The annual ‘Treehouse of Horror’ has been a Halloween treat for Simpsons fans since the show’s second season way back in 1990. Back then we had Homer playing the lead role in an animation of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven(and Bart as the bird); the Simpson family being abducted by aliens and fearing they would be eaten in ‘Hungry are the Damned’ – which was also the first appearance of ‘Treehouse’ regulars, Kang and Kodos; the family moving into a haunted house built on an Indian burial ground in ‘Bad Dream House’ – all seen as short horror episodes as Bart and Lisa try to scare each other with ghost stories on Halloween night.
Twenty two years later, and the most recent ‘Treehouse of Horror’ saw Springfield under threat from a black hole in ‘ The Greatest Story Ever Holed’; a spoof of Paranormal Activity in ‘UNnormal Activity’; and Bart and Homer travelling through time to alternate futures – Back to the Future style – in ‘Bart and Homer’s Excellent Adventure.’
While the Halloween vignettes take place outside of the usual Simpsons timeline, ‘Treehouse of Horror’ has provided some of the series’ most hilarious scenarios. Even the credits are funny, with a yearly tradition of inserting horror themed plays on cast and crew names – James Hell Brooks; Nancy Heart-Fright; Mike “Insert Scary Name” Scully; to name a mere few.
In this Top Five, especially for Halloween, we look at the 5 Best ‘Treehouse of Horror’ stories and celebrate one of TV’s greatest, and one of its longest running Halloween traditions.
‘Time and Punishment’
Treehouse of Horror V (S06E06)
When Homer attempts to fix a broken toaster (which he broke by smashing it to get it off his hand – an amusing scene in itself), he inadvertently creates a time machine. He travels back to the Jurassic period, “a time when dinosaurs weren’t just confined to zoos” and remembers the advice his father told him on his wedding night: should he ever travel through time, he absolutely must not change a thing. He then kills a mosquito and travels back to him own time to discover that Flanders is Lord and Master of the universe. Horrified, Homer goes back in time again to attempt to right history. This time, he’s super careful but still ends up sitting on a fish, and changes his present into a world where a giant Lisa and Bart mistake him for a “bug that looks just like Dad.” Back he goes, but this time he sneezes on a T-Rex and wipes out all of the dinosaurs. Expecting catastrophic consequence he returns to a more than perfect world, but freaks out when he discovers there’s no donuts. Ironically, in this world it rains donuts.
Tired of trying not to change anything, Homer starts bashing every dinosaur and plant he can find, and we have a hilarious montage of changed futures, including one with Maggie with the voice of James Earl Jones, killing Groundskeeper Willie while remarking “this is indeed a disturbing universe.” He eventually gets back to something that resembles his own world, although his family all have lizard tongues. Close enough.
Treehouse of Horror VI (S07E06)
Desperate to avoid Patty and Selma’s vacation slide show, Homer searches for a hiding place and discovers an interdimensional portal behind the bookshelf. He enters a 3D universe full of strange lights and dangerous geometrical shapes, likening it to the movie Tron, and Homer himself is turned into a three dimensional animation.
Despite everyone’s best efforts to rescue him, Homer is eventually sucked into the three dimensional sinkhole and the portal collapses into itself. He falls through reality landing in a dumpster in a strange and disturbing place – our three dimensional, real world Los Angeles. He’s terrified, walking the streets of this new reality, until he eventually sees a shop “Erotic Cakes” and decides it can’t be that bad a place.
Ok, so the story itself wasn’t exactly Top 5 material, the overall novelty of a three dimensional Homer makes this an all time stand out Simpsons moment. And erotic cakes are funny.
‘The Thing and I’
Treehouse of Horror VII (S08E01)
Bart and Lisa hear curious noises coming from the attic though Homer and Marge deny any strange goings on, despite Homer carrying buckets of fish heads upstairs once a week. When their parents are out one night (driving around in the rain to save on car wash expenses, of course), Bart and Lisa investigate. To their horror, they discover a monstrous, mutant boy named Hugo, and even more to Bart’s horror, discover that he was Bart’s conjoined twin, separated at birth. Homer and Marge, along with Dr Hibbert, have been keeping Hugo a secret in the attic for years as they believe him to be the evil twin – as there always has to be an evil twin. Hugo escapes his chains and ends up taking Bart captive in the attic where he plans to attempt to rejoin them – he’s been practising, stitching a a pigeon to a rat. Bart’s eventually rescued, but Dr Hibbert however makes a startling discovery that as Bart was the left twin, he must be the evil one. So Hugo joins the family and Bart gets locked in the attic, feasting on fish heads.
‘Fly vs. Fly‘
Treehouse of Horror VIII (S09e04)
After the Simpson family take a trip to Professor Frink’s yard sale, Homer comes home with a matter transporter. The transporter comes in handy for all sorts of things – reaching through from the couch to get a beer from the fridge, slapping people from the other room, although Homer isn’t allowed to test it between the lounge room and the toilet. While Bart is trying to transport the cat, Santa’s Little Helper jumps in and the transportation creates two hybrid mutants – one with the dog and cat’s head on either end, the other with the two tails. Inspired, Bart has the idea to meld himself with a fly and become a superhero. However, Bart’s head ends up on the tiny fly’s body and the fly’s head enlarges on Bart’s head, creating a grotesque hybrid creature in a hilarious parody of David Cronenberg’s The Fly (1986). The family accepts Fly Head Bart as their son, but all the while Fly Body Bart is struggling to stay alive. Lisa eventually traps them both in the teleporter and sets things right.
Treehouse of Horror IX (S10e04)
We couldn’t have a Top 5 Simpsons Halloween moments without paying proper respect to Kang and Kodos (which is how this episode came out on top over ‘Hell Toupe’ from the same show). In ‘Starship Poopers’ Maggie gets her first tooth – an enormous fang, and grows green tentacles in place of her legs (Homer registering his surprise – “Look Marge, Maggie lost her baby legs!”). Marge is horrified, though expected this day to come as it’s then revealed that Homer is not Maggie’s father, but Marge was actually impregnated by Kang as part of an selective alien cross-breeding program. All the while Maggie’s pacifier sucks have been messages to the alien ship, and Kang returns to earth to claim his daughter. Homer is horrified, calling Marge an “intergalactic space hussy” and the custody battle plays out on the Jerry Springer Show. Where else?! Kang obliterates the audience with his ray gun, and Homer and Kang punch it out while Maggie devours Springer during his final thought. Kang and Kodos eventually leave, threatening to kill every Washington politician until they’re given their baby. Challenge accepted.
Choosing 5 episodes out of 60 plus stories was not an easy task, and I’m certain there are some excellent Simpsons Halloween moments I’ve missed out on. At the end of the day, choices had to be made and these take the Halloween candy for sticking around in my head the longest or the strongest, still being able to ignite a laugh. I should note that it’s also purely unintentional on my part that there are consecutive seasons above – The Simpsons did have its golden age, and this is part of the proof.
Everyone will have their own favourites. What are yours?