Scary books are a terrifyingly good way to enjoy Halloween.
Below is a complete list of scary books that horrify and delight. Some books you may already know. But others may be new to you.
Use this list of scary books to step into the season of fright. And, if you know of a scary book that should be on this list but isn’t, name it in a comment to this post.
The Complete List of Scary Books
House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski (pai link)
Mark Danielewski’s debut novel, House of Leaves, is two terrifying stories woven into one.
The premise is that a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer and his girlfriend move into a house with their two children. Oddly, the home’s interior is larger than its outside.
From there, Danielewski weaves a frightening story involving multiple characters, narrators, and more.
A companion book, The Whalestone Letters, (paid link), is also available.
Geek Love by Katherine Dunn (paid link)
The Binewskis are a family of circus freaks whose firstborn son, Arturo the Aqua Boy, has flippers instead of limbs.
As the family tours the U.S., Arty uses his powers to develop a cult following. What ensues is a horrid look at humanity’s capacity to hurt and destroy. It’s haunting how far our kind is willing to go.
Geek Love was a National Book Award finalist. As of 2014, the book had sold more than 400,000 copies.
The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson (paid link)
When you write a scary book that’s the basis for two movies, a TV show, and a play, you know you’ve done something right.
Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House is regarded by some as the best ghost story ever written. It’s a favorite among those who love scary books.
In the book, Dr. Montague, two assistants, and a man named Luke arrive at Hill House, a decaying property with a bad reputation. Luke stands to inherit the property.
At first, the foursome plan to investigate the house’s oddities and leave. But then they realize that the home has other plans.
Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy (paid link)
This book is the antithesis of the heroic novel of the American West.
In Blood Meridian, Cormac McCarthy tells a story of sadism and savagery that accompanied America’s westward expansion.
The violence depicted in the book is gruesome and extreme. Indeed, critic Harold Bloom said the book’s brutality was so intense, that he stopped reading it the first time he tried.
Though McCarthy’s written many popular books, some believe Blood Meridian is his best.
Hell House by Richard Matheson (paid link)
Frightful things have happened at Belasco House. So much so that the locals call it Hell House. And many believe it to be the most haunted house that ever existed.
But now, a physicist, his wife, and two mediums arrive at Belasco to investigate its haunting. Their plan is to spend one night there.
They can survive one night, can’t they?
The book was published in 1971. Matheson wrote the screenplay for a movie based on the novel, “The Legend of Hell House.” The film came out in 1973.
Ring by Kōji Suzuki (paid link)
If you’ve seen the films by the same name, you’re familiar with the premise of this novel. Anyone who watches a videotape learns that they will die unless they perform an unspecified act.
Set in Japan, the book features a journalist rapidly working to avoid the fate depicted for himself when he watched the tape. His efforts take him from Tokyo into the Japanese countryside.
What ensues is a petrifying tale that will haunt you long after finishing the book.
Ring was published in 1991.
Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury (paid link)
The Cooger & Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show arrives in Green Town, Ill., on Halloween week. The show appears to make the wishes of the town’s citizens come true.
But as the novel unfolds, two 13-year-old best friends discover that this carnival’s freaks are like no other.
Of all the scary books, Something Wicked This Way Comes may be the perfect one to read in the days leading up to Halloween. After all, it takes place during the week of Halloween.
A movie based on the book was released in 1983.
The Girl Next Door by Jack Ketchum (paid link)
Two sisters, Meg and Susan, go to live with their aunt and her three sons.
What at first appears to be a normal family in a normal suburban town, turns out to be a house of horrors for both sisters.
With their aunt falling into insanity, dragging her three vicious sons with her, Meg and Susan are in a fight for their lives.
It’s a fight that seems impossible to win. But there may be one person out there who can help.
A film version of the book was released in 2007.
Ghost Story by Peter Straub (paid link)
In 1979, Peter Straub was a little-known but well-respected author. Then he published Ghost Story.
It’s the tale of what four old men did when they were younger, and how some things in our past refuse to stay buried.
This haunting book launched Straub’s career into the horror fiction limelight, a place he continues to inhabit.
A movie based on the book, also called “Ghost Story,” came out in 1981. It starred Fred Astaire.
Dawn by Octavia E. Butler (paid link)
The first of three books in Octavia Butler’s Xenogenesis series, Dawn finds a nuclear war survivor, Lillith, awakening on a rescue ship piloted by aliens.
The aliens, called the Oankali, are ready to return humans to Earth, but there’s a catch: Lillith must agree to breed with the Oankali in order to repopulate Earth.
