20 Simpsons writers choose the best 'Treehouse of Horror' segments of all time
Simpsons writers pick their all-time favorite 'Treehouse of Horror' segments
Every once in awhile — say, right around Halloween — The Simpsons likes to let down its hair and shake up a scare. The annual Halloween tradition of "Treehouse of Horror" unspools a trilogy of chills, thrills, and perhaps a gruesome for Ned Flanders. This year’s installment, "Treehouse of Horror XXIX," which airs Oct. 21 at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Fox — send up Jurassic Park, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and The Three Faces of Eve, as well as Homer in an eating contest with Chtulu. But on the eve of All Hallows’ Eve, revisit the Simpsons writers' petrifying picks and sinsister selections for their personal favorite segment from the franchise’s spooky history.
Bart's Nightmare (also known as The Bart Zone)"Treehouse of Horror II"(1991)Selected by: Dan Greaney
Mining laughs — and chills — from The Twilight Zone episode "It's a Good Life," the segment gifts Bart with the ability to transform anyone with whom he is displeased into disturbing creatures or in Homer's case, a football, and then a jack-in-the-box. "My favorite segment is 'The Bart Zone,' in which Bart becomes omnipotent and the family is forced to cater to his every sadistic caprice or risk annihilation," says Greaney. "The bizarrely idyllic and strangely touching image of Homer’s head, now attached to the coils of a jack-in-the-box, sitting in rowboat and somehow 'fishing' with Bart — despite not having any arms — in order to satisfy the desires for paternal connection that underly his rages seemed to me to say just about everything that needed to be said about the human condition."
Time and Punishment"Treehouse of Horror V" (1994)Selected by: Max Pross
Homer builds a toaster time machine by accident, and repeatedly travels to the ancient past, trying (and failing) to not screw up the future. “'Time and Punishment’ is the best, most concise parody of time-travel cliches I’ve ever seen," says Pross. "It’s also the only Halloween Episode I’ve ever seen. Are there more?”
Nightmare Cafeteria "Treehouse of Horror V" (1994)Selected by: David Mirkin
There's something in the meat at Springfield Elementary: the students in detention. "It is the darkest segment of a very, very dark Treehouse," says Mirkin. "I deliberately crammed the entire episode as full of intense, graphic violence as possible to annoy and fight back against Congress as they brilliantly attempted to censor TV content. Elementary School had always been a horror to me, so I loved the idea of adding the possibility of getting eaten by the teachers if you even mildly misbehaved. It includes the gruesome deaths of many beloved characters including Willie receiving an axe in the back for the third segment in a row. I really enjoyed adding the twist that it was all just a dream but waking reality actually held a much worse fate - being turned inside-out. That lovely image was inspired by a radio play, The Dark, from a 1962 album called Drop Dead, which deeply disturbed and majorly warped my childhood. I was honored and thrilled to pass that gift on to future generations. But I did try to end the show on a positive note as the inside-out, goo-oozing Simpsons finish with a bright, cheery song and dance number — though Bart does get dragged off and eaten by the dog. Fun!"
Attack of the 50-Foot Eyesores"Treehouse of Horror VI" (1995)Selected by: Mike Reiss
Lard Lad and his fellow ad statues and billboards spring to life after a bizarro storm and wreak havoc in Springfield.
“I contributed nothing to this segment (except that snappy title!), but it's my favorite: Springfield's giant advertising signs come to life and go on a rampage through town. It's a crazy premise that yields dozens of surreal visuals. Even more surreal: Paul Anka saves the day. You could write a master's thesis on the episode as a satire of rampant consumerism; you'd be wrong, but you'd probably get a summa on it.”
Homer³ "Treehouse of Horror VI" (1995)Selected by: Carolyn Omine
Homer journeys into a CGI vortex before being catapulted into our world, where he winds up at an erotic cake store. “It could so easily have been gimmicky with its Tron-era CGI, but it manages to be very funny and suspenseful," says Omine. " Homer is adorable in CGI (and not too shabby in live action)."
