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50 Best Horror Books of All Time

Do yourself a favor: Don't read these horror books right before bed.

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The best horror books

From mystery books to fantasy books and true crime books, there are plenty of great reads to keep you on your toes. But there is nothing quite like a good scary book to keep you up at night. Whether you’re a horror fanatic or jumping into the genre for the first time, this list of the best horror books has the perfect read for you. We’ve pulled together best sellers, cult classics, newer titles, and books that have gone on to become some of the scariest movies. Get ready to feel true fear and maybe (definitely) be a little grossed out.

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1. Salem’s Lot by Stephen King, 1975

If you’re looking for a book you won’t be able to put down, reach for one of the earliest books written by Stephen King. This was his first vampire book, and it’s deliciously chilling.

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2. Those Across the River by Christopher Buehlman, 2011

In 1935, a professor fleeing scandal moves with his wife to a family home in Georgia, located near the ruins of a plantation that was owned by his ancestors. Every month, in a strange, sacrificial ritual, the townspeople garland two pigs with flowers and send them across the river. The animals never return. What exactly is consuming them? And what will happen when the residents stop sending pigs? This is a supernatural-inflected Southern Gothic that illustrates the price we pay for the sins of the past. For even more fear, don’t miss these ghost stories you won’t want to read at night.

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3. Beloved by Toni Morrison, 1987

One of Toni Morrison’s most influential works, Beloved takes place in Ohio after the Civil War and follows Sethe, an escaped slave who has lost her husband and child. Years after her escape, her mind has not yet been freed from the horrors she endured, and she’s haunted by her deceased baby. Sethe is forced to face her past in an extremely frightening way. Check out more books by Black authors.

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4. The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty, 1971

The reason The Exorcist was made into one of the scariest movies of all time is that it was one of the scariest novels of all time. It’s a truly classic book-to-movie adaptation.

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5. The Ruins by Scott Smith, 2006

A group of young, happy-go-lucky travelers in the Mexican jungle stumbles upon the site of ancient ruins—and ancient evil. Think Jaws, but with plants. And if you think that the botanical kingdom can’t be turned into a source of fear, well, you haven’t read this book. Not sure what to read next? Pick a book based on your zodiac sign.

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6. Crescendo by L. Marie Wood, 2003

Living a relatively normal life in a suburb of New York City, James Adams is haunted by a family curse that takes him beyond his conception of sanity and to a place where he’s unable to control his greatest fears. The demons rise within him to expose horrendous truths and reveal his destiny.

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7. Coraline by Neil Gaiman, 2002

This book contains perhaps the scariest idea of all: Your other mother. Though it’s a children’s novel, you may want to avoid giving it to kids who easily scare—or at least wait until they’re grown up enough to handle it. Teens should even beware.

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8. White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi, 2009

In England, the Silver family house has been home to the Silver women for four generations. When Miranda’s mother passes away, she begins to suffer from some strange illnesses, and after bringing a friend home, the hostility of her small English town manifests within the home, changing everyone inside forever. This is one of those books by female authors you need to read.

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9. The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, 1959

Here’s another one of the scariest horror books to have been made into a movie (and successful Netflix series). If you loved those, you’ll be pleased to know the book is even better. (Isn’t it always?) It’s one of the best audiobooks to read right now.

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10. It by Stephen King, 1986

It should come as no surprise that Stephen King has made the list of top horror books more than once. He is, after all, the reigning king of terror. This novel taps into a phobia that’s both very old and very current: Clowns. Pennywise the killer clown dwells in the sewers of Derry, Maine, and he preys upon the young residents of the town. For something totally different, try one of these sad books.

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11. Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury, 1962

The premise of this book—two young boys meet the malevolent, wish-granting Mr. Dark at a traveling carnival—is pure Ray Bradbury. It may not be his best-known book, but it just might be his best.

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12. The Hot Zone by Richard Preston, 1994

This nonfiction book is about an Ebola virus almost destroying America. It would be entertaining as fiction, but it’s even scarier knowing it’s real and came very close to actually happening. In the age of COVID-19, this certainly classifies as horror.