Dawn is a book of science-fiction, but
Butler was one of the first African-American women to write science-fiction. Today she’s regarded as one of the most influential sci-fi writers of all time.
American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis (paid link)
When Bret Easton Ellis wrote American Psycho, he took
The book is told from the first-person perspective of Patrick Bateman, a young, rich, handsome investment banker who kills women on the side.
American Psycho is gory and alarming, but it also has comedic effects. That dark humor makes this novel unique among other scary books.
Actor Christian Bale played Bateman in a movie based on the book.
Pet Sematary by Stephen King (paid link)
What if what we bury, doesn’t stay dead? That’s the premise of Stephen King’s Pet Sematary. (paid link)
There’s a cemetery in Ludlow, Maine, where people bury their pets. But after Dr. Louis Creed and his family arrive in town, Creed learns there is more evil than meets the eye.
The first Pet Sematary film came out in 1989. A second movie was released in 1992.
A remake of the original movie came out in April 2019. Watch the film’s trailer below.
Blindness by José Saramago (paid link)
Written by Nobel Prize winner José Saramago, Blindness is about what happens when a city’s population comes down with a mysterious case of blindness.
The authorities move people into a mental institution, but there the untamed human element takes over. Violence, thieving, and more takes place as this secluded society falls apart.
Blindness is on this list of scary books because it illustrates our ability to violate others.
Dracula by Bram Stoker (paid link)
Bram Stoker didn’t create vampire fiction, but his book, Dracula, did introduce one of the most enduring characters in literary history: Count Dracula.
The count is a vampire who moves from Transylvania to England in search of blood. But the vampire-hunting Professor Abraham van Helsing has other plans in mind.
Dracula first hit bookshelves in 1897. Its original title was, The Un-Dead. In fact, Stoker’s great-grandnephew, Dacre Stoker, used that name for a book he published in 2009 as a sequel to Dracula.
Lord of the Flies by William Golding (paid link)
A group of boys find themselves on an uninhabited island after surviving a plane crash.
Left to fend for themselves, the boys initially setup a system to ensure their surival. But something on the island threatens their existence: themselves.
Golding’s classic, Lord of the Flies, doesn’t feature ghosts or goblins. But it belongs on a scary books list because it showcases adolescent boys growing into monsters.
Two movies based on the book have been released. The first came out in 1963. The other was released in 1990.
Night Film by Marisha Pessl (paid link)
A journalist looks into the death of a horror film director’s daughter and instead becomes infatuated with finding the director, who hasn’t been seen in years.
The more the journalist, Scott McGrath, falls into the director’s world, the more he risks losing everything.
Night Film was published in 2014.
The book intertwines traditional literary storytelling with digital aspects, including a mobile app, that augments this frightening tale.
The Trial by Franz Kafka (paid link)
Franz Kafka died before finishing his novel, The Trial. But his friend Max Brod worked to get the book
The Trial is about a man, Josef K., arrested by an unidentified authority for a crime he’s not told about, accused by people who aren’t named.
This is a scary book because it’s about the powerlessness of one person fighting a
The Trial is a classic that’s been adapted for the stage and in movies.
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier (paid link)
The newly Mrs. Maxim de Winter joins her husband at his Cornish estate, Manderley. But she’s not the first woman to marry de Winter.
In fact, signs of the man’s first wife are everywhere, including a presence that’s more sinister than a memory.
Among the novel’s frightening features is Manderley’s chilling housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers.
Rebecca became a bestseller when it was first published in 1938. And the book has never gone out of print.
At the Mountains of Madness by H. P. Lovecraft (paid link)
At just 86 pages, H. P. Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness is the shortest entry on this list of scary books. But it still packs a hair-raising punch.
The novella tells the story of explorers who arrive at Antarctica in 1930. The group discovers ancient ruins, but also some less natural elements.
At the Mountains of Madness was originally published as a serialized story in Astounding Stories magazine in 1936. Today it’s regarded as one of the most iconic Lovecraft stories.
Penpal by Dathan Auerbach (paid link)
The narrator of this story is recalling events from his childhood.
One such event is the time he and his school classmates sent off balloons with penpal requests attached. A year later, the narrator received a response.
And then things got weird.
Penpal started as stories that Auerbach posted on Reddit. When the stories became popular, Auerbach ran a Kickstarter campaign to fund the publishing of what became his debut novel.
Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin (paid link)
Imagine that your next-door neighbors are an elderly husband and wife couple that you believe
Now throw in the fact that you’re pregnant, and you’re starting to suspect that your demonic neighbors have plans for your baby. That’s the plot for Ira Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby.
