Blog – Posted on Monday, Feb 04
100 Best (and Scariest) Horror Books of All Time
The definition of scary changes from person to person. For some, it might be ghosts and haunted houses. For others, serial killers. For still others, the most frightening things are the ones that go bump in the night, unseen.
Despite the width of this spectrum, what unites all lovers of horror is the thrill that horror novels inspire within us: that universal sensation of your heart thumping out of your chest, as cold sweat breaks on your forehead when you turn the page.
To create this list, we went to the darkest, most ghostly corners of the literary world. Without further ado, here are the 100 best horror novels of all time — it's safe to say that we hope they'll keep you up at night. Happy reading!
If you're feeling overwhelmed by the number of great horror books out there, you can also take our 1-minute quiz below to narrow it down quickly and get a personalized horror book recommendation 😉
1. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (1818)
Is there a name more synonymous with horror? The story of Dr. Frankenstein and the anguished, tragic monster he unwittingly creates has become a cultural icon, both macabre and quintessential. When Mary Shelley set out to write Frankenstein over two centuries ago, she said that she wanted to create a book that would “speak to the mysterious fears of our nature and awaken thrilling horror — one to make the reader dread to look round, to curdle the blood, and quicken the beatings of the heart.” We can safely say that she succeeded.
2. The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket by Edgar Allan Poe (1838)
The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym is a mixture of Moby Dick-esque maritime detail (it later inspired Herman Melville) and H.P. Lovecraft-style cosmic horror. The titular Pym stows away on the Grampus, a whaling ship headed for southern waters. But after mutiny breaks out on the upper deck, Pym is left stranded by one of his friends, only to face a series of gruesome situations once he’s retrieved.
3. The Fall of the House of Usher and Other Tales by Edgar Allan Poe (1839)
Could you really call a list of the best horror books complete without a nod (or two) to the genius of Edgar Allan Poe? Sibling dynamics are given new meaning in The Fall of the House of Usher, a work of gothic fiction that centers on a spooky household. Roderick is a sick man with acute sensitivity to everything, who lives in constant fear he is about to die. His sister, Madeline, suffers from catalepsy (a sickness involving seizures). An unnamed narrator visits them both and gets more than he bargained for.
4. Gothic Tales by Elizabeth Gaskell (1851-1861)
Just as the tin says! Gothic Tales is a collection of (surprise!) gothic tales — more specifically, fairy tales intertwined with short stories. Written by 19th-century author Elizabeth Gaskell, these stories deliver everything: disappearances, Salem witch hunts, mysterious children wandering lost in the moors, and local legends that may or may not return to haunt the townspeople. And with every story, Gaskell shows her uncanny talent of blending reality and the supernatural with spine-tingling dexterity.
5. Carmilla by J. Sheridan Le Fanu (1872)
Before Dracula, there was Carmilla. This tale of a female vampire who attracts a lonely young girl served as the foundation for the “lesbian vampirism” trope (and, no doubt, inspired Bram Stoker to some extent as well). So fans of the emerging cult classic Jennifer’s Body, you’ve found your literary horror match.
6. Dracula by Bram Stoker (1897)
Meet the most famous vampire of all time. Dracula was born out of Bram Stoker’s imagination over a century ago — yet he still lives on today in our collective consciousness. Dracula is his story, one in which he roams from Transylvania to England to spread the curse of the undead amongst innocents. More than a simple tale about vampirism, Dracula is an era-defining masterwork about sexuality, technology, superstition, and an ancient horror that’s too terrible for words.
7. The Turn of the Screw by Henry James (1898)
The Turn of the Screw is the original children of the damned! When a governess is hired to take care of Miles and Flora, the niece and nephew of a wealthy Englishman, she has no idea what she’s in for. As she discovers the tragic fate of her predecessor, she starts seeing things that can only be explained in one of two ways: either she’s mad… or the specter of the late governess wants her job back!
8. The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories by H. P. Lovecraft (1928)
Perhaps the most influential of American horror writers, H.P. Lovecraft was responsible for creating an entire mythology of elder gods, sinister sea-dwellers, mysterious cults, and men of science who are driven to the edge of their sanity. The Call of Cthulhu remains one of the most accessible entry points into Lovecraft’s works — some of which, if we’re being honest, are a bit hard for the uninitiated to follow.
9. Collected Ghost Stories by M. R. James (1931)
M.R. James essentially originated the “antiquarian ghost story.” Indeed, his writing was revolutionary for its time, discarding old Gothic clichés and using more realistic settings — which as we know by now, only makes a scary story scarier. His Collected Ghost Stories includes a whopping 30 tales, most of which involve a mild-mannered academic stumbling upon an artifact that calls forth some malevolent, otherworldly presence. Yes, the ghosts are fascinating; but what’s really admirable here is James’ signature subtlety of style.
10. At the Mountains of Madness by H. P. Lovecraft (1936)
This post-Cthulhu novella by Lovecraft is so long and twisty that even Lovecraft himself couldn’t get it published at first. At the Mountains of Madness relates the horrifying details of an Antarctic expedition gone wrong, in which the remains of a prehistoric species seemingly came to life and slayed humans. As the narrative spirals further, both the characters and the reader come to realize that instead of a life-changing discovery, the explorers may have brought about a death-wracking monster.
11. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier (1938)
“Last night, I dreamt I went to Manderley again.” Perhaps the most famous first line of any novel in the 20th century, this intoxicating blend of romance and suspense was seemingly made for Alfred Hitchcock, who went on to direct Rebecca's silver screen adaptation. After a whirlwind romance, a shy American marries a wealthy Englishman and returns to his estate in Cornwall. She soon realizes that she’s now living under the (literal or figurative) shadow of her husband’s first wife: the seemingly perfect and recently deceased Rebecca de Winter.
