomatoes asked its TV critics to pick their favorite “Treehouse of Horror” segments of The Simpsons. From movie parodies to classic literature to political satire, these critics’ faves are frighteningly funny.

“Treehouse of Horror IV: Terror at 5½ Feet,” Season 5, Episode 5

Neela Debnath, The Independent: Like all Halloween specials on The Simpsons, this episode combines horror and humour perfectly. I love how deliciously creepy and sinister this tale is. Bart is not usually one to lose his cool, so watching him freaking out at the sight of a demonic little gremlin is priceless.

“Treehouse of Horror VI: Homer³,” Season 7, Episode 6

Joanne Ostrow, The Denver Post: Such clever graphics, humor rooted in quantum physics combined with dumb sight gags, you know, the usual brilliant mix.

“Treehouse of Horror V: Time and Punishment,” Season 6, Episode 5

Michael Calia, The Wall Street Journal: The donut rainstorm after Homer flees an ideal, luxurious alternative timeline otherwise free of donuts is a painfully ironic belly laugh and a textbook example of the writers’ knack for economic storytelling and character work.

“Treehouse of Horror VI, Nightmare on Evergreen Terrace,” Season 7, Episode 6

Chris E. Hayner, Zap2It: A Nightmare on Elm Street is one of the most terrifying movies of all time, so having The Simpsons take it down a notch was a welcome sight to anyone who grew up in the ’80s. Groundskeeper Willie as Freddy Krueger is equal parts funny and creepy, plus the Stephen King’s It” twist ending of Spider-Willie is just perfect. Leave it to Maggie to save the day.

“Treehouse of Horror III: Clown Without Pity,” Season 2, Episode 3

Mark Ellis, Schmoes Know: Homer rushes to get Bart a last-minute birthday gift, and it ends up being a Krusty doll that, in the words of Grandpa Simpson, is “evilll…EEEVVVILLLLL!!!” As far as I’m concerned, this segment was also the pop culture moment that put the term “frogurt” into the lexicon. The pièce de résistance has to be the service hotline that Marge dials once they realize the doll is out of control… “Everybody loves a clown, so why don’t you?”

“Treehouse of Horror XIX: It’s the Grand Pumpkin, Milhouse,” Season 20, Episode 4

Eric Deggans, NPR: I’ve always liked Treehouse XIX, which aired in 2008 with a satire of It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown. Here’s what I wrote for the Tampa Bay Times then: “Trust schlubby Homer Simpson to come up with a sidesplitting Halloween episode two days after the holiday ends. Still, the show’s annual “Treehouse of Horror” episode shines, powered by gory, animated takes on Mad Men, a Simpson-ized version of Peanuts’ Great Pumpkin story and an Election Day bit on a malfunctioning touch-screen voting machine. For Floridians, it may feel just like home.”

“Treehouse of Horror VII: Citizen Kang,” Season 8, Episode 1

Todd VanDerWerff, Vox: “Citizen Kang.” “Citizen Kang,” “Citizen Kang,” “Citizen Kang.” “Abortions for some! Miniature American flags for others!”

Karmen Fox, Baltimore Sun: “Citizen Kang” from “Treehouse of Horror VII” is hands down the best “Treehouse of Horror” segment, if not one of the best Simpsons stories of all time. It mercilessly and hilariously pinpoints everything wrong about elections: the pandering, the flip-flopping and worst of all the candidates. Whether you vote for Clinton, Dole or whoever’s on the ballot twenty years later (or you know, now), it doesn’t matter. After the election, the mask comes off and we’re stuck with Kang. Don’t blame me, I voted Kodos.

Verne Gay, Newsday: The installment from this particular edition where Kang and Kodos come to earth and impersonate Clinton and Dole in their thwarted effort to take over earth. It was brilliant — Simpsons political satire at a very high level. I love it.

“Treehouse of Horror I: The Raven,” Season 2, Episode 3

Brian Tallerico, It broke the mold, proving that The Simpsons was more than just a wacky comedy and had actual literary pedigree.

Tim Surette, Maybe it’s Bart as a mischievous raven, Homer’s slobbery voice echoing Edgar Allen Poe, or James Earl Jones’ narration, but “The Raven” is the best homage The Simpsons ever did and gave this lunkhead a more fundamental understanding of one of the great horror poems ever written.

Witney Seibold, Nerdist: Back when The Simpsons Halloween specials were something of a novelty, rather than a reliable tradition, it was something of a shock to see our familiar characters getting murdered and/or mutilated and/or enacting scenes from famous pieces of American horror poetry. However crass the show may have been at times (belching and familial dysfunction was not yet a common TV site in 1989), and however closely it stuck to a traditional sitcom template (especially back in the early seasons), you could always tell that The Simpsons writers were well-educated and well-read. If you were a kid you would laugh. If you were a college grad, you would roar. “The Raven” cannily blended the show’s traditional slapstick sensibility with a respectful (if not fitfully irreverent) rendition of Edgar Allen Poe’s classic tale of terror, reimagining Homer as its protagonist, Marge as his lost Lenore, and Bart as the interloping raven, wandering from the night’s Plutonian shore. Add to that the wonderful narration by James Earl Jones and you have a segment that is not only funny, but teeters on actual fear. This is the way Halloween specials ought to be.