The novel was published in 1967. Over a million copies of the book sold within a few months of its release.
The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty (paid link)
When he was a student at Georgetown University, William Peter Blatty heard about demonic possession.
The story inspired Blatty to write The Exorcist, a book in which an eleven-year-old girl is possessed by a demon.
The novel spent 17 consecutive weeks atop The New York Times bestseller list when it was released in 1971. And a 1973 film based on the book remains one of the most treasured, and feared, horror movies of all time.
It by Stephen King (paid link)
In Derry, Maine, an evil presence preys on children, using their fears against them.
As kids growing up in the small town, seven now-adults faced that presence. Now they’ve returned to Derry to finish what they started.
Many hail Stephen King’s It as iconic horror fiction. King himself has referred to this scary book as his “final exam” on writing horror.
Three films based on the book have horrified audiences.
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (paid link)
Trapped indoors due to nonstop rain, Lord Byron challenged his houseguests to a contest. Which of them could write the scariest story?
One of those houseguests was Mary Shelley, who dreamed about a scientist who brought a dead man to life. The dream served as the inspiration for Shelley’s classic Gothic tale, Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus.
Shelley’s story continues to bring delight and fright to readers 200 years after she wrote it.
We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver (paid link)
All too common in American society today are mass school shootings.
What causes a teenager to want to murder his classmates and teachers That’s the basis for Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk About Kevin.
Kevin is the perpetrator of a high school mass shooter. The novel is told from his mother’s perspective, as she tells her husband about her attempts to prevent her son from doing the unthinkable.
Through her letters, Kevin’s mom, Eva, recounts the horror of a parent discovering that their child is a monster.
The Walking by Bentley Little (paid link)
It started in a small town in the American Southwest and expanded. People died, then came back to life as zombies.
Private investigator Miles Huerdeen is looking into the deaths. That’s when his own father suffers a stroke and dies.
Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist (paid link)
Here’s a story that’s set in Sweden in 1981.
A 12-year-old boy, Oskar, befriends a new girl in his neighborhood named Eli. But Eli’s not like other kids. For one thing, she only comes outside her house at night.
Originally written in Swedish, Let the Right One In became a hit in Sweden before being translated into English.
If you love a good vampire story, this is the novel for you.
Coraline by Neil Gaiman (paid link)
A girl named Coraline explores her family’s new neighborhood.
She finds a home just like hers, except things, at least at first, seem better. The toys are more fun. The food is great. But the mom and dad in this new home don’t want Coraline to leave.
Neil Gaiman’s Coraline has won many awards, including a 2003 Hugo Award for Best Novella.
Though the book is categorized as being for young readers, it packs adult-sized chills.
The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris (paid link)
Many have seen Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins in the movie, “Silence of the Lambs.” But before it was a film, it was a book.
Harris’ The Silence of the Lambs is actually the sequel to another novel, Red Dragon. Both books focus on the cannibal Dr. Hannibal Lecter.
It’s Silence of the Lambs, though, that brings a fright-sized dose of thrills and suspense. If the movie had your heart racing, wait till you read the book.
Carrion Comfort by Dan Simmons (paid link)(affiliate link)
A group of people who have The Ability, a psychic power to control other people. They make others do their bidding, including committing murder.
A small band of investigators, looking into murders, discover that there are those with The Ability. The investigators unite to try and stop the “mind vampires.”
This epic novel by Dan Simmons features multiple timelines and falls across many genres, including horror and science fiction.
Salem’s Lot by Stephen King (paid link)
Jerusalem’s Lot, Maine, is an ordinary small town. That is, until a man arrives in town to open up an antique store.
Ben Mears is a writer who returns to Salem’s Lot and discovers that something is off. Though he struggles to believe it, the town’s residents are turning into vampires.
Salem’s Lot is the second novel published by Stephen King.
And King once told an interviewer that the book is “in a way my favorite story.”
Bonus: Edgar Allan Poe (paid link)
A list of scary books can’t be complete without acknowledging the work of Edgar Allan Poe.
Poe only published one novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket. And it’s not in the macabre style for which the writer is now famous.
But many of Poe’s scariest, creepiest stories and poems have now been compiled into collections that shouldn’t be missed.
Poe didn’t make much money off of his writing during his lifetime. Today, though, some consider him the father of modern horror fiction.
What Scary Books Are Missing?
Is your scariest book missing from this list? Let me know in the comments.
Additions to the List of Scary Books
Some of you have weighed in since this list was published. Below are the additions you suggested to this list of scary books.
The Shining by Stephen King (paid link)
The Woman in Black: A Ghost Story by Susan Hill (paid link)