12. I Am Legend by Richard Matheson
One man’s hero is another man’s villain. If there’s only one lesson we learn from Matheson’s survival classic, let it be that. Doctor Robert Neville is the last man left alive. In the daylight, he hits the streets, stocking up on supplies and vanquishing the vampiric creature that lurk in the shadows. But when night falls, he squirrels himself away in his fortress of a home and works desperately on a cure for an epidemic that has ended the human race.
13. The Bad Seed by William March (1954)
Now synonymous with any misbehaving child, the original “bad seed” was Rhoda Penmark, the sociopathic eight-year-old. Her mother Christine suspects her of hurting and possibly killing a classmate, an elderly neighbor, and even her own dog — and as Christine discovers the truth about her own mother’s dark past, she realizes that Rhoda has to be stopped at all costs, before The Bad Seed sprouts any further.
14. The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson (1959)
You know how some people say that the setting is almost like another character in the story? Well, in the case of this spooky classic, that’s the literal truth. When a parapsychologist invites a group of volunteers to stay at an old mansion with a bloody mystery, he hopes to uncover evidence of the supernatural. As the tension ratchets up, each of the guests is confronted by inexplicable phenomena. Listed by Stephen King as one of the best horror books of the 20th century, The Haunting of Hill House is a must-read for any fan of the genre.
15. Psycho by Robert Bloch (1959)
If you’re into horror, you’re no stranger to Psycho. But let’s recap one of the best horror plots of all time anyway: inspired by the real-life story of psychotic murderer Ed Gein, Norman Bates and his Mother own the Bates motel, with the unlit neon sign out front. When a woman checks into the motel one night, Norman can’t help but spy on her. Displeased, Mother plans to rectify her son’s behaviour by eliminating the woman, and anything that might purge Norman of his dark thoughts.
16. We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson (1962)
We learn three things in the first paragraph of Jackson’s final novel: Mary Katherine Blackwood lives with her sister Constance; she loves the death-cap mushroom; and everyone else in her family is dead. From the supreme master of shivers-down-your-spine horror comes a tale of Gothic surroundings and even more sinister, yet inscrutable, inner lives. You’ll be guessing the wicked truth about Mary and Constance right up to the very end.
17. The Case Against Satan by Ray Russell (1962)
Bearing strong superficial resemblance to a certain classic, Russell’s novel also features a pair of priests tasked with examining a young girl who may be possessed by the devil. Between The Case Against Satan, The Exorcist and Rosemary’s Baby, contemporary readers can sense a Catholic-tinged fear of the devil pervading through American horror of the 60s. If you like the other two, why not give this one a chance?
18. Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury (1962)
At the beginning of Something Wicked This Way Comes, twelve-year-olds Will and Jim can’t wait to visit “Cooger & Dark's Pandemonium Shadow Show.” But during their visit, they witness something odd: ol’ Cooger riding backwards on the carousel, which turns him into a boy of their own age. As Will and Jim tail the Benjamin Button-ized Cooger, searching for answers, they find that the mysteries of the carnival are even darker than they anticipated — and that that darkness may not be limited to the carnival alone.
19. Rosemary's Baby by Ira Levin (1967)
If, for some reason, you’re doubting whether Rosemary’s Baby is one of the best horror books of all time, let us remind that it was the bestselling horror novel of the 1960s, launching a boom in the commercial success of horror fiction in general. As with many stories in the genre, Rosemary’s Baby starts out pretty innocently, and then things take a turn for the worst: Rosemary and Guy have just moved into a beautiful Manhattan apartment, and life is good. That is, until their dream home starts to turn into a living nightmare, and they begin to feel that the devil lives only a few doors down.
20. Hell House by Richard Matheson (1971)
In Hell House, the I am Legend scribe reaches terrifying new heights by expertly combining his flair for suspense with an intuitive eye for horror. The story opens on a dying millionaire who pays $100,000 each to a physicist and two mediums for them to retrieve “proof” of life after death. The group’s plan: travel to Maine and spend the week in the Belasco House, the most haunted house in the world. Whether any of them make it out alive — without going mad — is another question altogether.
If you don’t trust us, believe Stephen King, who once said: “Hell House is the scariest haunted house novel ever written. It looms over the rest the way the mountains loom over the foothills.”
21. The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty (1971)
No author creates sensation quite like William Peter Blatty and no story has satisfied a nation’s capacity for horror quite like The Exorcist. A literary landmark of the 21st-century, The Exorcist is the deeply troubling tale of one child’s demonic possession and two priests’ attempts to save her from a fate worse than death. Part family drama and all horror, it delivers on all fronts.
22. Carrie by Stephen King (1974)
Allegedly fished out of the trash by his wife, it’s hard to believe that this classic was only the first novel published by Stephen King. As one of the most put-upon teenage girls in literature, the title character struggles with school bullies, a puritanical mother, and unusual (to say the least) physical changes. Even before it went on to become a famous film, Carrie gave early fans a glimpse of King’s greatest gifts: his ability to write sympathetic, fully fleshed characters while also delivering on the big shocks. (Want more King? Check out this list of every Stephen King novel, ranked from most popular to least popular.)
23. Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice (1976)
Speaking of debuts that made a splash: with her first published novel, Anne Rice redefined Southern Gothic for a new generation. The titular interview takes place in modern day, as the vampire Louis recounts his story to a cub reporter. Once a plantation owner in pre-Civil War Louisiana, his life as a creature of the night is marked by his various encounters with Lestat, the vampire responsible for his undeath. Interview with the Vampire went on to be an incredible success, spawning a series of popular novels and a film adaptation starring Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt.