Citizen Kang"Treehouse of Horror VII" (1996)Selected by: Ryan Koh
In this Citizen Kane parody, drooling aliens Kang and Kodos kidnap Bill Clinton and Bob Dole, assume their identities, get exposed, triumph anyway, and enslave America. “Endless hours in college were wasted quoting The Simpsons, none more than this segment in which Kang and Kodos run for president," says Koh. "Any true fans of the show can quote the setups to these punchlines: ‘Abortions for some. Miniature American flags for others,' ‘Go ahead. Throw your vote away,’ and ‘Don’t blame me. I voted for Kodos.’ Go ahead and try. If you’re like me, this show is permanently burned into your brain."
Citizen Kang"Treehouse of Horror VII" (1996)Selected by: Jeff Westbrook
“Kang and Kodos imitate Bob Dole and Bill Clinton to conquer Earth, despite almost giving the game away by strolling down Main Street holding hands and exchanging long protein strands," says Westbrook. "The Simpsons once predicted Donald Trump’s presidency. Might this segment explain his subsequent unconventional behavior? Sadly, Kang and Kodos reached the limits of rectal probing far too early in the run of the show."
Hell Toupee"Treehouse of Horror IX" (1998)Selected by: Dan Vebber
In this truly hair-raising tale, Snake is executed after a third strike, and when his hair is transplanted onto Homer's head, Homer is compelled to kill. “I've always cracked up when Homer's possessed toupee is ripped from his head, and becomes a fully anthropomorphic, fist-shaking being for a few seconds before being shot dead by trigger-happy Wiggum and his officers," says Vebber. "It's a brutal, brilliantly animated death sequence with an attention to detail that would have been genuinely disturbing were we watching the expiration of a person, but since it's a bunch of evil hair, it's just charmingly zany. And then Marge tries to remind us that two beloved characters were killed in the segment, but it's undercut by Wiggum cracking a lame 'bad hair day' joke. The perfect Simpsons mixture of bleak, lazy, and hilarious!”
The Terror of Tiny Toon"Treehouse of Horror IX" (1998)Selected by: Megan Amram
Bart and Lisa find themselves in a terrifying cat and mouse game when they enter the world of The Itchy & Scratchy Show and are hunted by the characters. “Bart and Lisa fill the TV remote with plutonium and are sucked into the nightmare land of Itchy & Scratchy," says Amram. "There are so many things to love about this segment — 'To Protect & Sever' is one of my favorite Simpsons wordplay jokes of all time. It's also probably my favorite Simpsons episode that features a live-action Regis Philbin.”
Night of the Dolphin"Treehouse of Horror XI" (2000)Selected by: Mike Scully
Dophins go from sentient to violent, seeking revenge on humans for making them to do tricks, resulting in an all-out war that dooms all Springfieldians to the sea. "I love the idea of Lisa trying to protect a dolphin backfiring on the town, the shot of the dolphins walking on land in formation, and when the lead dolphin, Snorky (played by Harry Shearer), speaks at the town meeting," says Scully. "SNORKY: [in high child's voice] 'Snorky... talk... man...[clears throat, then deep male voice] I'm sorry, let me start over. Eons ago, dolphins lived on the land...' The humans/dolphins battle at the end is very funny and pretty violent, particularly Moe shoving a gas pump nozzle into a dolphin's blowhole to explode him. I think we won a PETA award for that. Or we were fined, I can't remember."
Hex and the City"Treehouse of Horror XII" (2001)Selected by: Joel Cohen
A Thinner parody in which Homer incurs the wrath of a gypsy after he destroys her shop, and sets out to catch a leprachaun with Trix, er, Lucky Charms to reverse the curse. “It's the first Simpsons thing I ever had my name on as a writer, so it has a warm place in my heart (right behind where I keep the cholesterol)," says Cohen. "As if that wasn't enough (and we all know it isn't), it also is the first appearance of the angry, often-drunk leprechaun character that has since appeared numerous more times. Warm hearts and angry leprechauns — isn't that what Halloween is all about?”
