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Ranking 33 Simpsons’ Treehouse of Horror tales from best to worst

This ranking is mathematically calculated by a secret formula we cannot share, but know it is fact, and arguments are futile. 

Nobody, but nobody, ranks the Simpsons! Oh, wait. As an extra special spoopy treat, we have. The Treehouse of Horror special is always a highlight of each season of The Simpsons, but sweet merciful crap do they vary in quality. Here, we’ve ranked every single scary story from every single Treehouse of Horror episode of the first ten seasons (ie the good ones) from best to worst – with a few bonus stories from later seasons thrown in for good measure.

The ranking is mathematically calculated by a secret formula we cannot share, but know it is fact, and arguments are futile. All that’s left to say is: this article, which we totally wash our hands of, is extremely scary. So if you have a sensitive disposition, maybe you should stop reading now, instead of writing us angry letters tomorrow.

The Shinning, Treehouse of Horror V

This is that real good shit. I would inject it into my veins. The pre-story opening, with the joke about Congress instead airing “the 1947 classic Glen Ford movie 200 Miles to Oregon” and Bart and Homer’s voice showing up as a green wiggle on screen, is great fun. Still, you know this one’s going to be scary: before the first tale, Moe is hanged from a tree in a way that freaks me out even now, at 25 years ancient.

But the tale itself, The Shinning, is a pitch-perfect parody of a possibly the greatest ever Halloween film, The Shining. Even the opening gags about Homer having to double back after leaving the doors unlocked are creepy (the first frustrations that will eventually send Homer over the edge). There are moments of fun, from “That’s odd, blood usually gets off on the first floor” to “Don’t be reading my thoughts between four and five – that’s Willy’s time!” But scenes remain burned into my memory because they’re actually still pretty scary: Marge discovering Homer’s typed note reading “Feelin’ fine.”, Homer’s scrawlings on the walls, his “No beer and no TV make Homer something something…” line, coaxing “Give me the bat Marge!”, Homer’s evil face, right up until “Urge to kill… rising!” Truly a peak in Treehouse of Horror history – and Simpsons history in general. BRB, installing a “Break glass in case of spousal insanity” bat in my home.

Nightmare Cafeteria, Treehouse of Horror V

As with many of the best Treehouse stories, you know this one is going to be good because early jokes are subtly discomforting. Bart is sent to detention, which is so overcrowded children’s faces are pressed right against the glass of the classroom door. Jimbo gets covered in Grade F meat stew, and Skinner starts licking him. We hear, but don’t see, Jimbo being prepared for the slaughter behind the kitchen door. When the teachers eat Jimbo burgers, their slurping, crunching noises are deeply gross. It’s perhaps so creepy because it’s seen through children’s eyes: powerless in the face of a villainous Skinner, disbelieved by their parents, waiting until they, too, are inevitably picked off. Despite Bart’s protests that “Nevertheless, I remain confident that something will come along and save the two Simpsons children,” even they are not saved.

Their final tumble into the meat machine is horrible enough, until the episode's bizarre, disgusting coda. Bart awakes screaming, and Marge consoles him, “Relax honey, you were just having a crazy nightmare. You’re back with your family now where there’s nothing to be afraid of. Except that fog that turns people inside out…” The episode ends with the inside out Simpson family dancing to a parody of A Chorus Line’s “One”, blood flying around the stage. Mummy?

Citizen Kang, Treehouse of Horror VII

Citizen Kane, but with more aliens, because who hasn’t watched Citizen Kane and thought “it was good and all, but it couldn’t have been livened up with a few more drooling aliens”? (It’s a joke! When you give me that look, it’s a joke.) I’m not a fan of The Simpsons going political in general, but this story about Kang and Kodos taking over the bodies of Bill Clinton and Bob Dole is simply one of the funniest Treehouse stories of all time. From Homer’s pleading, “Don’t eat me – I have a wife and kids. Eat them!” to Kang’s insistence, “We have reached the limits of what rectal probing can teach us”, perfect lines abound. How you can fail to lose your God-given shit at Bob Dole blustering “What the hell is this, some kind of tube?” is utterly beyond me. And, of course, it includes one of the most memorable punchlines in Simpsons history: “Don’t blame me, I voted for Kodos.” 

Bart Simpson's Dracula, Treehouse of Horror IV

Parody points galore for a straight-up Dracula rip, this Treehouse tale is full of iconic laugh-out-loud moments (“Lisa, stop being so suspicious. Did everyone wash their necks like Mr Burns asked?”). There isn’t a single dull second in an episode packed with TV tropes, including Lisa finding a book entitled Yes, I am a Vampire by Monty Burns and Bart turning stone stairs into a slide. Then there’s that twist ending. Oh boy, that twist ending! 