24. The Shining by Stephen King (1977)
What do you get when you take a frustrated writer, a creepy old hotel, and a blizzard that locks everyone inside? An absolute cornerstone of horror, that’s what! If you’ve never read The Shining, brace yourself for a marathon of mounting tension and terrifying twists, with a family fighting for their lives, even as they’re not exactly sure who or what they’re fighting.
25. The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter (1979)
Angela Carter is one of the preeminent magical realist writers of the twentieth century, female or male. The Bloody Chamber, a collection of darkly reimagined fairy tales and folktales, takes a distinctly feminist slant with its portrayal of female characters: many of the heroines in these stories save themselves, rather than waiting for a hero on a white horse. Of course, they have to go through some pretty scary stuff first. Horror lovers who also enjoy a bit of Holly Black or Marissa Meyer, this is unquestionably the collection for you.
26. Ghost Story by Peter Straub (1979)
A group of old men in a quiet town call themselves The Chowder Society. Every so often, they gather to share ghost stories with each other. It’s all just fun and game… until it isn’t. In the wake of a horrific accident, the men are forced to confront one of their stories — and the consequences of the worst thing that they’ve ever done in this brilliant homage to “Night of the Living Dead.”
27. Whispers by Dean Koontz (1980)
Whispers stars Thomas, a screenwriter living in Los Angeles. One day, she is attacked by Bruno Frye, the proprietor of a vineyard she recently visited. She forces him to leave at gunpoint and immediately calls the police — who then call Bruno’s home, where he answers, not more than seconds after the attack. Later on, she is once again attacked by Bruno but manages to get injure him as he escapes. When she called the cops again, she learns that her assailant was found dead hundreds of miles away. But if you think that will put an end to her assaults, then you’re in for a big surprise.
28. The Mask by Dean Koontz (1981)
Not to be confused with the Jim Carrey comedy, The Mask is a shudder-inducing novel from Koontz follows Carol and Paul, a hopeful couple who welcomes a young, amnesiac foster girl into their home. But though “Jane” (who can’t remember her real name) seems angelic at first, her increasingly strange behavior and the mystery of her true identity begins to worry her potential adoptive parents… who may have a closer connection to her than they realize.
29. The Woman in Black by Susan Hill (1983)
Now a major motion picture starring Daniel Radcliffe ( as well as a long-running stage play in London), The Woman in Black is often described as “if Jane Austen wrote horror.” This take on a classic ghost story follows solicitor Arthur Kipps as he travels to the English moors to settle the affairs of Mrs. Alice Drablow of Eel Marsh House. What he finds really finds is a mansion haunted by the elusive “Woman in Black”. Readers who love a slow build-up and the sensation of being watching will be thrilled.
30. The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks (1984)
Frank Cauldhame is sick in the head, even by the standards of the horror genre. Though only sixteen, he lives in isolation and has developed a number of sociopathic tendencies, including torturing wasps in a machine he calls “the wasp factory.” As the reader gets to know more about Frank’s twisted past, they begin to understand why he’s like this — and another twist toward the end of The Wasp Factory makes Frank’s everyday activities seem practically banal.
31. Books of Blood by Clive Barker (1984)
As Britain’s leading purveyor of shocking horror, Clive Barker has made a bit splash as both an author and a film director. While cinephiles may recognise his works Candyman and Hellraiser, he first appeared on the horror radar with his short story collection, Books of Blood. Compulsively blood-curdling, these contemporary stories see regular people sucked into grotesque, disturbing, and often comic scenarios. A brilliant gateway for Barker newbs.
32. City of Glass by Paul Auster (1985)
City of Glass is the first installment in Auster’s landmark New York Trilogy, and a genuinely psychedelic work of intertwining narratives. It begins with a private investigator and former fiction writer who’s driving himself crazy trying to solve a case, then unspools into countless more intertextual threads and questions — the possible answers to which will have readers questioning their own sanity and stability by the end of this book.
33. It by Stephen King (1986)
In the story that injected clowns straight into the nightmares of an entire generation, the title character is a demonic entity that disguises itself while pursuing its prey. And for the children of Derry, that mostly involves taking the form of Pennywise the Clown. Alternating between two time periods (childhood and adulthood), It is packed with fascinating tangents that expertly flesh out the sad, traumatized, and occasionally nostalgic natives of this quiet Maine town.
34. Beloved by Toni Morrison (1987)
The horrors of Beloved, considered by many to be Morrison’s seminal work, are thoroughly intertwined with the ghastly history of America. Sethe is a former slave who had to slit her infant daughter’s throat to prevent her from enduring the same profound injustices and trauma as her. Eighteen years later, the child still haunts her — in some ways more than others. Between the intensely surreal atmosphere that pervades the entire book and Morrison’s deep-cutting prose, Beloved is a masterpiece beyond that of most contemporary horror novels.
35. The Fifth Child by Doris Lessing (1988)
In the 1960s, Harriet and David Lovatt are normal parents with four normal children in England — until Harriet gives birth to their fifth child. Ben is the devil incarnate: he is too strong for his own good, insatiable when it comes to sustenance, and abnormally violent. As he grows up, the family becomes increasingly paralyzed by fear and indecision. Underneath the thrills and agony of The Fifth Child lies a dangerous question about parenthood and the obligations of family.
36. The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris (1988)
The basis for the Oscar-winning film, The Silence of the Lambs is the follow-up to Red Dragon, which was the first novel to feature cannibalistic serial killer Dr. Hannibal Lecter. In this sequel, FBI trainee Clarice Starling enlists the help of Dr. Lecter to find “Buffalo Bill” — another killer on the loose. In order to do so, the inner workings of a very dark mind are probed, and spine-chilling suspense ensues.
