As far as feeling fear, I still think that reading a scary book is far scarier than any jumpscare-filled video game or movie. When you read a scary book, your own mind is the director. You put yourself in the protagonist’s shoes. You can create the world (and the ‘monster’) visually in your own head (and we ALL know what is in our heads is much scarier than what we end up seeing in movies or games). Whereas a scary movie you watch and then it ends, some of the scariest books out there will stay with you LONG after you put them down, haunting you to your very core. Scary books get under our skin and stay there like a botfly, growing and undulating under your flesh.
With Halloween right around the corner, I thought, what better time to wax about the scariest books I’ve ever read than right now? Without further ado, here are 15 scary books that make for PERFECT reads right around Halloween.
Chuck Palahniuk is one of my favorite authors alive today and for good reason: he pushes the envelope and has a real gift for mixing dark humor with some VERY morbid and messed up scenarios. Though DIARY almost beat this one out and Lullabye was close, Haunted wins because of the short story GUTS that opens the book. I won’t ruin that story for you but I WILL tell you people have passed out during live readings of it, it is that messed up.
Haunted itself is about a group of writers who are invited to a writer’s retreat and are convinced it is a reality show where they have to one-up each other in terms of the “holy shit” factor of their story.
Basically, you have a series of stories here that will disturb you for life, each one more so than the last.
I can’t tell you much about this story because a big part of its appeal lies in its slow reveal of what is REALLY going on. I can give you a surface run down, though.
Basically, you spend the entirety of this book with a child psychopath talking candidly about how he has killed animals and other children, and the lack of remorse from these stories and the fact that a child committed all these acts is just unsettling to its core. This is one of those “scariest books” because stuff like this happens. A theme you will see again on the list. True horror can be far scarier than any monster.
There is also a subplot about a psycho older brother being let out of a looney bin and a third-act twist that will mess with your head for days.
Yes, the movie adaptation of this book is considered one of the scariest movies ever made, to this day. But when it comes to discussions about scariest books ever written, anyone who leaves The Exorcist off the list just means they didn’t have the courage to get all the way through the book.
Just the idea of a demon using a little girl as a vessel is scary enough, but the things she says and does under that influence have messed up people for generations.
And though the movie was scary AF, the book takes those terrors to new heights by placing them in your head. It also goes to darker places because obviously, you can get away with more in a book than you can with an actual little girl on-screen.
Don’t care if people say this is a kid’s book. The scary stories in this book are the kind you will remember forever and end up retelling other people around campfires and during blackouts for decades.
For me, The Red Ribbon was the scary story that ruined my childhood and also made it way better and made me want to be a writer. It also helped keep me away from women who wear scarves on their necks.
Plus, Stephen Gammell’s art is the stuff of pure nightmares. The art made the stories even more disturbing.
Every volume of the Books of Blood series by horror master Clive Barker is legendary. Whereas Stephen King kept his horror more widely accessible, Barker went more for the exposed vein, using body horror and psycho-sexual imagery to really strike terror into readers’ hearts.
We must also remember, this scary book series was where the Hellraiser movies came from (The Hellbound Heart was the original and far superior title), but for me, the story that stuck with me most and I found to be the scariest is called In The Hills, the Cities and I won’t ruin it for you here but trust me, the image of thousands of humans formed together to make one giant human will sit in your gut forever.
Shit, I just ruined it. Still, you have no idea where that goes and it is unforgettable. A must-read for horror fans, as it is very H.P Lovecraft.
Haunted houses have existed in horror since its very inception, but outside The Haunting of Hill House, Hell House is the scariest haunted house book ever. Rather than a house that moans and creaks, in this case, you have a house that essentially makes everyone who enters it go batshit insane.
Though the formula for this kind of horror has been done to death, Hell House takes a very unsettling and unique approach by basically making the house a character in the book rather than a residence or place.
That very aspect is what makes it so damn creepy. And Richard Matheson is up there for best horror writers ever, right next to Barker and King.
Not so much a scary book for supernatural reasons but more so, a book that is scary because it shows us, through a microscope, what horrors humans are capable of inflicting on other humans without remorse.
The book with heavy Western themes that follows a young boy who falls in with a group of scalp-hunters (yes, that means exactly what you think it means) and his life just descends further and further into darkness until there is no light left, for “the kid” as he is called in the book.
Two scenes in particular in this book are some of the most disturbing prose I have ever read (and I LIVE for this shit)…
I will say no more. Read this one with caution.
