Once upon a midnight dreary, Matt Groening’s “The Simpsons” conjured up a Halloween special with the modest title “Treehouse of Horror.” In the twilight of October 25, 1990, TV lovers tuned into Fox for a seasonal three-part parody framed as Lisa and Bart exchanging scary stories while an unfazed Maggie and terrified Homer listened along.
The Season 2 episode would kick off a spooky tradition that “The Simpsons” fans have enjoyed for more than three decades. The inaugural “Treehouse of Horror” chapter introduced fan-favorite characters: the aliens Kodos and Kang who would visit for every “Treehouse of Horror” to follow. Season 3’s “Treehouse of Horror II” would incorporate a special credits sequence, featuring a graveyard full of funny headstones (see “Casper the Friendly Boy” and the meta “Amusing Tombstones”) and Halloween-themed nicknames for the show’s artists, producers, and writers.
Early “Treehouse of Horror” episodes framed their anthologies as cohesive wholes: first as Lisa and Bart telling stories in their treehouse then as the Simpson family members’ respective nightmares, ghost stories told at a Springfield Halloween party, and more. These “Treehouse of Horror” installments also included a fourth wall break from Marge at the beginning, warning viewers that the holiday special could be too scary for younger viewers. Both the framing device and Marge’s messages would be dropped in later seasons.
From the snowy scares of Season 6’s “The Shinning” to the witchy antics of Season 9’s “Easy Bake-Coven,” “The Simpsons” Halloweens specials include three stand-alone parodies — not treated as a canon — with source material ranging from “The Twilight Zone” episodes to contemporary movies and series, such as the Best Picture winner “Parasite” and Netflix’s beloved “Russian Doll.”
To celebrate Halloween in October 2022, IndieWire has ranked the top 10 best “Treehouse of Horror” episodes “The Simpsons” ever aired. Though there’s obvious bias toward earlier installments, that’s less of an indictment on the series’ diminishing quality overall (even if that case can be made) and should instead be considered a reflection of what we consider the essential “Treehouse of Horror” chapters to binge if you’ve only got time for the classics.