House of Whacks"Treehouse of Horror XII" (2001)Selected by: John Frink
The Simpsons purchase a highly intelligent, automated house upgrade that becomes obsessed with Marge. “The truth is that this was my writing partner, the late, great Don Payne's favorite segment," says Frink. "I wrote it with him. When I say 'I wrote it with him,' I mean Don had the idea, he wrote most of the story, I came in at the eleventh hour to shoot holes in that story, I fought against it ever being produced and against it ever being aired. My biggest contribution came when I put my name before his in the writing credits.
"But my appreciation for this tale of the house at 742 Evergreen Terrace becoming the murderous Ultrahouse 3000 has grown over the years. Who couldn't love a Simpson home that falls in love with Marge and then plots to kill Homer so that it can have her for himself? In a way, it speaks to my own situation. I have a house. I have a wife. But if my house wants my wife, I'm sure we can work out something. Thanks, Don, and Happy Halloween. "
Stop the World, I Want to Goof Off"Treehouse of Horror XIV" (2003)Selected by: Brian Kelley
Another segment that disrupts the space-time continuum: In this send-up of the Twilight Zone episode "A Kind of a Stopwatch," Bart and Milhouse buy a 49-cent stopwatch that can freeze time and they use it to prank the hell out of Springfield. “John Swartzwelder's scripts always depress the hell out of me, because I will never produce anything half as good," says Kelley. "I love the premise — Bart orders a time-stopping watch from a comic book ad and it actually works — because it's a fantasy every kid has had. Then the jokes come at a furious, dare I say 'Swartzwelderian,' pace. So many great lines, my favorite being Oscar de la Hoya, while punching Martin to death: ‘Dios Mio, this kid is fun to hit!’”
The Ned Zone"Treehouse of Horror XV" (2004)Selected by: Bill Odenkirk
This Dead Zone parody features Ned Flanders, after a bowling ball accident, realizing that he can foresee death, as well as the closing of Rosie O'Donnell's musical. “My favorite segment was also the scariest for me," says Odenkirk. "‘The Ned Zone’ was my first writing assignment and a parody of Stephen King’s The Dead Zone. He’s a genius so I was pretty safe. However, by the time I’d finished it I had 22 pages for what should have been twelve, and I was terrified they’d fire me. Thirteen years later I’m still here and I see that torture was their aim. What I loved about that segment was that it summed up Homer and Ned's relationship. Both men are jerks and everyone around them suffers for it and dies in a nuclear explosion. Actually, that's all relationships.”
The Ned Zone"Treehouse of Horror XV" (2004)Selected by: Matt Selman
“Start to finish, it’s one of the funniest segments about one of my favorite subjects — idiots trying to keep the future from happening but then causing it anyway and also making things worse," says Selman. "David Silverman's direction on dying Homer almost hitting the core destruct button then not hitting it then hitting it with his tongue is as classic as anything the show has ever done. A great segment to watch recorded off a TV on an iPhone then posted on YouTube.”
You’ve Got to Know When to Golem"Treehouse of Horror XVII" (2006)Selected by: Tim Long
Bart steals from Krusty a mythological creature who will carry out any command written on a scroll and placed in his mouth, while Lisa learns that this Golem of Prague feels great guilt for executing these ill deeds. The story ends, as good Jewish stories do, with latkes. “I had the privilege of directing Richard Lewis, who was unbelievably hilarious as the Golem who came to life to do Bart’s bidding," says Long. "You haven’t lived until you’ve heard Lewis, playing a mythical Jewish creature made of clay, exclaim, 'My stomach feels like it’s hosting a Chabad telethon — and Norm Crosby’s going long.' Plus it’s sweet when Marge builds him a sexy lady Golem made of Play-Doh, voiced by Fran Drescher.
"A couple years later, I ran into Lewis Curb Your Enthusiasm-style at an L.A. health spa, and told him how much we all loved his performance. He brushed off my praise, and said, ‘The Simpsons… you must all do pretty well from that show.’ I responded, ‘Well, you’ve done pretty well in your career too.’ He shot back, ‘If my career was going great, I’d be in Rome — not standing here in a bathrobe, talking to you!’”