37. Carrion Comfort by Dan Simmons (1989)
Carrion Comfort is based on a brilliantly unique premise: that throughout history, a select group of individuals with psychic powers (known as “The Ability”) have compelled humans to commit horrific violence. Acts such as the cruelty of Nazi guards, John Lennon’s assassination, and the Iranian Hostage Crisis can all be attributed to people with The Ability — and they may be planning something even worse. It’s up to one man, a Holocaust survivor, to extinguish this ancient evil before they do any more harm.
38. Ring by Kōji Suzuki (1991)
The premise is a modern-twist on a classic trope: there is a videotape that warns viewers they will die in one week unless they perform an unspecified act. And, yes, the videotape does keep its promises. This Japanese mystery horror novel was the basis for the 2002 film, The Ring, a film which kickstarted the trend of adapting Asian horror for English-speaking markets. Indeed, the nineties was when international readers really started to pay attention to the chilling work being produced by Japanese genre writers like Suzuki.
39. Drawing Blood by Poppy Z. Brite (1993)
In Drawing Blood, Trevor McGee avoids his childhood home in North Carolina for a reason. Years ago, when he was only five years old, his father murdered his mother and his younger brother before hanging himself. Now he’s determined to return and confront his past, but there’s a small problem: the demons that drove his father to insanity might never have left the house.
40. Parasite Eve by Hideaki Sena (1995)
Described as a “medical fantasmagoria,” comparable to Frankenstein in its scientific acuity, this Japanese sci-fi horror follows Dr. Nagashima, who is overwhelmed with grief at the loss of his wife. To cope, he begins the process of reincarnating his wife using a small sample of her liver. What he isn’t prepared for is when her cells begin to mutate, and an ancient, unseen consciousness starts rising from its long sleep.
41. Uzumaki by Junji Ito (1998)
Uzumaki is a seinen horror manga series. Kurôzu-cho, a small fogbound town on the coast of Japan, is plagued by a supernatural curse in the form of uzumaki — spiral, otherwise known as the hypnotic secret shape of the world. As the hold of the curse over the town strengthens, its inhabitants begin to fall deeper and deeper into a whirlpool of madness.
42. From Hell by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell (1999)
The peerless Alan Moore put aside V for Vendetta and Watchmen to write this graphic novel, bringing to life the world of Jack the Ripper and his reign of terror in the 1880s. From the grisly theories surrounding the Ripper to the personalities that stood tall during the desperate investigation, Moore spares no gruesome detail as he examines the motivations and identity of the most famous serial killer of all times. With Eddie Campbell’s stark illustrations, this extraordinary graphic novel is a reminder that the most horrifying truths lurk inside the depths of the human soul — and that not all monsters live in Hell.
43. House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski (2000)
Though Danielewski’s experimental debut remains largely uncategorizable, it definitely contains strands of horror DNA. This mammoth 700-page novel follows "The Navidson Record" — a documentary about an apparently haunted house (if by "haunted" one actually means "alive"). The Navidson house seems to mutate, changing size and sprouting corridors in a dizzying labyrinths, all while emitting an ominous growl. But what makes House of Leaves truly frightening is Danielewski’s intertwining of plot and structure, the latter’s chaotic layout mirroring the former.
44. Skin Folk by Nalo Hopkinson (2001)
Skin Folk is a short story collection that includes science fiction, Caribbean folklore, passionate love stories, and downright chilling horror. While not all the stories would be described as horror, the darkest of the collection is “Greedy Choke Puppy,” which features a bitter woman who discards her skin at night, and replenishes herself by killing children for their life force.
45. Coraline by Neil Gaiman (2002)
There’s a mysterious door in Coraline’s new house. The neighbors all warn her that she shouldn’t open it under any circumstances… but Coraline never was a girl who listened to other people’s advice. From the mind of the bestselling author who brought you American Gods and Neverwhere comes a novel of wondrous and chilling imagination. Coraline is one of the staples in Gaiman’s remarkable oeuvre for a reason.
46. 30 Days of Night by Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith (2002)
This dramatic comic book miniseries brings supernatural terror to life: for a town in Alaska, prolonged periods of darkness means that vampires can openly kill and feed upon humans at almost any time. Their victims are rendered helpless by both the incapacitating darkness and the vampires’ vicious attacks — attacks that Ben Templesmith depicts with such gory immediacy that his illustrations could almost be crime scene photographs.
47. Come Closer by Sara Gran (2003)
Come closer, indeed. This 2003 novel by Sara Gran revolves around a woman named Amanda, who has an ostensibly perfect life. But one day she realizes that some things are a little off. Like the quiet but recurrent tapping in her apartment. And the memo that she sent earlier to her boss that was somehow replaced by a series of insults. Then there are the dreams: those of a beautiful woman with pointed teeth, and a seashore the color of blood. As this mystery escalates in size and terror, Amanda is forced to confront nothing less than her own self.
48. The Good House by Tananarive Due (2003)
The Good House is named after a Sacajawea, Washington home that was much-beloved… until a young boy died behind its doors. Two year later, Angela hadn’t planned on returning to the house that bore silent witness to her son’s death, but then terrible things start happening to the community. Now Angela has the chance to lay to rest once and for all what exactly happened to Corey — and what it has to do with a curse that Angela’s grandmother may or may not have placed on the community decades ago.
49. Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist (2004)
Oskar is a young boy living with his divorced mother in a suburb of Stockholm. Mercilessly bullied by kids at school and increasingly insular, he makes a much-needed connection when Eli, a child of a similar age, moves in next door. Little does he know that his new bestie isn’t as young as he thinks… and that he has a peculiar set of appetites. Titled after the lyrics of a Morrissey song, this sweet but frightening novel has been adapted twice into film and once as a stage show.
