The episode was inspired by 1950s horror comics, and begins with a disclaimer that it may be too scary for children. It is the first of a series of Halloween themed episodes. These episodes do not obey the rest of the shows' rules of realism, and are not treated as canon. The opening disclaimer and a panning shot through a cemetery with humorous tombstones were features that were used sporadically in the Treehouse of Horror series and eventually dropped.
The plot revolves around three scary stories told by the Simpson children in the family's treehouse. The first segment involves a haunted house that is based on various theatrical haunted houses. In the second segment, Kang and Kodos are introduced when the Simpsons are abducted by aliens. In the third, Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven" is adapted. James Earl Jones guest starred in all three segments.