There’s lots of annual traditions people do on Halloween, trick r’ treating, go to parties, exploring fake haunted house's, dress up in costumes, decorating the house, etc. Well, I do all of that, and I also make it a tradition to watch the annual “Simpsons: Tree House of Horror”. The Simpsons of course need no introduction, it’s often regarded as one of the greatest animated TV series of all time, it’s a beloved comedy series, and it’s one of the longest lasting TV shows in recorded history. Yes, it’s a classic series, but personally the best thing about this show is its yearly Halloween special. Ever sense the second season it became a tradition to always have a Halloween episode. It’s practically a small series in of itself because instead of a traditional half-hour long episode, the “Simpsons: Tree House of Horror” consist of three short back to back episodes in a single block. It’s an anthology, comedy series, and I love it.
These episodes are often regarded as some of the best of the entire Simpsons line-up and their so popular that most marketing toured the show revolves around their Halloween episodes. There’s a Simpsons tree house addition of Monopoly, video game spinoff’s, comic book spinoffs and I’ll never forget when Burger King had a lineup of toys based around the Halloween episodes and recurring characters. This lasted for a couple years, I distinctly remember my friends and I tried to collect as many of them as possible. Regrettably, I’ve lost them over the years, but at least I still have the board game.
The episodes weren’t always aimed at Halloween specifically, sometimes it was a funny recreation of a popular “Twilight Zone” episode, other times it would be a parody of a popular horror movie. The very first episode I ever saw was titled “Fly VS. Fly”, which was a satire of the classic 1958 Sci-Fi/ Horror movie “The Fly”. Other popular horror movies including “The Exorcist”, “King Kong”, “Night of the Living Dead”, “Psycho”, “Paranormal Activity” and “A Nightmare on Elm Street” have all gotten funny Simpsons makeovers on this show. Over the years they began to spoof non horror films and instead big blockbusters like “Avatar”, “E.T. The Extra Terrestrial” and “Mr. and Mrs. Smith”. Even popular children’s films from the 90’s like “Free Willy” and “Jumanji” all had funny spoof episodes.
There’s also a lot of annual traditions that reoccur with ever yearly Halloween episode. One of my favorite traditions is the opening segments, which often recreate the traditional Simpsons intro with a funny Halloween twist. Half the time these openings are better than the actual episodes, and often do a better job getting me in the mood for Halloween. Another tradition are appearances from the two squid aliens named Kang and Kodos. These characters are exclusive to the Tree House of Horror series, and usually just make short cameos, but they’ve also had entire episodes dedicated to them, which are always a lot of fun. Another set tradition that regrettably didn’t last long were the Wraparounds, which were like mini segments that loosely connected all the shorts. For example, in the second season, the kids take turns telling scary stories in a tree house, and every story the kids tell leads into a new short. There was also a season in which they eat too much candy resulting in every family member having a separate nightmare that would act as a standalone episode. This unfortunately didn’t continue after season four, but the result was longer episodes, and that was at least a plus.
You can never predict what you'll get from a Simpsons Halloween special, it could be dark, it could be cute or it could be extremly wild and over the top. One thing's for certain, they can always make an audience laugh, and laugh hard. Right now there’s a total of 75 episodes, and there’s no way I can do them justice because they just need to be seen on their own. However, I’ll at least round up my personal top 10 favorite episodes.
10. Attack of the 50-Foot Eyesores
Now here’s a clever satire revolving around product placement, and advertising that have gone too far. In this episode, giant company mascots and logos come to life to destroy the city, but the only way to defeat them is to ignore them. It’s wild, imaginative and features one of my favorite Bart Simpsons jokes as he literally becomes a shoulder devil for a giant devil monster.
It was only a matter of time before the popular “Twilight” series got the Simpsons treatment for Halloween. I’ll start by saying that I’ve never had any real animosity toured the often hated “Twilight” series, but these guys sure gave it a funny spoof as Homer finds himself teaming up with Dracula in order to prevent Liza from falling in love with the Counts evil son. The variety of vampire jokes are great and the stabs made at “Twilight” are terrific. It’s just good old Halloween fun with this spoof.