It's the Grand Pumpkin, Milhouse"Treehouse of Horror XIX" (2008)Selected by: Al Jean
A nod to the Peanuts' Halloween special It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, Milhouse brings a pumpkin to life, which goes on a murderous tear of revenge through Springfield, only to be stopped by Tom Turkey, who then goes on his own ramge of revenge. “So good, we had to cut Yeardley Smith's perfect rendition of Sally Brown's angry speech to Linus for time," says Jean. "When I was a kid, you looked forward to those two Peanuts specials (with Dolly Madison cupcake commercials) all year long. We were able to clear the original Vince Guaraldi music, which combines beauty and nostalgia in an unmatched way. And one of my favorite lines ever — re: pumpkin seeds —is ‘You roast the unborn?’”
How to Get Ahead in Dead-Vertising"Treehouse of Horror XIX" (2008)Selected by: Michael Price
This segment riffs on the exploitation of dead celebrities in commercials, sending Homer on a murder spree in which he takes out famous people ranging from George Clooney to Prince. "That was just a great Matt Warburton-written episode all the way through, from the cold open of Homer’s deadly encounter with an evil computer voting machine to Matt’s brilliant takedown of 'It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown,' surely the most depressing animated children’s special in history," says Price. "But the segment I love the most from this Treehouse is 'How to Get Ahead in Dead-Vertising,' a ridiculous story about the ghosts of deceased celebrities, led by Krusty, coming down from Heaven to wreak gory justice against the advertising industry for commercially exploiting their digital images after their deaths. That segment was tremendous fun to work on, and contains a joke that went off like a comedy bomb in the writers room when Marc Wilmore pitched it. I believe it may be one of the biggest, hardest laughs I’ve ever heard in the room. As the ghosts of Bob Hope, John Lennon, Abraham Lincoln and others go hog wild on the living, one of the ghosts is legendary prop comedian Rip Taylor. When Comic Book Guy points out that Rip isn’t even dead, Rip (voiced by Dan Castellanetta) blithely states, “Someone needs to check my apartment,' then goes skipping off, merrily singing and tossing his signature confetti. Thankfully, the real Rip Taylor is still with us, but his 'ghost' lives on in the annals of Simpsons writers' room laughter."
The Greatest Story Ever Holed"Treehouse of Horror XXIII" (2012)Selected by: J. Stewart Burns
A Subatomic Supercollider creates tiny black hole that the Simpsons squirrel away in their basement. As everyone throws their garbage into it, it begins to expand ominously, ultimately transporting Springfieldians to a faraway planet, where they discover that aliens are obsessed with their junk. “The science of micro black holes and their potential behavior is fascinating," says Burns. "In this episode we didn't explore any of that and just made up a bunch of stuff instead. But it turned out funny. Also if you were playing Tapped Out, you could put a tiny black hole in your town. I put mine near the nuclear plant with a barbed wire fence around it.”
Mmm…. Homer"Treehouse of Horror XXVIII" (2017)Selected by: Rob Lazebnik
This segment from the upcoming "Treehouse of Horror" might make some viewers lose their lunch — when they find out what's for lunch. "If you think that an animated show is no longer able to astonish and shock, I want you to watch this Sunday’s Treehouse segment 'Mmm…Homer,'" says Lazebnik. "When we first screened it at work, we cynical, jaded, blasé, jaundiced (though that’s really just our skin) comedy writers screamed, howled and recoiled. I don’t want to give too much away, but Homer declares that he’s changed his diet to become a 'me-gan.' As I watched him going to culinary places that would have kept the Donner Party up at night, I had to keep reminding myself, 'It’s not real, it’s just a cartoon, this will pass.' But every now and then I’ll see a colleague staring off into the distance over his lunch and I’ll see it in his eyes – he remembers."
To see more images from Sunday's Treehouse of Horror XXVIII, click here.