The Monkey's Paw, Treehouse of Horror II

Is this not the tale you instantly think of when someone says “Treehouse of Horror”? This iconic spin on a WW Jacobs short story from 1902 sees the best Kardashian sisters, Kang and Kodos, taking over Springfield, a now shamefully culturally appropriative totem pole costume worn by Lisa, and meta-jokes about the Simpsons being rich and famous ($18 Bart shirt, anyone?). But where this episode ultimately wins is in Kang’s final, prophetic line. 

“That board with a nail in it may have defeated us, but the humans won’t stop there. They’ll make bigger boards and bigger nails, and soon, they will make a board with a nail so big, it will destroy them all!” True. 

Nightmare on Evergreen Terrace, Treehouse of Horror VI

This Nightmare on Elm Street parody is fully scary, with Groundskeeper Willie (racially caricatured as a giant bagpipe spider) attacking children in their sleep. The absolute horror of Homer burning Willie alive is nicely lightened by some classic Seymour Skinner (“There’s no mystery about Willie. Why, he simply disappeared”) and Kirk Van Houten (“I don’t like the idea of Milhouse having two spaghetti meals in one day”). Much better than Smarch weather. 

The Devil and Homer Simpson, Treehouse of Horror IV

A parody but a parody of something you’ve probably never seen, The Devil and Homer Simpson stands alone as one of the Treehouse greats. Devil Flanders pushing his glasses up his nose as he buys Homer’s soul is a perfect little emotional treat, and Homer’s day in hell has offered the internet gifs for days. A bold and perhaps unjustifiable claim is that The Simpsons is best when parodying courtrooms, and in this respect this tale does not disappoint. Watch for some classic Lionel Hutz (“I ask you, what is a contract?”) 

Dial Z for Zombies, Treehouse of Horror III

When Bart and Lisa try to raise their dear departed cat Snowball I from the dead, they end up raising an army of zombies to walk Springfield. Excellent creep factor – from Zombie Skinner terrorising Martin to Flanders’s final screams of pain. (“Dad, you killed the zombie Flanders!” “He was a zombie?”) A plethora of classic lines, including “I thought dabbling in the black arts would be good for a chuckle… how wrong I was” “Is this the end of Zombie Shakespeare?” and an aside about “the Mayor’s beer-swilling brother Clovis” (proving Clovis was being used as an inexplicably great fake name BEFORE Game of Thrones). And it includes a vintage Simpsons final punchline. 

Time and Punishment, Treehouse of Horror V

Another tale that haunts my dreams. Homer gets his hand stuck in a toaster (who among us) and in fixing it manages to invent a time travel device, in a parody of Ray Bradbury’s story A Sound of Thunder – or, if you’re as sophisticated and cultured as I am, the 2004 Ashton Kutcher thriller The Butterfly Effect. Homer sees how making tiny changes in the distant past can mean you end up with a future in which Ned Flanders is the unquestionable lord and master of the world. The hooks forcing the Simpsons faces into smiles and the “total frontal lobotomies” at the “Re-Neducation Centre” gave me the willies as a child. And I, like Homer, wake every day and ask, “What’s my name? What colour is the sky? WHAT OF DONUTS?” 

Easy-Bake Coven, Treehouse of Horror VIII

Wrapping a nice Salem witch trials parody alongside a Halloween origin story (“Are you sure you ladies wouldn't prefer some gingerbread children instead? They’re boneless!”) Easy-Bake Coven wins points for being one of the first Simpsons stories set in history. As one of the truly Marge-centric Treehouses, this tale sufficiently spooks by turning our matriarch into a baby-eater, not to mention covering her hair with a puritanical bonnet. 

The Raven, Treehouse of Horror

Perhaps the most faithful of any Treehouse retelling, this version of Edgar Allen Poe’s The Raven gets extra points for being educational AND fun!! It’s spooky, it’s kooky, it has physical comedy involving a censer. (Stupid censer!) Fun for the whole damn family.

Hungry Are The Damned, Treehouse of Horror

It’s got the first ever appearance of Kang and Kodos. It’s got the perfect lines “Nobody, but nobody, eats the Simpsons” and “There were monsters on that ship, and we were them.” But the crowning glory of this story (which sees the Simpsons abducted by aliens and fed several delicious meals) are the dusty book puns that mock The Twilight Zone’s infamous “It’s a cookbook!” moment. Well, if you wanted to make Serak the Preparer cry, mission accomplished.