8. Bart Simpsons Dracula
Here’s yet another clever vampire parody, but this time aimed at the 1992 motion picture “Bram Stoker's Dracula”, and it even pokes fun at “The Lost Boys”. It’s a brilliant spoof like any of their movie parodies, but this one has some of the quickest comedy and flat out funny jokes that the Halloween collection has ever offered, and that’s saying a lot. Plus, Mr. Burns has never been more memorable then as a second rate Count Dracula.
7. Dial ‘Z’ for Zombies
Definitely a classic episode, what’s not to like about a premise involving the Simpsons battling an army of scary zombies. When Bart reads from a magic book in an effort to bring the family cat back from the dead, he unintentionally awakens a herd of Zombies, or as they like to be called “The Living Impaired”. This episode has all the good stuff, cute moments, clever gags, social satire, zombie action, and lots of dark comedy. The best scene of all is when Homer kills zombie Flanders, you really just need to see it for yourself.
6. I’ve Grown a Costume on Your Face
In this episode, a real witch gets insulted at a costume party, which results in her cursing the town people to literally become what their dressed up as for Halloween. There’s a lot of creativity and funny jokes revolving around the towns folk as they try to adjust in their new forms. It’s just really fun seeing everybody become their costumes, and it’s especially nice to have an episode that’s positively drenched in Halloween.
5. The Terror of Tiny Toon
This is without a doubt one of the most imaginative situations to come from the series. Bart and Lisa get sucked into their TV and are dropped in an extremely violent Itchy and Scratchy cartoon. The kids are the prey, while the cartoons are the villains that simply want to destroy them. The result is a frantic chase throughout TV world, with lots of cartoony gags and visual hummer. Sense their stuck in a TV show, Bart and Lisa can do more traditionally cartoony things that you’d normally see in an old Roadrunner cartoon. They also jump through different TV programs, even a moment when they drop into a live action cooking show. What more can I say, it’s just comedy gold.
4. The Shinning
As you’d expect from the title, this episode is a parody of the 1980 horror classic “The Shining”. It captures the feel and mood of its movie counterpart beautifully with some of the best dark comedy the show ever provided. Right from the opening, this episode lets you know what you’re in for as it mocks the film’s daily transition scenes. It’s just a brilliant satire, and a loving tribute to one of the greatest horror movies of all time.
This is an iconic episode that blew everybody’s mind, and it still stands as one of the all time greatest Simpsons moments. When trying to hide from his dead beat relatives, Homer finds himself lost in an AlterNet dimension which looks like the world of “Tron” if it was rented out by “Futurama”. The effects in this episode were awesome, the jokes were great and the ending was brilliant, because Homer actually finds himself in the real world, making it look a little like “Who Framed Roger Rabbit”. It’s just an awesome and clever parody of “The Twilight Zone”, and one that still gets me laughing to this day.
2. It’s the Grand Pumpkin, Millhouse
That’s right, the Simpsons are tackling one of the most treasured Halloween specials of all time. The original “It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown” is still a favorite of mine that I still watch ever year, and from beginning to end, this episode is a faithful recreation of it with some brilliant comedy throughout, and an awesome twist with the grand Pumpkin coming to life to seek revenge on all the pumpkins that have been killed to make Jack O’ lanterns. It’s clever, brings back Nostalgic memories of Charlie Brown and features an awesome ending with giant holiday mascots in battle, what more do I even need to say.
1. Time and Punishment
I’ll always regard this one as a classic, and honestly, it’s the episode that got me watching “The Simpsons” in the first place. When Homer accidently ruins his toaster, he tries his best to repair it, but he unintentionally creates a machine that can send him back in time. Once he gets sent back to the Dinosaur age, he constantly messes things up which have huge changes on his present day life. Every time his present life is altered, he goes back in time to try and fix things again, but it only makes more problems for his life in the future. The comedy is relentlessly fast, and it’s just so creative with how many different AlterNet realities Homer get’s himself stuck in. It also features my favorite moment in the whole series, when he returns to his present life and everything seems perfect, the house is perfect, the family is perfect, but there’s only one setback ... NO DONATES! That just kills me every time. The premise is so brilliant, over the top, and funny that it had to be my number one favorite.
Overall, “The Simpsons: Tree House of Horror” still stand as some of the funniest episodes to come from the series, and to this day there some of my favorite animated Halloween specials that I still enjoy watching every year. If you love Halloween, and you love dark comedy, this is one series that I highly recommend checking out.
I give “The Simpsons: Tree House of Horror” 4 ½ stars out of 5.