“Treehouse of Horror V: The Shinning,” Season 6, Episode 5

Erik Adams, AV Club: I love “The Shinning,” which is more than just a spot-on parody of my favorite horror film — it’s also a cockeyed love letter to television. Driven “something something” by a lack of TV and beer, Homer reaches out to a handful of absent televised buddies, building on Jack Torrance’s Tonight Show-riffing murder taunt by also trying out the introductions for David Letterman, Mike Wallace, Morley Safer, and Ed Bradley (all that plus Andy Rooney). I’m a sucker for a good 60 Minutes gag, but it’s the segment’s conclusion that shows where its true heart lies, building to The Shining‘s famed shock cut with a pair of boob-tube epigrams: “Television: Teacher, mother, secret lover” and “Come, family. Sit in the snow with daddy and let us all bask in television’s warm glowing warming glow.” TV’s never seemed more important — or more terrifying.

Ben Travers, IndieWire: If asked to pick the best, I’d have to choose “The Shinning” from Treehouse of Horror V. It truly is at an iconic level, so much so if you mention the best adaptations of the Stephen King novel, “The Simpsons” always comes up. Always a sucker for film/novel parodies, the dynamic of Homer becoming a homicidal lunatic after being denied TV and beer proves too much for me every year — of course, so does “Easy Bake Coven” in Treehouse of Horror VIII. “That sounds like witch-talk to me, Lisa.”

Chris O’Hara, TV Fanatic: Iconic Homer Simpson acting out what was one of my favorite real life actor icon’s best performances. Jack Nicholson’s insanity was cartoon-like in that scene so it played perfectly when Homer was subbed into the role.

Drew Grant, New York Observer: First of all: Willy’s response to Bart when he calls it The Shining: “Shh! You want to get sued?” Or Marge going up to the typewriter and seeing the words…”Feelin’ fine?” That segment stands out because I remember (and I know we all have this memory somewhere) it being the first time I could recognize that the show was referencing/spoofing something very particular, although I hadn’t seen The Shining yet. It was like an educational class in Kubrick, except with a happier ending and not nearly as long.

  • EB

    There were so many brilliant ones that even this list couldn’t hit them all. Raising literary zombies was fantastic. As was the Night of the Living Billboard advertisements. I love whichever episode it is where Homer sees the bllboard saying “Die” gives a shriek, then the wind blows to show the word was “diet” and Homer hollers all the more loudly.

  • Indaletius Rirf

    I totally agree with you guys; I love more the previous specials than the newer ones (after the movie). With the exception of Guillermo Del Toro´s one.

  • Jon

    The pee-in-your-pants funny moment of “Terror at 5 1/2 feet” is when Bart first alerts Otto about the gremlin on the side of the bus. Otto looks to the right and sees a Gremlin (the car), and proceeds to side-swipe it off the curb of the road.

  • Chris

    Bart: Dad, you killed zombie Flanders! Homer: He was a zombie?

    • Sarah Ricard

      Hahahahahaha — YES!

  • Scott Bailey

    The Salem Witch Trial episode (i.e., THE CRUCIBLE parody) had one of the greatest exchanges ever: LISA: Wait! Doesn’t the Bible say “Judge not lest ye be judged?” WIGGUM: The Bible says a lot of things, shove her!

    • LOL

    • NyxNax

      lol thanks for reminding me, classic, I’ll have to go back and watch em.

  • Sam

    The Shinning & Time and Punishment were actually on episode 6 of season 6

  • The earlier Treehouse of Horror episodes were definitely superior – I love how many of them followed a “Twilight Zone” feel. The Shinning and Time and Punishment were amazing. I also thought it was brilliant to spoof the sci-fi short story “Microcosmic God” with “The Genesis Tub” (where Bart’s science fair topic “Do Nerds conduct Electricity?” wins)

  • Ian Wilk

    Ironically, Treehouse XIX is the one that made me stop tuning in to new episodes of The Simpsons entirely. A good concept doesn’t make the writing good by default, as every short in that special demonstrated.

  • Grokenstein

    I also have fond memories of “Hell Toupee” (spoofing “Body Parts” and other ‘evil transplant’ movies) and “Night of the Dolphin” (“Mmm! Alcohol and night swimming! It’s a winning combination!”) but am still waiting for “Simpson vs the Vampire Women.” C’mon, it’s Pie-Man vs. Booberella. How can they NOT do it?

  • Chuck Cape

    Scary Tales Can Come True, Treehouse of Horror XI. This has always been my favorite. Best lines: Lisa to Bart: “You could at least stop basting yourself.” and the Witch to Homer: “You fool! That was a load-bearing candy cane!”

  • nightshade

    I quit watching the Simpsons right around the time it moved to Thursdays ,,,,,,other than the odd rerun …..

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