What makes a good scary story? What’s creepy to one reader may not stir another. What kind of stories scares me? Ancient evils will keep me up at night: demons, vampires, the undead, and the unknown. If these evils threaten you, then here are 10 of the scariest horror novels ever written.
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BY WILLIAM PETER BLATTY
Harper Paperbacks, Anniversary Edition, October 4, 2011
Horror, Fiction, Occult
The Exorcist is one of the most controversial horror novels ever written. A young teenage girl, Regan MacNeil, is possessed by an ancient demon. After an assessment by numerous doctors, her mother appeals to the Catholic Church in desperation. Two priests attempt to cast out the devil, but both sacrifice their lives to save her. I first read this book as a teenager. I slept with the lights on for a few nights and made my dad look in my closet and under the bed before I would go into my room. He was not happy about it.
BY STEPHEN KING
Anchor, August 2, 2002
Fiction, Horror, Vampire
Salem’s Lot is one of the best horror novels ever written. Ben Mears grew up in the small New England town of Salem’s Lot. He leaves his childhood town but returns years later to face his demons. Ben discovers that an ancient, unspeakable evil has gripped the small town, and the residents are slowly becoming vampires. Ben and his friends battle an evil stranger and the nightmare that has become Salem’s Lot.
I Am Legend
BY RICHARD MATHESON
Mass Market Paperback, 2007
Fiction, Horror, Zombies
I Am Legend is a precursor to modern zombie stories. Robert Neville believes he’s the sole survivor of a global pandemic and spends his time researching the disease that turned humans into vampire-like zombies. After years of hunting and killing infected, Neville finds he’s the last human, a legend in his own right, in a new society. It is he who doesn’t belong.
BY IRA LEVIN
Pegasus Books, May 5, 2014
In Rosemary’s Baby, happily married Rosemary Woodhouse and her husband Guy settle in an old New York City apartment building where the occupants are primarily eccentric. When Rosemary discovers she’s pregnant, the residents take an unusual interest in her well-being. Her husband tries to ease her concerns, but she soon learns what’s happening.
BY BRAM STOKER
Independently Published, February 1, 2023
Fiction, Horror, Vampire
Bram Stroker introduces the infamous Count Dracula in his 1897 novel Dracula. Stoker tells the story of the Count’s move from his home in Transylvania to England to spread the curse. A battle between good and evil ensues between Count Dracula and a small group of folks led by Van Helsing. While the novel has flaws, it is a must-read for vampire fans.
BY MARY SHELLEY
Penguin Classics, January 16, 2018
A young Mary Shelley tells the story of Victor Frankenstein, who creates the monster Frankenstein as a scientific experiment. The scientist steals body parts from the dead to create life, then quickly becomes horrified at his creation. The novel, considered a horror and a science fiction work, addresses the relationship between science and humanity.
BY SCOTT SMITH
Vintage, February 26, 2008
In the novel The Ruins, a group of young folks partying in Mexico venture into the country when one of their brothers, searching for hidden ancient ruins, goes missing. The five meet unspeakable horrors as they discover the truth behind the ruins and the villagers who protect them.
Let the Right One In
BY JOHN AJVIDE LINDQVIST
St. Martin’s Griffin; First Edition, October 28, 2008
An unusual child moves to the town of Blackeberg in the novel Let the Right One In. Soon after, a teenager is the victim of a heinous act, dead and drained of blood. Oskar, a twelve-year-old local boy, bullied constantly, hopes it’s revenge for his torment. He soon meets the young vampire, who moves near him, and strange and horrific events escalate.
The Dreams in the Witch House and Other Weird Stories
BY H.P. LOVECRAFT
Penguin Classics, September 28, 2004
Fiction, Short Stories, Horror
In the main story, The Dreams in the Witch House, a young man rents a room in a haunted witch house. The house once belonged to a witch who fled Salem before she was put to death. All the previous tenants of the house were found dead. He, too, begins having weird dreams, odd experiences, and hallucinations. In the end, the student doesn’t escape his fate. The collection contains twenty other stories excellent short stories.
House of Leaves
BY MARK Z. DANIELEWSKI
Pantheon, March 7, 2000
A highly creative and unique novel, Danielewski’s House of Leaves circulated for years in literary circles as a manuscript. It tells the story of a family who moves into a tiny house larger on the inside than out. Soon after moving in, the family meets with unspeakable horrors.
10 of the Scariest Horror Novels Ever Written Continues
The list of 10 of the scariest horror novels ever written is incomplete. Do you have any recommendations for the list? Share your book titles in the comments.