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13. Carrion Comfort by Dan Simmons, 1989

The villains here represent an intriguing twist on a familiar antagonist: They’re “mind vampires” who, instead of feasting on humans, can inhabit their minds and manipulate them into doing the unspeakable. But don’t take our word for it—Stephen King called this book “one of the greatest horror novels of the 20th century.”

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14. Wonderland by Jennifer Hillier, 2016

On Vanessa Castro’s first day as police chief in Seaside, she is already faced with dead bodies in Wonderland, an amusement park with an old-fashioned charm. Between the clown museum, wax replicas, and antique porcelain dolls, everything about the place is creepy, but nothing as horrific as the House of Horrors. If you prefer to listen to scary stories, these scary podcasts will do the trick.

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15. Doing Harm by Kelly Parsons, 2014

People die in hospitals all the time, so there’s no better place for a psychopathic killer to set up shop—especially if the psychopath also happens to be a doctor. If you ever thought that going to the hospital was a little bit scary, you were wrong. It’s a lot scary!

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16. Roald Dahl’s Book of Ghost Stories, selected by Roald Dahl, 1983

Roald Dahl, who was the spinner of so many off-center tales for young readers, claimed that he pored through 749 short stories at the British Museum Library before he selected the 14 featured in this anthology. His main criterion for inclusion was that the story “should give you the creeps and disturb your thoughts.”

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17. The Midwich Cuckoos by John Wyndham, 1957

Alien invasion? We can fight them with every weapon at our disposal. Aliens inside our own children? That’s a tougher problem—and the premise of The Midwich Cuckoos. The golden-eyed, hyperintelligent kids who communicate by telepathy rank among the greatest—and spookiest—villains of all time. The 1960 film The Village of the Damned was based on this book and had the tagline, “Beware the stare that will paralyze the will of the world.” Seems like good advice in any situation.

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18. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, 1938

This book is a prime example of how setting can enhance suspense and fear. An isolated mansion by the sea, an evil housekeeper, and an absentee new husband? What a fantastic setup. This classic horror novel is certainly a bucket-list book.

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19. We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver, 2003

This novel is terrifying for any parent, anyone who is considering becoming a parent, or anyone who knows a teen. It shows how a child can grow into a stranger capable of perpetrating terrifying wrongs, even when a mother does everything right.

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20. Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton, 1911

Perhaps you read this book in high school and hated every minute of it. That’s probably because you were too young to fully understand the horror. Read it now that you’re an adult, and you’ll understand why it earned a spot on the list of scariest horror books.

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21. Minion by L.A. Banks, 2003

This is a dark twist for all the Twilight lovers. Damali Richards is a successful spoken word artist during the day and a vampire hunter at night. After an alarming number of murders occur in her city, Damali realizes that she will have to fight the most powerful vampire she has ever come across. Part of a 12-book series, Minion is the first book in the classic chain.

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22. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, 1818

There’s a reason this monster hit has stood the test of time. Even if you already know the story (or if you were assigned the text in school), the tale of the mad doctor and his creation gone wrong deserves a reread as one of the scariest books of all time.

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23. Lord of the Flies by William Golding, 1954

In this favorite of English teachers everywhere, a plane crash leaves a group of schoolboys stranded on a deserted island. At first, they celebrate their newfound freedom, but eventually, they find themselves embroiled in a terrifying and violent war of their own making. It’s one of the most frightening horror books because it suggests that no matter how “civilized” we might think ourselves, it wouldn’t take much to bring out our inner monster.

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24. Dawn by Octavia E. Butler, 1987

Science-fiction pioneer Octavia E. Butler kicks off her haunting Xenogenesis series with Dawn. In a post-apocalyptic world, aliens have kidnapped the last remaining humans. They don’t want to hurt the humans. Instead, they want to study them and help them repopulate the wasteland Earth. But is that even worse?

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25. Horrorstör by Grady Hendrix, 2014

Modern-day horror master Grady Hendrix provides a contemporary twist on the familiar haunted-house motif: Instead of a creepy old mansion, the hauntings take place in an Ikea-like furniture store. To get to the bottom of the unexplained destruction that’s been greeting shoppers every morning, three employees volunteer to take overnight shifts. Horror ensues, and you might find yourself reluctant to re-enter your local Ikea.