Fly vs. Fly, Treehouse of Horror VIII

Oh darkest night, how thou encases the very fibre of my soul – can I ever hope to be the same again? Fly v. Fly is the most life-changingly gross of the Treehouses, with Bart’s slurping little fly mouth destined to find a home in the murkiest corners of your brain, ready to haunt you as you prepare for sleep. Laughs are few and far between, but that doesn’t stop this being a powerful piece of work.

Attack of the 50-Foot Eyesores, Treehouse of Horror VI

Who doesn’t like to be reminded that the cruelest and most evil monsters live among us in the form of corrupt, capitalistic advertisers? It is the sound effects of Springfield’s mascots and billboards coming to life that will truly haunt your dreams, with creaking, stomping metal taking over the town. Homer’s heroic decision to give Lard Lad back his donut (“Well, ok, if it will end horror”) truly makes us wish Treehouses were canon, as in the end the ultimate moral message wins out. “Even as I speak the scourge of advertising could be headed towards your town!” warns Kent Brockman. Deep. 

The Thing and I, Treehouse of Horror VII

Three words: Scarred. For. Life! Parody of The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Basket Case, the Thing And I is scarier than it is funny. When Bart and Lisa start hearing weird moaning and thumping noises from the attic, they discover Bart’s evil once-conjoined twin Hugo has been kept up there for years on a bucket of fish heads once a week. Left alone together, Hugo attempts to sew Bart back to his body (after practicing on a “pigeon rat” that still makes me feel faintly sick). The punchline, that Bart was the evil twin all along, and must be condemned to live the fish head life, is a little grim. But special mentions must go to the cameo of Homer’s autobiography, “Homer, I Hardly Knew Me”.

Homer3, Treehouse of Horror VI

THE SIMSPONS ENTER THE REAL, HUMAN WORLD FOR THE FIRST TIME, which made this Treehouse tale unmissable as a kid. In order to avoid Patty and Selma, Homer casually rips a hole in both the space-time continuum and Simpsons lore, after he goes all 3D and ends up in the human world (“Ew, this is the worst place yet”). Die-hard fans might consider this an unforgivable faux pas, but to them we say one thing. Ooooh, erotic cakes.

Bad Dream House, Treehouse of Horror

The first ever Treehouse of Horror begins with a lovely little parody of the 1931 Frankenstein opening that becomes a Treehouse staple: Marge warning us that what follows is DEFINITELY NOT GOOD FOR KIDS. Take that, Lemony Snicket. First up is Bad Dream House, an Amityville Horror parody that sees the Simpsons move into a new home that tries to murder them. It’s vaguely creepy rather than scary, but gets extra points from me for Excellent Marge Content™ as she defeats the house by screaming, “Stop saying those horrible things and show some manners!” But Lisa gets the episode’s punchline: “It destroyed itself rather than live with us. You can’t help but feel a little rejected.”

[Special Mention] Send in the Clones, Treehouse of Horror XIII

From Season 14, the Multiplicity parody Send in the Clones is an unusually memorable Treehouse story for one that comes so late in Simpsons history – if mostly due to the unnerving ending. After Homer clones himself thousands of times over, they band together to attack Springfield, and are eventually destroyed by the army. But in their bedroom that night, Marge spies the trademark absent belly button that reveals a clone has replaced the real Homer. But when Homer offers her a backrub, she shrugs off her initial horror, as Stephen Still’s “Love The One You're With” plays us out. Insert grossed-out noises here.

Terror at 5½ Feet, Treehouse of Horror IV

This episode sees Bart tormented by a gremlin – and if that fails to instantly gift you a flash of fuzzy, nostalgic memories, you’re not alone. There’s little memorable about this tale, which also loses points for setting fire to Mole Man (contrary to popular belief, some of us ARE gay for Mole Man). 

The HΩmega Man, Treehouse of Horror VII 

Perhaps the imminent possibility of nuclear war makes this episode scarier than it would’ve been when it first aired 20 years ago, but The HΩmega Man is definitely more fun than spooky. Who among us hasn’t wanted to be the only surviving soul in town, ready and able to dance naked to Edwin Starr’s War in church? Lenny’s “Come on, we just wanna eat your skin” is the creepiest bit, meaning this won’t satisfy those who like the “Horror” in Treehouses of. 

Starship Poopers, Treehouse of Horror IX

“Look, Marge, Maggie lost her baby legs!” Maggie starts transforming into a mini Kodos and/or Kang. Its revealed that Kang is indeed Maggie’s father. It would be a fairly weak story, but The Jerry Springfield scene elevates this Treehouse tale. Choice lines include, “I can’t believe it, Jerry Springfield didn’t solve our conflict” and “Get your slimeless hands off her!” 