50. Fledgling by Octavia E. Butler (2005)
To read one of Octavia E. Butler’s book is to become a fan for life. In Fledgling, Butler demonstrates her mastery of horror once again. On the surface, Shori seems to be a young girl who suffers from severe amnesia. Yet a discovery leads her to the horrifying revelation that she is in fact a 53-year old vampire who has been genetically modified by someone who wants her dead. Now she must decide whether to pursue more answers, even though it might lead her to her own doom.
51. The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova (2005)
Kostova’s debut novel is a complex interlacing of spooky fiction and chilling historical fact. It follows a professor and his daughter who become entrenched in the folklore of Vlad the Impaler, a major inspiration for Dracula. They soon realize that their connection to Vlad goes far beyond the scholarly. This connection becomes especially critical when their father disappears, and his daughter (our narrator) must use her knowledge to track him down.
52. The Road by Cormac McCarthy (2006)
Cormac McCarthy is no slouch when it comes to publishing gripping tales, and The Road is one of his most haunting books. Spurning an equally well-received film adaptation, the story follows a father and son as they make their way through barren, post-apocalyptic America. They’re headed for the coast, not sure of what they will find there, but in the hope that they will find, well, something. All they know is that the road is dangerous, and all they’ve got to protect themselves is a single pistol and each other.
53. The Snowman by Jo Nesbo
This tantalizing thriller from Norwegian crime writer Nesbø is about a series of brutal murders all connected by snowmen, and the jaded former FBI agent who tries to understand why. As Detective Harry Hole delves further and further into the investigation, he starts to believe that the murderer may be someone he knows… but who can say for certain when so much of the evidence has melted away?
54. Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill (2007)
Heart-Shaped Box centers on Judas Coyne, a retired rockstar who now spends his days collecting “items of the macabre” — snuff films, confessions, anything deathly and disturbing. Naturally he jumps at the chance to acquire the suit of a dead man (with his ghost still allegedly attached). But when it arrives in a heart-shaped box, Coyne realizes that this addition to his collection is less of a novelty than liability. If he can’t control it, he’ll suffer the dire consequences of its wrath.
55. Pandemonium by Daryl Gregory (2008)
Del Pierce has been possessed by a demon with a penchant for deadly mischief. Desperate to rid himself of the demon, Del turns to three sources: a likewise possessed former sci-fi writer, a nun who tends to inspire unchaste feelings rather than an inclination to pray, and a secret society devoted to the art of exorcism. Can he find the cure to the plague of demonic possessions hitting society? And if so — at what cost? Pandemonium gives us the spine-chilling answer.
56. Last Days by Brian Evenson (2008)
Meet Kline, a former detective with an amputated hand. However rather than giving him a handicap in the gumshoe business, it makes him the perfect candidate to investigate a dismemberment-based cult — the ghastly nature of which even Kline can’t foresee. Evenson’s brilliantly economic writing depicts this story in such a way that each sharp, shocking revelation of Last Days does indeed feel like a knife to one of your extremities.
57. Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger (2009)
You might not expect the author of The Time Traveler’s Wife to deliver on the creepiness front, but Audrey Niffenegger will outdo your wildest expectations in Her Fearful Symmetry. Julia and Valentina Poole are 20 year-old twins and best friends when they’re told that their aunt has died of cancer. She bequeaths her London apartment to them, on one condition: that Julia and Valentina live in the flat for a year — alone — before selling it. Easy, right? And yet Julia and Valentina are visited by a host of unnerving characters while there… including their aunt, who may not be entirely gone after all.
58. White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi (2009)
There’s just something about a seemingly sentient house. If you agree, you’ll surely enjoy White Is for Witching. Four generations of Silver women have lived in the big house in isolated Dover, England. The house has witnessed a lot of history — much of which has been tragic or outright horrific — and seems to cope by working mischief. Check it out for a modern take on Gothic horror.
59. Mr Shivers by Robert Jackson Bennett (2010)
The widespread and severe poverty created by the Great Depression has carried thousands of people to the American railroad system, desperately looking for work. But one more has been driven by more than just poverty — he’s on revenge-fueled journey, and will not rest until he makes one Mr. Shivers pay for the brutal murder of his daughter. Mr. Shivers tells his horrifying tale of vengeance.
60. Dark Matter by Michelle Paver (2010)
One of the eeriest ghost stories in recent memory, Dark Matter tracks a five-man expedition to a remote part of the Arctic, where there is no sunlight whatsoever for months during the “polar winter.” All the men are optimistic going into the expedition; it’s only when they get there that they realize something is terribly, terribly wrong. And not only will they have to get to the bottom of it if they want to survive, they also have to do it in complete and utter darkness.
61. Feed by Mira Grant (2010)
The Rising: the moment when the world froze in horror and watched as the dead came back to life, driven by genetically engineered viruses. The infected move with only one motivation in mind: to feed. Now it’s twenty years later and two journalists are determined to uncover the truth behind the origins of the catastrophe. More than a zombie horror novel, this blockbuster work transcends the form to ask serious questions of politics, power, and the right to information.
62. The Passage by Justin Cronin (2010)
In The Passage, a governmental experiment to develop an immunity-boosting drug based on a South American bat goes horribly wrong. Suddenly the world is dealing with a highly contagious virus that turns people into vampire-like beings — beings that are always on the hunt for fresh blood. At the center of it all is Amy, a young girl abandoned in a terrifying world, and the key to saving humanity.
63. Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake (2011)
One of National Public Radio’s Top 5 YA Novels of 2011, this highly unusual and vividly imagined horror story centers around Cas Lowood, an exorcist’s son who carries on his father’s legacy by expertly killing ghosts. But when Cas sets off to vanquish a violent spirit known by the locals as “Anna Dressed in Blood,” he has no idea what he’s getting himself into — especially when Anna starts communicating with him, spilling the secrets of her past.