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26. The Hunger by Alma Katsu, 2018

Hunger, arguments, and the mysterious death of a little boy have driven the Donner Party to madness. They can’t seem to escape tragedy and the feeling that someone (or something) is watching them. This horror book seamlessly combines terror with historical fiction.

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27. The Other by Thomas Tryon, 1971

Twins Holland and Niles are completely different but are close enough that they can almost read each other’s thoughts. After the passing of their father, Holland’s pranks are escalating, and Niles has to get to the bottom of what is going on. This is a psychological thriller that explores the darkness that lives within us.

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3 The Amityville Horror By Jay Anson, 1977 Via Amazonvia

28. The Amityville Horror by Jay Anson, 1977

You may know the true horror film, but have you read the book? The Lutz family has finally moved into their new home on Long Island. They knew a series of murders had occurred in that same house, but the price was just too good to forfeit. Only 28 days later, the Lutz family ran away in pure horror.

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29. Tender is the Flesh by Agustina Bazterrica, 2017

A mysterious virus makes all animal meat poisonous to humans and turns people to cannibalism. Humans become packaged in processing plants as “special meat.” This book just might turn your next steak dinner into a terrifying meal.

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1 The Shining by Stephen King, 1977 Via Amazonvia

30. The Shining by Stephen King, 1977

No list of the best horror books is complete without The Shining. Jack Torrance heads to the Overlook Hotel for a new beginning. That is, until the nights at the hotel get a little freaky.

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31. Ring by Koji Suzuki, 1991

A mysterious video warns watchers that they will die in exactly one week unless they perform a certain act. Four teenagers die after watching the tape, so a journalist sets to investigate what actually happened.

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32. The Final Girl Support Group by Grady Hendrix, 2021

By definition, the “final girl” is the last woman standing at the end of a slasher movie. (Think Laurie in the Halloween franchise.) But what happens to these women when the movie is over? According to Grady Hendrix’s latest novel, survivors go to therapy to cope with their respective horrors—until one of them stops showing up.

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33. Stillhouse Lake by Rachel Caine, 2017

Gina and her family are living an average life until a car accident reveals her husband’s secret: He’s a serial killer. With her husband in prison, Gina moves with her two children to a secluded lake house to get away from the threats and the people who claim she was his accomplice. But when a body is found on the lake, Gina becomes the prime suspect.

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2 The Sun Down Motel By Simone St. James, 2020 Via Amazonvia

34. The Sun Down Motel by Simone St. James, 2020

In 1982, Viv Delaney is ready to move to New York City, so she snags a job as a clerk at the Sun Down Motel in upstate New York to pay for the expenses. But something is very wrong at the hotel. Fast forward to 2017. Carly Kirk sets out to the motel to discover why her Aunt Viv went missing all those years ago.

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6 The Chestnut Man By Soren Sveistrup, 2018 Via Amazonvia

35. The Chestnut Man by Søren Sveistrup, 2018

A psychopath called the Chestnut Man is causing chaos in Copenhagen. He notably leaves a handmade doll made of matchsticks and chestnuts at every crime scene. A pair of detectives set out to piece together the horrific clues before he strikes again.

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1 Bird Box By Josh Malerman, 2014 Via Amazonvia

36. Bird Box by Josh Malerman, 2014

You may have caught the Netflix adaptation, but Bird Box is worth a read and will haunt your dreams for days. Malorie is one of the sole survivors after a mysterious creature took over the world. Once a person looks at this monster, they will be driven to deadly violence. Malorie is trying to bring her children to safety while only relying on their hearing.

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7 Lock Every Door By Riley Sager, 2019 Via Amazonvia

37. Lock Every Door by Riley Sager, 2019

One of my personal favorites, Lock Every Door zeroes in on Jules, an apartment sitter in an abnormally private and mysterious building in Manhattan. Residents continue to go missing as the building’s dark history comes to light.

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6 Imaginary Friend By Stephen Chbosky, 2019 Via Amazonvia

38. Imaginary Friend by Stephen Chbosky, 2019

Not long after arriving in town with his mother, Christopher goes missing. A few days later, he comes out of the woods claiming voices in his head are telling him to do things. Creepy would be an understatement for this one.