If I Only Had a Brain, Treehouse of Horror II

Treehouses always provide the writers with an opportunity to notch up Mr Burn’s evil, but the character is arguably funniest at his least – not most – powerful. Watching Monty secure Homer’s brain for a robot doesn’t provide many gags, although his use of an ice cream scoop for the de-braining (“Damn it Smithers, this isn’t rocket science, it’s brain surgery!”) provides a mild laugh. Ultimately, it’s a very short, unmemorable tale. 

[Special Mention] House of Whacks, Treehouse of Horror XII

Pierce Brosnan voices the Simpsons’ new robot house in this story from Season 13, and it is deeply, deeply unsettling. The Ultrahouse 3000 watches Marge bathe (ew) and attempts to murder her husband (not cool!). But his punishment is just: he is forced to serve Patty and Selma, with no chance of escape.

Clown Without Pity, Treehouse of Horror III

Another Twilight Zone parody, this isn’t a super creepy or super gripping Treehouse of Horror tale, involving Bart getting a cursed Krusty the Klown doll for his birthday that attempts to murder Homer. But it does have some great one liners, from the store owner’s obsession with “frogurt” (“We also sell frozen yogurt, which I call frogurt! […] The frogurt is also cursed.”) to Grandpa Simpson’s whine “I just want attention!” (same, Abe, same) to Patty seeing Homer naked and deadpanning, “There goes the last lingering thread of my heterosexuality.” And let’s not forget the opening Halloween party set-up for my icon Martin as “Caliope, the muse of heroic poetry!” But the story loses a few more points for a random misogynist and racist Whoopi Goldberg joke.

The Bart Zone, Treehouse of Horror II

The best thing about this tale is that it starts with a candy necklace, and the second best thing about it is that it ends. The Bart Zone gets points for being a strong Twilight Zone parody about Bart having superpowers, but doesn’t really stand alone. Watching Krusty reduced to a red-eyed mess after 346 consecutive hours of TV programming is more creepy than spooky, and Marge didn’t warn about that in her opening segment. 

The Terror of Tiny Toon, Treehouse of Horror IX

This episode sees the arrival of what Marge always warned us might happen in Treehouse of Horror – the violent world of TV seeps into the lives of the children watching. Bart and Lisa are sucked into an episode of Itchy and Scratchy and subjected to the violent chaos of the world they always laughed at. It’s “haha, I get the joke” funny, but not “I am weeping at Bob Dole in a tube” funny. All that’s left to say is, “Oooh, how are Bart and Lisa going to get out of this one?”

The Genesis Tub, Treehouse of Horror VII

Apparently yet another Twilight Zone parody, in the Genesis Tub, Lisa grows her own mini civilisation from coca cola, a tooth and some static electricity. Her new civilisation quickly become extremely technologically advanced and beam her down to their size, where they worship her: “We have listened to you speak since the dawn of time, oh creator, and we have learned to imitoot you exarctly.” But the set up kind of goes nowhere, so we’re just left with Lisa ordering her new citizens to get her some shoes. Nice ones.

King Homer, Treehouse of Horror III

This black and white parody of King Kong is a touching tale of forbidden love between woman and 50-foot ape, with some great visual gags thrown in. But like King Homer himself, it fails to get far off the ground. Best lines include “Wow, look at the size of that platform!”

Hell Toupee, Treehouse of Horror IX

In a parody of the 1989 horror film, Shocker, Homer is gifted the hair that once belonged to a now executed Snake, and adopts his personality, too, switching between Homer and Snake at random intervals. Possessed Homer is scary, but not as scary as the Evil Homer from The Shinning, and there’s nothing particularly memorable here.

[Special Mention] The Island of Dr Hibbert, Treehouse of Horror XIII

Some would say we should award points for episodes that creep us out, not take them away. Some would say that is how the ranking has functioned thus far, and so we would only be cheating ourselves if we flaunted the rules now. Well, some can shut up and eat shit, because this story is horrific, and points will be docked accordingly. Also from Season 14, it sees Dr Hibbert transforming Springfield residents into animal-human-hyrbids, and includes spider-bart, owl-Lisa, anteater-Maggie, as well as cat-Marge sexually assaulting poor old Homer. My eyes! My eyes!

Anna Leszkiewicz is culture editor of the New Statesman.

Amelia Tait is a freelance journalist, and was previously the New Statesman's tech and digital culture writer. She tweets at @ameliargh