There is little scarier in premise than the idea of a mass pandemic, and Blindness addresses what would happen if all of the world slowly went blind. Unlike Books of Blood or Hell House, Blindness is another book that will leave you wrecked because it focuses on the horror that humans are capable of when things go south.
Much like the book above, Blindness is wholly unsettling and once you finish it, you may look at humanity with different eyes.
Wow, that works on two levels here.
We all know the movie, we all love it, but again, the book delved into much darker places than the movie did.
Focusing on the story of one 80s businessman and his psychotic desires, American Psycho is a story that can go from funny to shocking in seconds, and some of the most shocking material was left on the cutting room floor because they didn’t want to get nailed with an NC-17 rating.
One of the aforementioned scenes involves a very hungry rat and a prostitute, and you can fill in the blanks on your own for that one.
I read all the Thomas Harris “Hannibal” novels, and I still think Red Dragon, the very first, is the scariest. This is the chapter where we get introduced to Hannibal Lecter, as well as the man who put him away. They work together to try to find a new killer, and as you know, the dichotomy between the two is mesmerizing to read. It is like a cat playing with a mouse, only for the mouse to turn and bite back.
Plus, there are some scenes in this book that are downright terrifying. The scene when…will make it so you always close your blinds FOREVER. And that is what the best horror does. It takes something every day you have to face and makes it terrifying.
Just think of how Psycho changed how people feel about showers or how Jaws changed how people felt about the ocean (BOTH books before they were movies).
Do you want to read a book that will make you feel as crazy as the person in it? House of Leaves is for you. Not a simple or short read by any means, it is like a book within a book within a book, and each layer reveals more insanity. It is actually a very hard book to explain.
The story revolves around a man who lives in a house that is not quite as it first appears. Is the house haunted? Is the character haunted? Or will you finish this daunting read and realize it is actually you who was haunted the whole time?
Yes, this is one of THOSE kinds of books. Not for everyone, but a masterpiece to many, and definitely one of the scariest books ever (and pretty damn ambitious, too).
I know you all know this story because of the iconic character and the movie, but to not give this book a read means you miss out on just how perfect it is. Written by a teenage girl in a weekend on a dare, Frankenstein nails the feel of gothic horror perfectly.
You may think you know the story inside and out, but the prose on display here and how perfectly it flows just makes it a book that is very hard to put down and in the end, is thematically (and literally) scary as hell at certain points.
Plus, kudos for this being the first book to really ask, are these the monsters or are humans the TRUE horror?
I think by now in 2017 we all know the answer to that question.
Body horror is not something to scoff at. The idea of something parasitic inside you, feeding off you, and making you rot is scary as f*ck, and few books have nailed body horror like The Ruins.
Long and short, some teenagers are vacationing far away and end up at a sort of temple they choose to check out. Come to find out, once they step foot inside, it is already too late for them.
You may have seen the decent movie adaptation of this scary-ass book, but the scenes and descriptions in the book will leave you nauseous and convinced you can feel things crawling under YOUR skin. And it amps up to a helluva ending.
Ray Bradbury was a master and though it came down to this story and The Illustrated Man (read that, too) I went with Something Wicked because it plays off childhood fears, and those are fears we can all still relate to.
Something Wicked This Way Comes is about a fair that comes to town, and the man leading it may be more than the town bargained for. It is simple in premise and compared to the other scary books on this list, it is a mild read, but when you read it from the perspective of a child, you realize, it is a genuinely unsettling piece about the forced loss of innocence (much like Stephen King’s IT, which I only left off the list because I’ve already talked it up in at least six articles).
Also note, Disney made this into a movie back when they were brave enough to still do “kid horror” and it is a damn good film, surprisingly, though the aged special effects do hurt it a little.
There is an urban legend about a man named Sawney Bean who lived in and among the green hills of Scotland and was rumored to be the head of a gang of vicious cannibals (48 total) who may have eaten up to 1,000 people in the 16th century. I am telling you that for a reason.
Off Season is one of many Jack Ketchum novels and the man can write some traumatizing shit better than most. All his books will traumatize you BTW, but I picked Off Season because the concept is genuinely scary as hell.
Off Season plays with the idea of the surviving members of the Sawney Bean clan descending upon one house and family for a night, subjecting them to tortures and cruelty and I cannot even write about here they are so depraved.
If you think the idea of a home invasion is scary, just wait until you read this one.
(Goes Without Saying Entry)
Anything by H.P Lovecraft. That man wrote horror like no other, and if you have never read The Shadow Over Innsmouth, you may have missed out on one of the best horror stories ever written straight up.
Cool side note, I live 20 minutes from the town that inspired that story.