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2 Dracula By Bram Stoker, 1897 Via Amazonvia

39. Dracula by Bram Stoker, 1897

Dracula is the vampire book that has defined all vampire books. A solicitor named Jonathan Harker takes a business trip and stays at the castle of a Transylvanian noble, Count Dracula. Surely you can guess what happens next.

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40. Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, 2020

Noemí Taboada receives a letter from her recently married cousin, who’s asking for someone to come save her from impending doom. So Noemí heads to the Mexican countryside, unsure of what she will find. There, she faces her cousin’s threatening husband, his elderly father, and a house that takes over her dreams with images of blood. As she continues to uncover the home’s secrets, she discovers more stories of violence and madness than she ever could have imagined.

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3 The Woman In Black By Susan Hill, 1983 Via Amazonvia

41. The Woman in Black by Susan Hill, 1983

Arthur Kipps is a solicitor in London who is sent to a faraway town on a business trip. His travels take a terrifying turn when he believes he is being haunted by a phantom woman dressed in black.

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42. The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter, 1979

Angela Carter retells classic fairytales such as Little Red Riding Hood and Beauty and the Beast in a Gothic fashion.

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4 The Bad Seed By William March, 1954 Via Amazonvia

43. The Bad Seed by William March, 1954

Eight-year-old Rhonda Penmark is the epitome of innocence until a neighbor suffers some serious accidents. Rhonda’s mother begins to wonder why terrible things seem to happen when Rhonda is around.

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3 Geek Love By Katherine Dunn, 1989 Via Amazonvia

44. Geek Love by Katherine Dunn, 1989

Don’t let the title fool you. This is no romance novel. The Binewskis are a circus family that has raised a crew full of oddities with the help of some notable drugs. When the family takes its act across the country, it brings new meaning to the term “sibling rivalry.”

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0 American Psycho By Bret Easton Ellis, 1991 Via Amazonvia

45. American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis, 1991

This international best seller is a modern classic. Patrick Bateman moves to Manhattan in the 1980s to earn money on Wall Street but spends his evenings expressing his true self through murder and torture.

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1 Summer Sons By Lee Mandelo, 2021 Via Amazonvia

46. Summer Sons by Lee Mandelo, 2021

A scary book and an LGBTQ+ book? Sign us up! Andrew and Eddie are two best friends who did everything together. When Eddie goes off to graduate school, he dies by presumed suicide. But Andrew thinks something else is going on as he searches for the reasons behind the death of his friend.

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5 Horrid By Katrina Leno, 2020 Via Amazonvia

47. Horrid by Katrina Leno, 2020

After the death of her father, a young girl moves from California to Maine with her mother. But something strange is going on in their new home, and it has to do with the locked storage room that no one is allowed to enter.

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48. The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones, 2020

Four American Indian men and their families are all haunted by a disturbing event that took place in their childhood. Years later, they find themselves fighting the culture and traditions they left behind all those years ago in the most violent ways.

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0 The Outsider By Stephen King, 2018 Via Amazonvia

49. The Outsider by Stephen King, 2018

No one ever imagined that Little League coach Terry Maitland could kill anyone, especially a child. Nonetheless, he is convicted for the murder of a young boy. But there’s something much more sinister lurking in the streets of this little town in Oklahoma.

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4 Ghost Story By Peter Straub, 1979 Via Amazonvia

50. Ghost Story by Peter Straub, 1979

In upstate New York, four elderly men gather to tell one another frightening stories—some true and some made up. But one story of something they did a long time ago comes back to haunt them. The past can’t stay hidden forever.

Now that you have added the best horror books to your list, check out these thriller books that will keep you on the edge of your seat.

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Emma Taubenfeld
Emma Taubenfeld is an assistant editor for Reader’s Digest who focuses on digital lifestyle topics such as memes, social media captions, pick-up lines, and cute pets. When she’s not working, you can find Emma reading corny young adult novels, creating carefully curated playlists, and figuring out how to spice up boxed mac and cheese.