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.
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.
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?”
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.
Brian Tallerico, RogerEbert.com: It broke the mold, proving that The Simpsons was more than just a wacky comedy and had actual literary pedigree.
Tim Surette, TV.com: 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.
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.