64. Those Across the River by Christopher Buehlman (2011)
In Those Across the River, failed academic Frank Nichols and his wife move to the sleepy Georgian town of Whitbrow. There, Frank intends to write about the history of his family’s old estate and the horrors that took place there. But as Frank knows, history is not easily forgotten — and under the small-town charm and southern hospitality lurks an unspoken presence that has been waiting for a debt of blood to be paid.
65. The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan (2011)
This sexy thriller centers on Jacob Marlowe, a werewolf with class: he reads Kant, drinks Scotch, and enjoys all means of modern sophistication. However (like so many intellectuals), he’s also undergoing an existential crisis: Jacob has to kill and eat a person every time there’s a full moon, and he doesn’t want to do it anymore. Fully prepared to commit suicide, he’s stopped in his tracks when he learns one of his friends has been murdered, and embarks on a path of fatal vengeance — which, ironically, just might give him a reason to live again.
66. Zone One by Colson Whitehead (2011)
The pandemic that wreaked havoc on Earth is finally starting to subside, and the first goal for civilization is to start rebuilding Manhattan, aka Zone One. In order to do so, they need to start by getting rid of those who have been infected but not yet died, aka zombies. But what seems like a fairly straightforward first step in reclaiming the Big Apple is about to take an (even more) chilling turn.
67. The Croning by Laird Barron (2012)
Fans of H.P Lovecraft and Richard Matheson, this one’s for you. In The Croning, Laird Barron has crafted a weird horror story for the ages: one in which affable geologist Donald Miller discovers dark things existing in the shadows of our vision… and savage secrets about his family that will make him re-examine everything that he thought he knew. Creepy and atmospheric, this novel from the rising star of cosmic horror will make you understand that we are all Children of the Old Leech.
68. The Devil in Silver by Victor LaValle (2012)
New Hyde Hospital has a psychiatric ward that keeps its patients up in the evenings: they claim that a hungry monster prowls the hallways at night. According to them, it has the body of an old man and the head of a bison. And Pepper, the newest resident who was falsely accused of mental illness, is about to meet it for himself. Victor Lavalle knocks it out of the park again in this riveting read in which the most horrifying thing might not even be the horrifying Devil in Silver — but your own mind.
69. The Drowning Girl by Caitlín R. Kiernan (2012)
Caitlin R. Kiernan is one of the finest horror writers out there when it comes to blending the gothic and the fantastic. She elevates her game even more with this ghost story about India Morgan Phelps, a schizophrenic girl who one day picks up Eve Canning on the street — and who, in turn, might be a werewolf, mermaid, or siren. Kiernan is one of the rare authors who can up the suspense quotient to insane levels while writing about mental illness with the sensitivity that it deserves.
70. Fiend by Peter Stenson (2013)
A zombie apocalypse novel with a twist, Fiend presents a universe where the people turned into zombies are the ones who aren’t crystal meth junkies. For some reason, meth has granted Chase and his friends against the plague. More than anything else, it almost seems like a second chance… but as the excuse to continue using meth presents itself, Chase starts to question what separates him from the zombies.
71. Frankenstein in Baghdad by Ahmed Saadawi (2013)
Countless monsters inspired by Frankenstein have cropped up in the 200 years since Mary Shelley first published her seminal novel, but none have come closer to recreating the surrealist terror than Frankenstein in Baghdad. Black humor and true fright clash in Ahmen Saadaw’s chilling retelling about a man named Hadi who aimlessly stitches together the body parts that he finds on the streets of Baghdad. It’s then that a wave of brutal murders begins to overwhelm the city… and Hadi realizes at the same time that his corpse has gone missing.
72. Hex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt (2013)
The town of Black Spring, New York is haunted — not just by any old ghost, but by a centuries-old entity called the Black Rock Witch. She roams Black Spring with her eyes and mouth sewn shut, vestiges of when she was first put to death for her crimes. And even as the townspeople (who are cursed to remain in Black Spring forever) put practical measures in place to avoid her — such as a mobile app to keep track of her movements — her wrath cannot be quashed. This supremely scary mashup of both old-school witch hunting and the consequences of new-age technology is perfect for fans of Black Mirror and Robert Eggers’ The Witch alike.
73. Night Film by Marisha Pessl (2013)
Night Film stars Stanislaus Cordova, a reclusive cult-horror film director who hasn’t been seen in public for over thirty years. His daughter, 24-year old Ashley Cordova, has just been found dead in an abandoned warehouse — and while her death has been ruled a suicide, investigative journalist Scott McGrath isn’t buying it. Especially when another strange death connected to the Cordovas occurs shortly after. Scott is now on a mission to uncover and expose the family’s deadly secrets.
74. NOS4A2 by Joe Hill (2013)
The Kings of Maine are thoroughly represented on this list — and with good reason. Having established his own reputation with Heart-Shaped Box and Horns, Joe Hill’s third novel contains countless nods to his father’s works while also leaning on his own brand of chilling prose. The book opens with Vic McQueen, a girl with an ability to magically create bridges to things she’s looking for — a talent that brings her into contact with a serial killer with a penchant for abducting children.
75. The Six-Gun Tarot by R.S. Belcher (2013)
A paranormal take on western fiction, The Six-Gun Tarot takes place in 1869 Nevada, in a tiny desert cattle town called Golgotha. The residents of Golgotha are no stranger to the supernatural — the mayor is guarding a hoard of mythical creatures, a banker’s wife is part of a secret order of assassins, and the town deputy is half human, half coyote. But what’s really strange about this town is the abandoned silver mine, out of which an ancient evil seems to be spilling. Fans of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Deadwood, the Golgotha series is for you.
76. Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin (2014)
Described as a “nightmare come to life,” Fever Dream will grip you in the throes of a dread that lasts for days. A young mother lays dying in the hospital and a boy sits next to her bedside — only he isn’t her son. Indeed, this story about broken souls and family unraveling might just shake you to the core. Note that Fever Dream was originally written in Spanish by Argentinian author Samanta Schweblin, but this English translation is no less unsettling, disturbing, and electric.
77. The Frangipani Hotel by Violet Kupersmith (2014)
Based on traditional Vietnamese ghost stories, The Frangipani Hotel is a fantastical collection of short stories that functions on another level as a meditation on the lasting legacy of the Vietnam War. From beautiful women who’re oddly attached to bathtubs to truck drivers who pick up mysterious hitchhikers, the short stories never stray far away from the supernatural that lurks in the shadows nearby.
78. Bird Box by Josh Malerman (2014)
Recent memes notwithstanding, the original source of the Netflix film Bird Box was none other than this innovative work by Josh Malerman. In the book version, something has arrived on the scene, and no one knows what it is, how it got there, or why it’s targeting civilians: all they know is that its appearance drives people mad with violence, leading them to attack others and commit suicide. Mother of two, Malorie must decide whether to keep her young children enshrouded in darkness for all their days, or risk all of them dying at the hands of “The Problem” in order to find a better shelter.
79. Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes (2014)
No matter how many Greek myths you’ve read, there’s no way to prepare for the broken monsters that Beukes puts on display in this book. The creature that catalyzes the action of this book is a malformed half-deer, half-human hybrid that Detective Gabriella Versado finds dead in an abandoned warehouse — and if you can believe it, things only get more upsetting from there. Versado is set on tracking down the perpetrator of this grotesque science experiment, but that doesn’t mean she’s happy with what she finds.
80. Maplecroft: The Borden Dispatches by Cherie Priest (2014)
Few American figures have taken on such mythical status as Lizzie Borden, the woman tried and acquitted for murdering her parents with an ax. This fantastical, Lovecraftian take on the urban legend sees Borden (post-acquittal) and her sister take up residence in a seaside manor, only to find an evil spirit bubbling up from the ocean deep.
81. The Beauty by Aliya Whiteley (2014)
Nate is a “storyteller” in a society wherein women have become extinct. As his clan craves more and more details about these women of yore — all of whom died of a mysterious fungal disease — Nate realizes that stories will never be enough. But the men’s wishes for physical manifestations of women turn into a horrific reality when curvaceous mushroom-like creatures, known as The Beauty, join the tribe and quickly upend the fragile life they’ve built.
82. Horrorstör by Grady Hendrix (2014)
Ever wondered what it’d be like to get trapped in a haunted IKEA? The characters of Horrorstör know. When furniture store “ORSK” starts experiencing strange acts of vandalism, its employees decide to stay overnight to investigate. Little do they know that, rather than getting to the bottom of the mystery, they’ll be unleashing a reign of terror upon both themselves and their beloved customers…
83. The Lesser Dead by Christopher Buehlman (2014)
In this twisting tale told by self-described unreliable narrator Joey Peacock, the vampires of 1970s NYC have a perfectly organized (if violent) system of getting the sustenance they need. That is, until a group of vampire children appear on the scene — kids who require way more blood than the other vampires to survive, and whose presence will threaten not only the vampiric hierarchy, but also the lives of Joey and his companions. If you thought vampires weren’t afraid of anything, think again…
84. Three Moments of an Explosion by China Miéville (2015)
The world is a strange place, and humans, perhaps, are strangest of all; this strangeness is the very core of Miéville’s collection. One story begins with the city of London waking up to find icebergs floating in the sky. In another, an anatomy student find intricate designs carved into the bones of a cadaver he is examining. Stranger things follow.
85. Shutter by Courtney Alameda (2015)
In Shutter, Micheline Helsing is one of the last descendants of the Van Helsing family, and is an expert at destroying monsters. One day, a routine ghost hunt goes awry and Michelina finds herself plagued by a curse that spreads “ghost chains” through her body — turning her into one of the very monsters she’s spent her life hunting. Deemed a renegade agent by her own monster-hunting father, she must now find a way to rid herself of the curse before it’s too late.
86. Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma (2015)
Violet is a ballet dancer on the cusp of stardom; Oriana was Violet’s friend and once stepped in between Violet and her tormentors in a self-sacrificing act; and Amber has been living in the Aurora Hills juvenile center for so long that she scarcely remembers what it’s like to be free. This suspenseful story is told from two of these perspectives — one living and one dead. But all three women are tied together together through a dark and terrible secret.
87. A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay (2015)
Is 14 year-old Marjorie Barrett schizophrenic or is she possessed by a demon? This is the question at the heart of the Barretts, an otherwise normal suburban family. When a reality television production company catches wind of Marjorie’s strange condition, they sense a business opportunity — one that Marjorie’s cash-strapped father cannot easily turn down. With each page evoking blood-curling dread, the unraveling of this book’s events become a gripping tale of psychological horror. Winner of the 2015 Bram Stoker Award, A Head Full of Ghosts might just leave you with a head full of fear.
88. Hammers on Bone by Cassandra Khaw (2016)
Cassandra Khaw’s “banging” debut novel takes the traditional detective P.I. story and gives it an appealing Lovecraftian makeover. In this fascinating blend of noir and cosmic horror, private investigator John Persons gets an unexpected client one day — a ten year-old boy who asks Persons to murder his stepfather. As Persons delves deeper into the case, he realizes that his subject might not actually be human. But that’s fine, because Persons isn’t all that he appears to be, either. As the saying goes, it sometimes takes a monster to kill a monster.
89. Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff (2016)
Lovecraft Country breaks down the complexities of American racism in the mid-twentieth century, and how Lovecraft himself was complicit in that racism. Our hero, Atticus Turner, is a young black man who must seek out his missing father, facing countless horrors along the way — both to do with the color of his skin and mysterious, mythological threats that seem to have escaped the pulp fiction he reads. The closely related nature of these two elements becomes more and more clear over the course of Ruff’s book, and the shocking twist at the end will ensure that you never see Lovecraft (or America) in the same way again.
90. Mongrels by Stephen Graham Jones (2016)
The unnamed young narrator of Mongrels faces an unusual quandary: while he’s aware that he carries the werewolf gene, he has no idea whether or not it will come to fruition. As a mongrel, he lives life in limbo, uncertain of his destiny, constantly being shuttled around. This werewolf bildungsroman of sorts is pretty much the only one of its kind, and Jones' sharp, moving prose will have you sympathizing with monsters (or almost-monsters) in a way you never thought you could.
91. Things We Lost in the Fire by Mariana Enríquez (2016)
Fans of the macabre should be sure to add this collection to their list of best horror books of all time. In Argentina, violence and corruption are the laws of the land for people who vividly remember recent military dictatorships and masses of disappeared citizens. Within these fiercely disturbing stories, three young friends distract themselves with drugs in the middle of a government-enforced blackout, and encounter dark supernatural forces themselves.
92. The Changeling by Victor LaValle (2017)
Fairy tale meets horror in Victor Lavalle’s critically acclaimed The Changeling. Apollo Kagwa’s life is full of disappearances — first, his father goes missing when he is four. Then his wife vanishes, right after she commits a terrible act of violence. Now Apollo must journey through a dark underworld to bring back a family that he might not have really known in the first place. Be warned: this is a novel where nightmares lurk in every nook and eeriness is perpetual, right up until the terrifying crescendo of a climax.
93. Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero (2017)
Named after the recurring catchphrase of all Scooby-Doo villains, this comic horror novel finds the members of a worryingly young detective team reunited in their twenties to reinvestigate an unsolved mystery. Pitched by the author as “Enid Blyton meets H.P. Lovecraft”, Cantero’s novel has also been compared to Stranger Things and Stephen King’s It, as his young protagonists face off against a danger that’s somewhat more menacing than an old prospector in a rubber mask.
94. Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado (2017)
Called a “love letter to an obstinate genre that won’t be gentrified,” Carmen Maria Machado’s debut short story collection was heralded when it was published. And it’s easy to see why: Machado deftly stretches the borders of horror, as evidenced in “The Husband Stitch” (a retelling of “The Green Ribbon” in which the wife refuses her husband’s pleas to remove a green ribbon around her neck) and “The Resident” (in which a writer’s time in the mountains goes horribly wrong). It’s a book that seriously examines the pre-set narratives that women are forced to live and breathe in society. And it’s a must-read for anyone who’s tired of heteronormativity in horror.
95. Winter Tide by Ruthanna Emrys (2017)
In this homage to his cosmic horror, Lovecraft’s Deep Ones are brought to life, and the government isn’t a fan. In 1928, Deep One Aphra and her family are captured and banished to the desert… until the government becomes certain that Russians is attempting to win the Cold War with dark magic. With the promise she will help the people that stole her community’s way of life, Aphra returns home to contend with her lost past, and a potentially dark looming future.
96. The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell (2017)
The Silent Companions combines spine-chilling thrills with compelling characterization. When her husband dies just weeks after their wedding, Elsie feels more alone than ever. This is made worse by the fact that her new servants are resentful and the local villagers are openly hostile towards Elsie; she starts to believe her only companionship will come from her husband’s awkward cousin. Until she opens a locked door and finds a painted wooden figure that not only bears uncanny resemblance to Elsie, but also seems to be watching her...
97. The Grip of It by Jac Jemc (2017)
You probably know of couples like James and Julie: young and optimistic, they’re looking to leave behind their home in the city to get a fresh start in the country. But something is amiss with their new house. The air becomes suffocating. Children’s voices are heard, but the children themselves are never seen. The forest seems closer than it was before. And the stains on the walls are somehow appearing mapped as bruises on Julie’s body… to say too much is to ruin the impact of this novel, but rest assured that you will get a full night’s worth of terror when you pick it up.
98. Dread Nation by Justina Ireland (2018)
When the dead start walking on the battlefields of Gettysburg and Chancellorsville, the fate of the nation suddenly doesn’t seem quite so important anymore. As the country is thrown into disarray and scrambles to erect combat schools to learn how to put down the dead, Jane McKeene studies to become an Attendant to protect rich white people… but her true motives are much more revolutionary. Jane is indeed the star of this stunning alternate history novel: a black zombie hunter who defies society’s expectations, fighting against a conspiracy that threatens to overwhelm all of America.
99. The Hunger by Alma Katsu (2018)
The Hunger will have you on the very edge of your seat with its story of a group of travelers who are slowly unraveling. Not only do they face obstacle after obstacle of basic bad luck — low food rations, freezing weather, and a general predilection to take every wrong turn — but there also seems to be something darker, even more menacing, lurking in the mountains. And is it their imaginations, or does it all seem to be linked to beautiful, mysterious Tamsen Donner? You may have heard of the Donner Party before, but not like this: Katsu’s historical horror novel will cast both the people and the situation in a whole new, terrifying light.
100. Obscura by Joe Hart (2018)
This incisive work from Joe Hart demonstrates that new horror can be just as thrilling as classic. Obscura speculates about a near-future in which dementia afflicts people of all ages, rendering scientists and doctors powerless to even try and stop it. Dr. Gillian Ryan, who’s still of sound mind, determines that she will travel to a space station to gather unique data points that could help her cure the disease… not knowing that in embarking on this mission, she’s only putting herself in more danger, and not necessarily from the ravages of the disease.